This past week an Indiana alcohol excise officer was arrested on suspicion of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated within Hamilton County. Of note from the perspective of a defense lawyer are arrests of this nature proceeding toward potential prosecution at all.
Hamilton county as well as other counties statewide have not been immune to the suggestion that local communities will bend over backwards to prevent a law enforcement officer from being held to account within a public prosecution. However, this perception has been altered somewhat by recent cases here demonstrating that law enforcement officials are not above the law.
Most notably, a relatively recent public prosecution of one particular local officer enabled to shake down Hispanic drivers within Hamilton County for an undetermined amount of time before being caught and prosecuted. A customary willingness of local law enforcement agencies to accept sworn allegations of police officers without question often contributes to allowing bad cops to feel emboldened to act with impunity.
There have been many theories behind why police officers will not be held accountable for malfeasance to the same extent that an average citizen would.
While typical suggestions abound such as the desire for those within the local law enforcement community to, “protect their own,” I believe that public relations considerations often plays a more central component as to why so few such arrests are broadcast for public scrutiny.
Within the poor economic climate presently existing within our country, local public agencies must often clamor for the limited public expenditures available for distribution to respective governmental service agencies. Included among them are local sheriff’s departments and elected prosecutor offices. With each suggestion of criminal conduct among member(s) of a particular law enforcement agency comes inevitable challenges to entrusting such an agency with tax revenue often sorely lacking among various police agencies.
Further, with diminished funding comes the prospect of poor performance through lowered rates of arrest among police departments that must sometimes lay off officers and/or attempt to police their communities without a full complement of resources made available elsewhere.
Such realities have far too long been the result of a patronizing attitude toward the public by law enforcement and an unwillingness to believe that the local citizenry are intelligent enough to understand that the isolated criminal conduct of a lone officer is not customarily the reflection of a department as a whole.
Refreshingly, Hamilton county officers and local screening prosecutors in the most recent arrest of an Indiana law enforcement official were not willing to look the other way in sweeping the conduct of one of their own under the rug and away from public scrutiny. As such, I believe that the conduct of officers and prosecutors alike within this most recent arrest are worthy of commendation in allowing for the legal process to run its course irrespective of the suspect in question.
Whether the suspect under arrest is a powerless citizen, a wealthy philanthropist or law enforcement officer, all individuals are entitled to the presumption of innocence and the most vigorous legal defense possible. However, what is equally owed to Hoosiers within each county jurisdiction within our state is a recognition that no matter who may be the focus of a police stop, all under investigation will be subject to the same criteria for arrest and prosecution.