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New data shows large majorities of Americans, including Republicans, support making police disciplinary records public. The data was released today in a report by Data for Progress and The Justice Collaborative Institute that also discussed why public disciplinary records are critical for justice.
People were outraged in 2014 when NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo choked Eric Garner to death as he said over and over, “I can’t breathe.” Only years later, however, was it revealed — and then only through a leak — that Pantaleo had a history of misconduct that had barely been addressed.
This type of scenario, which has played out across the nation, is precisely why the public must have access to police disciplinary records. In almost all cases, when a complaint is made against an officer by a member of the public or another officer, the investigation is handled internally. Whether an officer is suspected of taking part in a drug trafficking operation, fabricating evidence by planting drugs, or beating a confession out of a suspect, the department generally investigates itself. When not required to release that information, departments can protect officers from discipline, putting the public at risk. This also means that even if a department takes the step of firing an officer, that officer often just gets another job with another department as if their misconduct never happened.
“This is a basic matter of public safety,” said Jonathan Abel, the report’s author. “The public needs to know that law enforcement agencies are doing everything they can to discipline and remove officers with histories of excessive force, sexual assault, dishonesty, and racial prejudice. Only transparency can help assure the public that these problems are being taken seriously.” Unfortunately, many states and departments go to extreme measures to shield that information from public view. In some cases their laws go so far as to make it difficult for prosecutors to get required information to turn over to defense attorneys as required by the Constitution under Brady v. Maryland.
Fortunately, elected leaders seeking to change this situation have widespread, bipartisan support. Today’s report’s polling shows a strong mandate for action:
- 66% of likely voters, including 57% of Republicans, support “making all law enforcement disciplinary records of police officers available to the public.”
- 67% of likely voters, including 58% of Republicans, support “releasing ‘Brady Lists,’ that is, lists that record instances of police misconduct, to the public.”
- 73% of likely voters, including 67% of Republicans, believe that “the public has a right to know which police officers in the community have records of excessive force, sexual assault, racism, or dishonesty.”
- 69% of likely voters, including 63% of Republicans, support “allowing people to . . . use public records requests to learn whether police officers in the community have records of excessive force, sexual assault, racism, or dishonesty.”
The report is available here.