The issue of a police officer’s sworn report not being verified by the the dash cam video recently turned up in another scenario — not with a video, but instead with witnesses.
One of Chicago’s top DUI cops (he made over 250 DUI arrests a year) was caught inventing facts (such as that he had a motorist perform field sobriety tests, and that the motorist failed those tests, when, it is alleged, nothing of the kind took place). He was tripped up, not by a camera, but by two state’s attorneys who were on a “ride-along” with him. You can read about it here in this court opinion.
Now I should point out that this officer’s criminal case is still pending in the courts, and he is presumed innocent until proven guilty. In fact, I should point out that this officer disputes the claims of the two Assistant State’s Attorneys who were with him on the ride-along. Ironically, he could have had evidence to vindicate himself if only he had a dash cam video showing him doing the field tests on camera. It is for precisely this reason that dash cam videos have been justified — because they can document and/or disprove excessive force and false arrest allegations. Yet the rank and file resist them.
Another irony is that in Illinois it is illegal for citizens to video-record police. Our police do not want outsiders seeing how they do business.
Getting back to our high-volume Chicago cop, the allegations imply that he had been become so comfortable faking cases for such a long period of time, and that so many others must had looked the other way, that he didn’t think to clean up his act in the presence of these two Assistant State’s Attorneys.
After this incident was publicized, I ran into a judge who had just been promoted out of Traffic Court. He told me that he had been speaking to several of his former Traffic Court colleagues and that they were surprised by the revelations.
This highlights a problem with our Chicago Traffic Court system. It is the training ground for new judges. Upon becoming a Cook County judge, one’s first assignment is the Chicago Traffic Court and one may serve there anywhere from one day to, at most a couple of years. The average stay is from 7 to 10 months. While they are there, they are rotated to different courtrooms on a daily basis, whereas the officers always write their cases to one specific room. So each day, the Judges see different officers. As a result, a judge may only hear one or two trials with a particular officer during their “residence” in Traffic Court. They don’t get the opportunity to weigh an officer’s credibility and develop opinions about him or her over time. There is no institutional memory.
One more thing. In the last trial I had involving this police officer, in Chicago Traffic Court, the Assistant State’s Attorney asked the jury: “Do you honestly think that a Chicago Police officer is going to put his badge and integrity on the line for this man, for some guy who is passed out in his car?” This argument was made seven months after the infamous ride-along with this ASA’s traffic court colleagues. See what I mean?
What are your thoughts?