The attack on two New York police lieutenants by demonstrators last weekend has thrown a spotlight on a police unit that typically remains on the sidelines: the Legal Bureau, reports the Wall Street Journal. Lts. Philip Chan and Patrick Sullivan were attacked and injured when they tried to arrest Eric Linsker, 29, as protesters were escorted across the Brooklyn Bridge. The lieutenants and 21 other legal team members had scattered across the city as part of the police response during protests of a grand jury's decision not to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner.
The bureau includes sworn officers with arresting powers. Part of their role is to act as a legal eye for the department during demonstrations. Among its other functions are reviewing legislation, weighing in on procedures and policies and assisting officers regarding legal matters in the field. It operates a 24-hour hotline officers can call if they are unsure about the legality of their actions. Chris Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union said the unit’s officers “almost always are a constructive presence at demonstrations.” Lawyer Bill Amato of the Tempe, Az., Police Department and a board member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said the goal of a legal bureau is to foresee problems before a legal issue arises.