If approved by the Pittsburgh city council, a new policy would increase police accountability without hampering cops’ ability to enforce the law, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Editorial Board. Council member Rev. Ricky Burgess’s so-called “stop-and-frisk” legislation requires police to justify and document warrantless pedestrian stops.
Two of the great enemies of justice and institutional health
are arbitrariness, which refers to performing actions for no good reason,
and impunity, which refers to knowing that one will not be held accountable for
those actions. When police officers don’t have to justify or document
pedestrian stops, that increases the temptation for them to use those stops to
intimidate and hassle, rather than to protect and serve, the public.
Even the appearance of arbitrariness and impunity in law
enforcement destroys public trust. Citizens begin to believe that police aren’t
bound by the laws they swear to uphold and will not be held accountable.
To the extent this is true, the police themselves can develop an “anything
goes” mentality. The ends always justify the means and some people’s safety is
expendable in the service of some alleged greater good.
Mr. Burgess’s bill would not ban warrantless stops or
otherwise restrict the ability of police to make them. Rather, it installs
procedures to protect against arbitrariness and impunity. The ordinance
would require officers to do two simple things to document a discretionary
pedestrian stop: call in to dispatch before the stop and use a dashboard or
body camera during the stop.
This ensures institutional accountability, but the bill
would also increase personal accountability to the public: Unless safety or
confidentiality require discretion, officers must give civilians paper
documentation of the reason they stopped them if the stop doesn’t result in an
Some people, including some police officers, may object that
city council is hamstringing law enforcement, but that’s bunk. The ordinance
would merely introduce safeguards that will reassure the public that the police
are actually following the law. The simple procedures the new policy would
require would also protect the officers themselves from false charges of
intimidation or abuse. And if exigent circumstances — such as a violent crime
in progress — demand immediate action, these procedures won’t apply.
If officers resist the idea of having to account for the
reasonableness and legality of their actions, that’s a red flag about the
officers, not Mr. Burgess’s proposal.
Warrantless pedestrian stops may be an important part of law
enforcement, but without proper controls they can be easily abused — and not
just by abusive cops but by cops trying to do their best in a difficult job.
That damages the public trust that’s essential to doing their job
right. Mr. Burgess’s ordinance would allow police to continue enforcing
the law effectively, while remaining within the law themselves.
To read more CLICK HERE