Saturday, April 07, 2007

Law Enforcement - Or the Lack Thereof

This is a tricky issue. Our Law Enforcement agencies are there to protect, serve, and help the citizens. There is no question about this. All you have to do to believe that is to look at the emergency response during any disaster – especially 9/11, when so many risked life and limb to help and rescue others. However, I must ask if that is all there is to it?

Tonight I was watching Cops on FOX. It was episode #1928 and the segment I found interesting was the second. The description of the segment, from the website, is as follows:

Officer David Couture of the Lowell Police Department responds to a call that a van had been reported with men throwing beer bottles out of it. The two suspects are questioned. The suspect in the red shirt confesses to throwing the bottle. The victims are questioned and they confirm the story and add that the driver tried to run them off the road. Both suspects are arrested and taken to jail.

Theoretically, police officers are supposed to be highly trained in questioning. Part of the protocol is training in asking open-ended/non-leading questions. In essence it means that police officers are not supposed to ask leading questions of either accuser or suspects. The reason for this is simple – if a leading question is asked, it could implant a suggestion into the mind of the person being questioned.

The problem I had with this story on Cops is this. The police were called out in response to a person throwing a beer bottle at the car of the accuser. There seems to be no question this happened, as the “suspect” in the red shirt admitted as much. However, when Officer Couture was speaking with the accusers, the information about the driver running them off the road was not volunteered by the accusers. Instead, Officer Couture clearly asked them if the driver of the other vehicle had run them off the road. That is a leading question. The accusers immediately responded that had happened.

The point here is that the officer should have been more careful. The driver of the vehicle was charged with attempting to run the accuser’s vehicle off the road. This may have happened – we do not know from the show. But what happens when the defense attorney gets hold of the tape of the Cops episode showing the officer asking leading questions? The guy will probably get off because of the lack of basic investigatory skills.

What does all this mean? We have a problem in this country with many, many incomplete or botched investigations by police officers. Guilty people are going free because of it. And vice versa, innocent people are going to jail. And the problem continues to spiral out of control. More later.