What responsibility do district attorneys have for fixing broken policing practices that lead to tragic and infuriating deaths at police hands? “Prosecute bad cops,” goes the refrain. Top prosecutors bear far more responsibility for police misconduct than prosecuting officers who abuse, injure, or kill community members, contends Slate. The decision to indict is only the final step in a prosecutorial process that tilts in cops’ favor in many little ways that are largely beyond public view. Without greater scrutiny of their day-to-day practices, prosecutors will continue to enable police abuse, Slate argues.
Many staff prosecutors will tell you that they know who some of the bad cops are. Taking aggressive action in response to early warning signs can prevent future injury or death. Elected district attorneys should require staff to report police misconduct whenever it is encountered and provide them with protected channels for making those reports. They should have systems in place to share concerns regarding officer credibility before they make decisions about whether to proceed with prosecutions. They should require that any concerns about officers, and any supporting information, be shared with defense attorneys. Such measures would provoke fierce resistance from police unions and other officials who oppose reform. Elected district attorneys should be ready to stand their ground on these policies, Slate maintains.