In a courtroom at New York City police headquarters, the police department punishes or exonerates its own, says the New York Times. As the disciplinary arm of a paramilitary organization, it answers to its own set of rules. There is no jury and while there is a judge, the judge does not have the final say; that power belongs to the police commissioner. The Police Department patrol guide is the rule of law, and there is no prospect of jail time; instead, officers can be fired. It is here where seven officers involved in the Sean Bell shooting could find themselves fighting for their jobs. Four officers, including three who were acquitted in a criminal trial, were charged with “discharging their firearms outside of departmental guidelines;” others were faulted for supervision or processing of the shooting scene.
The Police Department puts one of its own on trial at least once a week, on average, and opens the proceedings to the public. Critics say that parts of the process are not transparent. In 2007, there were 318 cases in which uniformed officers faced administrative charges: 216 ended after a penalty was negotiated, 89 went to trial and 13 were dismissed. Of those officers who went to trial, 70 were found guilty, and 19 not guilty. The penalties in the 70 guilty findings ranged from loss of pay to dismissal.