After a situation where someone is victimized by police misconduct or brutality, it can be difficult to determine how to respond. There are limited ways in which members of the public can make sure the police are disciplined properly. However, some governments are taking proactive measures to make sure police officers are held accountable for their actions. These new laws may create independent review boards which fall outside of traditional reporting mechanisms that are mostly controlled by the departments that employ the offending officers.
The LETT Act
The city of Rockville Maryland has proposed some progressive legislation that would allow for independent investigations when someone dies in police custody or during an encounter. Under the new law, the findings of these inquiries would also need to be published in a report and made accessible to the public.
As a response to a fatal shooting by a police officer in 2018 where no criminal charges were ever filed, local officials want to pass a law called the LETT Act. This acronym stands for Law Enforcement Trust and Transparency. When a death occurs in either Montgomery or Howard County, employees from the other county’s State Attorney’s Office would review relevant evidence to determine if any disciplinary actions should be taken. Proponents of the bill state that it would protect against bias and help determine the most appropriate disciplinary actions against officers who abuse their authority and the cause a death of a local resident. This is in contrast to current regulations in Montgomery County where the department that employs the officer conducts the initial investigation, creating obvious potential for bias.
Something like an independent review board that has the authority to discipline officers without any ties to the department or personal knowledge of the officer would be a huge step forward. Members of such a board could use their own independent judgment to determine if an officer abused their authority and also determine appropriate punishments. This prevents department employees who have relationships with an officer from being the same ones to choose to either discipline them or let them off the hook.
How does discipline occur now?
Without this kind of legislation there are really only three ways that police are either disciplined or held accountable for misconduct. All of them usually require the victim to report an incident in order to start an investigation or file a lawsuit, otherwise it will not happen and the officer usually returns to work without any punishment. These sanctions can come from:
- Criminal charges from a local prosecutor
- An investigation from internal affairs or other local government agency that can hand out suspensions or terminate the officer’s employment
- A civil lawsuit where the victims file federal claims for excessive use of force and deprivation of civil rights to be compensated for injuries and suffering
It is always helpful to report an incident to the local department or government agency that handles investigations into abuses of police authority to create a record of the event. However, with current procedures in place in most cities and counties around the country, the situation is totally out of a victim’s hands once initially disclosed. A civil lawsuit against the relevant city or department that employs the individual officer is still the option that gives the plaintiff the most control and potential to be repaid.
Get legal help from a civil rights lawyer
Despite the fact that there may be relevant local laws regulating police behavior, the only option for a victim to be financial compensated is to get a lawyer to file a civil lawsuit alleging violations of constitutionally protected rights. For those who have been mistreated by police in the Rockville area, Rowe, Weinstein, and Sohn, PLLC can provide help. Their award winning legal team has years of experience helping people with all kinds of injuries.