Fighting Back

100’s of Attorneys Build Tool to Document Bad Cops: Introducing the “Cop Accountability Program”

from TFTP

cop-accountability-databaseDefense attorneys have a new tool at their disposal to question the credibility of police officers in court, thanks to the largest organization of public defenders in the nation.

The Legal Aid Society is a New York-based nonprofit with a staff of over 650 attorneys that represents over 230,000 people yearly. They have created the “cop accountability” database as a means of systematically tracking rogue actions by officers.

By creating a database that records accusations of officer misconduct it becomes easier for defense attorneys to identify problem officers. The database allows the defense to bring these credibility issues to light. This subsequently forces judges and juries to take this information into consideration when passing judgment.

Cynthia Conti-Cook, a former civil rights lawyer, joined the Legal Aid Society last spring with the idea for the database, formally called the Cop Accountability Program, already in mind, according to Slate.

The impetus behind the project is that during a criminal case there’s typically a “big red arrow that says ‘criminal’ pointing to the defendant.” There’s very little the defense can respond with other than to say, “my client denies the charges,” according to Conti-Cook.

With the database in use, any past misconduct by an officer can be discovered if it has been entered into the system. With that information, the defense attorney can “start shifting that red arrow toward the police officer, by showing that they’ve also been engaged in activity that deteriorates their credibility.”

Conti-Cook went on to say, “It takes the judge’s attention away from what your client did wrong to get here, and puts more of a burden on the police officer to prove that your client actually did something.” She stressed the importance, because “more and more, in this broken-windows climate, the main and sometimes only witness in a case will be a police officer.”

According to Justine Luongo, the attorney-in-charge of the Legal Aid Society’s criminal practice, attorneys at Legal Aid are instructed to be very comprehensive in uploading information. The information includes complaints that were dismissed or unsubstantiated and noting the outcome.

Other informational sources that will be included in the database are civil lawsuits against the city, news reports, grievances filed with the Civilian Complaint Review Board, and criminal trials in which an officer was deemed not to be credible by the judge.