More on Law Enforcement Accountability

Here is a recent example of police misconduct that hits quite a bit closer to home, literally. In this case, a Sierra Vista police officer buried his patrol car into two other vehicles at around 7 AM Friday morning (19 December), as he was driving drunk while on-duty.

This is the same intersection that I typically have to wait at each morning on my way to work, though usually a bit earlier in the mornings. Had this irresponsible officer been earlier, this could have been me he slammed into and who knows how differently that could have turned out considering the different vehicle types, possibly different road/traffic conditions, etc. It is but by the grace of God that no one was seriously injured in this incident; however that does not make the officer’s behavior acceptable of course unless one subscribes to the consequentialist paradigm.

The officer was immediately subjected to a toxicology screen per department policy which indicated he was indeed drunk. He was subsequently and immediately terminated from the job. “The City of Sierra Vista has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to drug and alcohol use on the job, regardless of the position,” said Chuck Potucek, city manager. “As soon as I had confirmation that the officer was under the influence, I did not hesitate to do what is right and dismiss the officer.”

Kudos to the city manager; however, this is not an example of full and equitable accountability (yet).

“The public has a right to expect that the police officers responsible for helping keep the community safe are themselves upholding the highest professional and ethical standards,” said Tom Alinen, Chief of Police.

Police Chief Alinen hit the nail squarely on its head. The former officer lost his job it is true, but given that he was responsible for enforcing the very laws he decided to break, charging him with DWI as would no doubt happen with any civilian in similar circumstances is clearly appropriate in this case to satisfy proper justice. Simply losing one’s job, particularly in these circumstances where he is free to become a law enforcement agent elsewhere, is not sufficient to satisfy justice. What is good for the goose must be good for the gander in a genuinely equitably just society.

And although the police chief has stated this is the first such incidence he has ever witnessed, a point that may be true enough where he is personally concerned, this is not even the first such similar incidence in this relatively small area of southern Arizona.

The previous Cochise County (in which Sierra Vista is located) Sheriff, Larry Dever, died in 2012 in an off-road single-vehicle crash, after which it was revealed he was over three times the state’s legal blood-alcohol limit. He also was reportedly not wearing a seat belt, which probably contributed to his demise. (I have no inherent problem with people choosing to not wear a seatbelt, mind you; it is a personal choice that victimizes no one else similarly to deciding not to wear a helmet on a motorcycle, a practice that is legal in Arizona. The point here is one of behavioral double-standards between public officials charged with upholding the laws that they choose to violate themselves and the populace whom they levy these laws upon.)

The fundamental issue here is that misconduct on the part of law enforcement is not just about the most extreme examples of wrongful death. It starts with the seemingly trivial double standards of conduct, owing from the inherent elitism that characterizes the relationship of the government over the governed. True accountability is the key to addressing the public’s waning confidence in the justice system, and that includes accountability for state agents’ behavior ranging from speeding to assault and everything in between.

On an unfortunate related note, reports are now surfacing that two police officers in New York City were ambushed by a man apparently seeking “retaliation” for Eric Garner’s and Michael Brown’s deaths. Never mind that those two cases are quite different from each other both in terms of substance and circumstance, assaulting one individual (or more, as was the case here) as “payback” for the actions of a different individual(s) is not righteous accountability. This is not justice. This is the same sort of collectivist nonsense that many have alleged – rightly or wrongly – police officers themselves employ when racially profiling and/or employing the infamous “any black man will do” approach.

If it is wrong to assume all black men (or anyone else) are suspects simply because somewhere along the lines a black man undeniably commits a crime, then it is every bit as wrong to assign the misdeeds of one (or more) cops to anyone other than the perpetrators of those misdeeds. Justice can be instituted and maintained collectively, insofar as the rules apply equally to everyone, but just accountability is necessarily an individual application.

Those who would seek justice for nationwide (or local) victims of police misconduct willfully surrender the ethical high ground by committing such acts of violence and aggression, becoming the very thing they ostensibly claim to abhor (if indeed these are “activist” slayings; there exist plenty of reasons to believe that plainly evil people seek to justify their behavior with any and all manner of trending excuses available).

“My husband was not a violent man, so we do not want any violence connected to his name,” Esaw Garner said Sunday.

 

Update – 2 February 2015: At the time of this writing, charges have still not been filed against the former SVPD officer (at least, not according to publicly available records.) Since the above incident, a sheriff’s deputy in neighboring Pima County had his state license to practice law enforcement revoked for being drunk while on duty, registering a 0.298 (!) blood-alcohol-content after reportedly driving to work in this state. It grows increasingly more difficult to accept on faith alone that this sort of malfeasance is not broadly, organizationally pervasive.

Update – 12 February 2015: Finally, an indictment has been handed down to a law enforcement officer, in New York City of all places ironically enough. Officer Peter Liang is charged with one count each of 2nd degree manslaughter, negligent homicide, 2nd degree assault, and reckless endangerment, and two counts of official misconduct.

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  1. Two Wrongs Do Not Make a Right |

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