GQ Videos

Why It's So Hard to Hold Cops Accountable

When the police cross the line, powerful protections often spring to their defense. But why? DeRay McKesson examines how bad cops frequently elude punishment—and what we can do to correct that.

Released on 8/15/2018

Transcript

00:00
Police Officers.
00:01
They're public officials with the power
00:02
to use force against civilians.
00:04
We'd like to believe that when cops cross a line
00:06
there's a powerful system that polices the police.
00:09
Now we're all familiar with those dramatic scenes
00:11
when a cop gets held accountable for his actions.
00:13
I'm gonna need you to hand in your badge and gun.
00:15
Alright fine, you can have my badge and gun,
00:16
but we're doing it in your office
00:17
so I can slam them down on your desk
00:19
and yell out, The system stinks!
00:20
But in reality we can recount so few examples
00:23
of an officer actually being held
00:24
accountable for wrong doing.
00:26
Why?
00:27
Because it's extremely difficult
00:28
to even investigate officers for misconduct.
00:31
Let's talk about that.
00:32
I'm DeRay Mckesson and this is Truth Be Told.
00:39
Complaints against the police are routinely ignored.
00:42
That's a conclusion Reuter's reached last year
00:44
when reviewing complaints from 15 cities.
00:47
They found that very few were sustained
00:49
by police internal review boards.
00:50
In Tacoma, Washington for instance,
00:52
during the 12 months Reuter's investigated,
00:54
only 10% of complaints weren't dismissed.
00:57
So why do so many of these complaints get tossed?
01:00
Well, it turns out someone is protecting officers
01:03
from accountability, the police unions.
01:08
Like any union, police unions serve their members.
01:11
They negotiate their pay and work place protections.
01:13
And when an incident arises they're called upon
01:16
to help their membership, the cops they represent.
01:18
But, unlike a lot of other organized labor groups,
01:20
police unions have managed to codify strong protections
01:23
for cops into law at the expense of public safety.
01:26
In these 14 states, police have their own bill of rights.
01:30
Police union contracts also include strong protections
01:33
for their officers.
01:34
In these 81 cities, those contracts include
01:38
extremely specific language aimed at protecting cops
01:41
if they find themselves being investigated.
01:43
Some of these protections might well surprise you
01:45
or maybe infuriate you.
01:47
But they go a long way toward explaining why it seems
01:49
so rare that cops are held accountable for wrong doing.
01:53
In these cities and states,
01:54
an officer accused of improper behavior
01:56
is allowed a cooling off period.
01:58
This means the officer has time
02:00
between when they are accused of misconduct
02:03
and when they can be interrogated by investigators.
02:05
That window of time shielding a cop
02:07
from an investigator can be 24 hours as it is in Sacramento
02:11
or it can be up to 30 days as it is in Louisiana.
02:14
Normal citizens who are accused of crimes
02:16
aren't given a window of time to collect themselves
02:19
or get their stories straight.
02:20
There's no cooling off period for you or me.
02:22
After all, the first 48 hours are said to be
02:24
crucial to any criminal investigation.
02:26
The cops know that.
02:27
There's even a show glorifying that idea.
02:30
[Narrator] The chance of solving a murder
02:31
is cut in half if they don't get a lead
02:33
within the first 48 hours.
02:36
Once a police officer is finally interrogated,
02:39
they've got protections there too.
02:41
In these cities, in this state,
02:43
officers are allowed to review all evidence against them
02:46
before interrogation.
02:47
And in 17 cities in three states officers
02:51
are even given the names of the people
02:53
who filed complaints before they can be interrogated.
02:56
Now combined these clauses effectively mean
02:58
that anonymous complaints can't be made against an officer.
03:02
Say you see something illegal taking place
03:03
that an officer has done and you want to report it.
03:05
Well, they'll immediately know who you are
03:07
and what the nature of the allegation
03:09
before they can even be asked any questions.
03:13
Now if you or I are suspected of breaking a law,
03:15
the police would just start asking us questions.
03:17
And we can request a lawyer to be present,
03:18
but why do the police have protections
03:20
that the public doesn't?
03:22
Shouldn't we hold public servants to a higher bar?
03:24
Even if an investigation does continue
03:27
after all these rules around interrogations.
03:29
How is that cop disciplined?
03:30
Guess what?
03:32
Unions have rules to address that too.
03:34
There's sometimes odd specifics about the way
03:36
an officer can be held accountable.
03:38
For instance, Portland's police union contract states
03:41
if the city has a reason to reprimand
03:43
or discipline an officer it shall be done in a manner
03:46
that is least likely to embarrass the officer
03:50
before other officers or the public.
03:52
It literally says that.
03:54
And there's also wide spread practice
03:55
of routinely erasing police records of misconduct.
03:59
In these cities and states,
04:01
police departments erase disciplinary records
04:04
after a set number of years.
04:05
Sometimes as early as one year.
04:07
The point is police officers get special treatment.
04:11
How does that makes sense?
04:15
Now here's why this matters.
04:17
If the cops aren't being held accountable,
04:18
how can they hold communities accountable?
04:20
Recent polling shows that only 30% of black people
04:24
and 45% of Latinos have confidence in the police.
04:27
This distrust isn't good for law enforcement or the public.
04:30
The police work for every community in America.
04:32
They work for us.
04:34
We have a say in how they do their jobs
04:36
and what rules apply when they cross the line.
04:38
Police contracts and the laws
04:40
that protect cops in your community are public
04:42
and the contracts are routinely renegotiated.
04:45
When they are the police unions in your community
04:48
are gonna be a strong voice in those negotiations.
04:51
But they don't have to be the only voice.
04:53
You can work with your local officials
04:55
to be at the table too.