If a police officer lied on the witness stand, would you trust them to testify in the future? Should prosecutors be notified that certain officers have a history of being untrustworthy? Several district attorneys of major U.S. cities have developed a database of unreliable cops, but should they?
These lists are called blacklists or “Brady lists” (after the 1963 Supreme Court ruling mandated the release of names of unreliable officers in a trial setting) and some have been in place for over a decade. These lists are available to DA’s and prosecutors but are under intense scrutiny.
Why do some oppose blacklists?
In most government job settings, if you lie on the witness stand and are caught, you could be fired for your crime. For police officers, the situation is a bit murkier. Police officers often belong to unions and are protected from dismissal under certain grounds.
Some reasons for opposing backlists include:
- Reputation: Union leaders worry that an officer’s reputation could be ruined if there is a false report.
- Effectiveness: Some prosecutors have called out the effectiveness of these lists due to jurisdiction limits or list accessibility. Some states ban prosecutors from viewing lists of officers who are on disciplinary leave etc. which render the lists useless.
- The concept: Others oppose blacklists because they would prefer officers were fired for their crime instead of a “middle ground” public shaming.
- Politics: Since DA’s can support or ban the list, some worry the blacklists could be used as political tools. In a similar way, some worry that the information could be held hostage between a bickering police department and district attorney’s office.
Why do some support blacklists?
In communities where racial tensions run high, these lists reassure victims and the public at large that the officers involved in trials will be held accountable if they conducted themselves unethically. Blacklists could incentivize officers to be more honest with their supervisors and their communities in fear of defamation.
To clarify, an officer’s name ends up on the list because they are caught for lying in court. Names are not entered based on rumor or allegation. In some situations, officers can take pre-defined steps to clear their name.
Like any tool, these lists could be used to benefit communities, but they must be used responsibly to protect all citizens.