I read an opinion piece by Times-Picayune writer Jarvis DeBerry, a frequent critic of police officers and the FOP who believes he is the only one entitled to righteous indignation, which disparages police unions for supporting union members. The claim is that police unions ignore what is plainly obvious to everyone else in order to protect their members. I have a couple of thoughts about that assertion.
Police unions have a responsibility to look out for their members. These situations are often complex legal situations which the media and some members of the public see as crystal clear. In investigations such as those following an officer involved shooting, police officers are not relegated to a watered down version of their constitutional rights, as the U.S. Supreme Court has stated. They have the same constitutional rights as everyone else.
Officers’ constitutional rights seem to be something else that opinion writers have a problem with. I have seen opinions lately lamenting the fact that officers don’t have to make a statement about an officer involved shooting for 30 days. This statutory provision specifically relates to administrative investigations, not criminal investigations and it should be pointed out that no FOP attorney has ever advised an officer to sit quiet for those 30 days. Every American is entitled to not make a statement to police in a criminal investigation. In fact, most Americans don’t ever have to make a statement to police. Police officers can be compelled to make a statement even if they wish to assert their constitutionally guaranteed right to remain silent. If we had to read opinions every time a member of the criminal defense bar advised a client not to speak to the police, we wouldn’t have time to read anything else.
Next, even if an officer was wrong, that does not necessarily mean that the officer’s actions constitute a crime. The criminal law is what it is. It is not my responsibility to defend the legislation, but we as a society value freedom and have implemented some pretty steep burdens to meet in order to send someone to jail.
As spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police in New Orleans and an attorney who frequently represents police officers, I think that we have taken a pretty reasonable position regarding recent events in Baton Rouge and Minnesota. That position can be summed up pretty easily as we should not jump to conclusions because we lack crucial information. If it turns out that these officers acted with criminal intent such as Antoinette Frank or Len Davis, then we would hope the criminal justice system would do what it is supposed to do. If it turns out that the officers’ actions do not rise to the level of a criminal violation, then we can only hope that the officers will not have to defend themselves in court. Recent criminal prosecutions in Baltimore seem to be an examples of cases which should never have been brought. One way or another, I would go down fighting for the constitutional rights of FOP members. So, if the accusation is that the FOP is always fighting for its members, I admit it.
The Fraternal Order of Police is the largest police organization in New Orleans, representing over 1,000 active New Orleans Police Officers and another 1,000 retired law enforcement officers. In Louisiana, the FOP represents over 6,000 commissioned law enforcement officers and retirees.
The Fraternal Order of Police is the world’s largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers, with more than 330,000 members in more than 2,200 lodges. We are the voice of those who dedicate their lives to protecting and serving our communities. We are committed to improving the working conditions of law enforcement officers and the safety of those we serve through education, legislation, information, community involvement, and employee representation. No one knows the dangers and the difficulties faced by today’s police officers better than another officer, and no one knows police officers better than the FOP.