In the summer of 2020, every state saw protests and marches against police misconduct and against disparities in how some minority members of the public are treated by police officers. People of all races and ethnicities marched together and increased the nation’s awareness of “bad cops.” A bright spotlight was shone on police departments across the nation. Washington shared that spotlight with the other states.
Police misconduct occurs when a police officer behaves in a way that is inappropriate for the job. It often involves inappropriate or excessive force used against a member of the public, but misconduct can also include racial profiling, false arrests, intimidation, and indifference to a suspect’s medical needs. The root of misconduct may be conscious or subconscious discrimination. It may be based on the officer’s own personality, fears, or lack of education. Or it may be based on the culture of the police department. In every case, it is exacerbated by a lack of accountability.
For decades, many police departments protected these officers, possibly due to a lack of policy for dealing with rogue police officers. Also, the “blue wall of silence” was common in police departments, and police officers often stuck together to protect the image of the department.
Law Enforcement in Washington State
The state of Washington has more than 11,000 police officers. Most of them do an excellent job of protecting the public. They are friendly to all people and use their power with discretion. They follow procedures, do not abuse their authority, and treat suspects with respect. Unfortunately, there are some police officers who do not uphold this standard. When these officers misuse their authority in a way that hurts people, it is considered police misconduct.
When police misconduct happens and the victim sues the police department, it is very hard to prove in court, for many reasons. In the rare cases when a police officer is proven guilty, the public may expect an indictment and prison or, at the least, for the guilty police officer to lose their job and their ability to serve as a police officer again. In one Washington town that did not happen.
In the city of Tukwila, a police officer used excessive force on a possible suspect, who reported the incident. The case went to trial, the officer was found guilty, and the victim successfully sued and was awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars. The officer was fired. Despite this (and, it turns out, being fired from the police job before that), Washington did not remove his ability to get another job as a police officer.
Victims of Police Misconduct
If you were injured by police misconduct, the police officer who injured you can be found liable for violating your civil rights, committing battery, or being negligent. To pursue justice, you will need a lawyer who specializes in civil rights.