June 8, 2020

GUEST ROOM | Eight Minutes and 46 Seconds, Plus 400 Years

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It took eight minutes and 46 seconds for Officer Chauvin to murder George Floyd, but it has taken 400 years for America to face brutality by rogue police. This tragic, repulsive murder presents yet another opportunity to address police accountability. Police officers are often not held accountable for their actions, because their departments rarely conduct internal investigations. When they do, in my experience, the nature and scope of the investigation is never publicly disclosed, and almost always results in exoneration.  In most accusations of abuse by police, just as in the April 2019 incident on the Ithaca Commons, the District Attorney never even investigates.

As a candidate for Tompkins County District Attorney, here is an outline of how I will address police misconduct:

  • A Police Misconduct Board will be established within the Office of the District Attorney.
  • The public must report instances of police misconduct.
  • Police misconduct would consider:
    • the level of culpability of the officer
    • evidence of a pattern of conduct of an officer
    • corroborative evidence of misconduct
    • severity of harm to the victim
    • the impact of the particular misconduct upon the public
  • If a complaint is filed, all further proceedings are totally transparent.
  • The police are prosecuted with full accountability.
  • Mandatory police de-escalation tactics and training are implemented.
  • Governmental bodies will monitor lawsuits involving charges of police misconduct.
  • The DA’s investigation is used to identify and correct problems in training or policies, and appropriate action is taken.
  • Procedures to identify individual police officers and take appropriate follow-up action are developed, including additional training or other assistance
  • Police misconduct must be dealt with immediately and resolved in a timely fashion.
  • Misconduct that results in settlements and the payment of taxpayer money should be studied carefully to determine what went wrong and why.
  • Public officials must publish all the facts of every incident of police misconduct, together with policies that resulted in additional training, discipline or termination.
  • Never agree to a confidentiality provision in the settlement of police misconduct cases.
  • Ban the acquisition of surplus military combat vehicles.
  • Ban chokeholds as a restraint technique.
  • Mandatory implicit racial bias sensitivity training.
  • Create a national police misconduct registry to prevent disgraced police from job hopping.
  • Repeal Section 50-a, that requires all police personnel files, including complaints of abuse, to be confidential.
  • The District Attorney can never appear to favor the police by recusal from the prosecution of a police officer.
  • Honorable police officers, particularly women, people of color and LGBTQIA+, should be identified early for career enhancement training.
  • New York’s current “qualified immunity” that protects rogue officers from liability should be eliminated, holding them personally liable for damages and shifting this burden from the taxpayers to the police officers who have actually caused the injuries.
  •  The amount of damages paid should be entered on the officer’s personnel record

Let us join together to build a community that addresses the needs of each and every one of us.

Ed Kopko is a candidate for Tompkins County District Attorney. Comments can be sent to opinion@cornellsun.com. Guest Room runs periodically throughout the summer.