Protests have raged across the country over the last few months, driven in part by the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. These cases, along with many others this year and over the last decade, have raised serious questions about how widespread police misconduct is in agencies throughout the country. Pennsylvania is no exception. Here, we want to discuss what you can do if you see police misconduct occur.
Where can you report police misconduct in Pennsylvania?
Determining where exactly to report police misconduct that you witness can be difficult. Do you start with the department involved in the misconduct or head right to the state and federal level to report what you have seen?
Federal law enforces Constitutional limits on conduct by police officers. In 18 U.S.C. § 242. Section 242, we can see the language that states, “Whoever, under color of any law, …willfully subjects any person…to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States [shall be guilty of a crime].”
Governor Tom Wolf announced earlier this year that he would appoint an independent watchdog and a civilian commissioner to investigate police misconduct of officers under his jurisdiction. This includes state troopers and Attorney General agents.
However, there are hundreds of local and regional police forces across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In most situations, it is up to the individual departments to decide how to investigate complaints against their officers.
At the state and local levels, there are various ways for people to lodge complaints if they witness police misconduct. Importantly, victims of police misconduct may need to seek assistance from a personal injury lawyer to help them navigate the claims process to ensure they are treated fairly. You should Google search the jurisdiction of the agency who committed the misconduct and look for where to submit a complaint. An attorney can also help you with this process.
What is considered police misconduct?
Pinpointing an exact definition of police misconduct is incredibly difficult. In Pennsylvania, as a single state board sets standards for police officer training and certification. Beyond that board, it is left to individual departments to define police misconduct, investigate questionable police officers, and discipline those officers.
Returning to the US Department of Justice, we can say that the DOJ says that their investigations into police misconduct often involve allegations of:
- Excessive force
- Sexual misconduct
- False arrest
- Deliberate indifference to serious medical needs
- Deliberate indifference to risks of harm to a person in custody
Police misconduct cases can involve police officers, jail or correctional officers, probation officers, prosecutors, and judges. Allegations of misconduct regularly infiltrate all levels of policing, including the local, county, and Commonwealth level in Pennsylvania. Additionally, as federal law enforcement agencies are being used more and more to quell protesters, allegations of police misconduct may rise to the federal level.
You may need an attorney to help with your case
Police misconduct cases often go hand in hand with a person facing criminal charges. Unfortunately, law enforcement officers may charge a person with a crime in an effort to justify the alleged misconduct that took place. If you or somebody you care about has witnessed police misconduct or been the victim of harmful police actions, you may need to seek assistance from an attorney as soon as possible. A criminal defense attorney will be able to handle every aspect of your case for you, including any pending criminal charges you are facing. They will work to obtain any evidence of police misconduct while also building a solid defense of your case.