Arizona police officers accused of misconduct will soon have more protection.
Gov. Jan Brewer has signed six bills, backed by police unions, that spell out procedures for internal investigations.
Great, because it was not already hard enough to take action against bad cops in a system where all the insiders - police and prosecutors - generally close ranks to defend them from scrutiny.
The new laws are not all bad -- at least one gives protections to internal whistle-blowers, something that is needed in a police culture that has an effective law of omerta against cops who call out other cops for bad behavior. My guess, though, is that this rule will be used by unions who want to harass police management, rather than to protect street cops who testify against other street cops.
Defenders of the law said
Police unions weren't asking for anything more than the due process an arrested citizen receives, said Larry A. Lopez, president of the Arizona Conference of Police and Sheriffs.
"Just because we wear uniforms, we're not relegated to a watered-down version of constitutional rights," said Lopez, a Tucson officer.
I have said a number of times that this is not quite true. Police are given powers to use force against other citizens that the rest of us do not possess. This necessitates a kind of scrutiny and oversight by the state that would not be appropriate or legal for the average citizen. For example, police simply do not have the privacy rights in conducting their jobs that the rest of us do. We have seen too many times that when we give police broad discretion, special powers, and no oversight (or even a nudge and a wink guarantee against oversight), bad things inevitably happen.
If you are confused about what I am talking about, go read Radley Balko's archives.