What If I Witness or Have Been the Victim of Police Misconduct?
Protecting the public from police misconduct and corruption is a serious matter. It is essential for maintaining police-community relations and effective law enforcement. Every police department recognizes that there can be “bad” officers and “good” officers who make “bad” decisions. Police departments do not support or condone police misconduct of any type. Neither do prosecutors or other government agencies and community organizations.
At various times, however, there will be disagreements between the police and the public about law enforcement practices and specific incidents. There will also be mistakes. That is why we have a system of “checks and balances” — to keep things “honest.” This includes laws, judges, investigative agencies and a free press.
Keep in mind that the public always has a good faith right to question police actions or to file a complaint — even when there are only suspicions or concerns about police behavior, and the reason(s) why an officer acted in a certain way may be unknown. Fortunately, within every community, there are many governmental agencies (including the police themselves), organizations, lawyers and public representatives, whose job it is to investigate civilian complaints and get to the truth.
- If you have been injured by the police, first seek medical attention. Document and keep the medical records of your condition and treatment.
- Write down all facts as soon as possible.
- Save any evidence, including any recordings and photographs.
- Try to remember officers’ names, badge numbers, patrol car numbers, and physical descriptions.
- It is always helpful to have witnesses’ names and phone numbers
- Identify any security cameras or witnesses in the area that may have recorded the events.
- Remember, in today’s world there are security cameras everywhere and bystanders often use cell phones to record the activities of the police.
- The police increasingly also have their own equipment to record actions and statements (particularly on the highways).
- Consult with a lawyer or organizations (such as the ACLU), particularly if you were injured or arrested. It may be important to your case.
- Contact your local government agencies and organizations responsible for investigating police misconduct. Your complaint may be evidence of a pattern of misconduct.
- Even if only a witness to possible police misconduct, report what you have witnessed and any evidence to a lawyer, or appropriate government or community organization.
- If you prefer, you can often do this anonymously.
- You should do this as soon as possible—but better late than never.
- As long as you are not interfering with police actions or putting yourself or others in danger—you generally have the right to record, photograph, or videotape events that are taking place in public.
- Increasingly, organizations, such as the ACLU, are offering the public various technologies and apps for documenting and reporting potential police misconduct.
- If you are recording an event, follow any instructions of the police—even if they seem unreasonable or designed to prevent you from documenting what is taking place.
- If you fail to follow the instructions of the police, you may expose yourself to criminal charges.
- As a general matter, when recording events, you should allow the record to speak for itself. Avoid narration and do not edit or otherwise erase any portion of what you have recorded. Otherwise, your record could be viewed by courts as incomplete or inaccurate—and therefore not helpful as evidence of what occurred.
- Even if you haven’t photographed or recorded an event, you have the right to bring information about police misconduct to the attention of the authorities. You can still be a valuable witness.