The LEO’s role as a crime victim
About 7 years after I started working as a LEO, I was summoned jury duty. The questionnaire I received required me to disclose, under oath, if I was ever a victim of a crime and to list those crimes. I thought for a minute, checked the box for “yes” and started writing. As part of my constant efforts to be accommodating, I listed the number of “counts” next to each statute. As you may imagine, there were several counts of simple assault and simple battery, more than one count of terroristic threats, a couple of counts of “solicitation of sodomy” based upon requests by several angry suspects (all of which I declined) and at least one count of aggravated assault. When we handed our forms to the jury coordinator, she read the list of crimes and said, “Wow! That’s a lot.” I knew at the time that my list was nowhere near as long as other LEOs I knew.
Every couple of weeks, I receive a call or email from a LEO who is concerned about the disposition of criminal charges against a particular suspect. While many of those calls involve the LEO’s attempt to protect children or a particularly vulnerable victim, many others involve crimes committed against the LEO in the performance of his duties. I am always disappointed to hear how many LEOs are concerned that the prosecutors will allow a suspect to plea to lesser charges when the assault or injury occurs to a LEO. However, I understand their concerns because I have seen it happen.
There are several ways that you can prevent a suspect from getting a light plea deal when that suspect commits a crime against you. First, develop a good relationship with the prosecutors in your jurisdiction. The overwhelming majority support you and want to learn more about your job. Second, make certain that your report clearly outlines the details of any crime committed against you. It is not enough to say that the suspect struck you. Add that the suspect struck you in the upper chest just to the left of your badge or kicked your upper leg leaving a mark on your uniform pants. Third, you need to learn to be a victim.
Victims have some rights. As a victim, you have the right to contact the prosecutor, meet with the prosecutor and give input to the charges. You also have the right to know the status of the prosecution and any deals that will be discussed with the defendant or his counsel. While the prosecutor generally has the discretion to offer and accept plea deals, you have the right to make your views known. Finally, you have the right to attend the plea proceeding. You will find that most judges want to hear from a victim at the time of the plea who cares enough to come to the courthouse.
By letting the prosecutor know that you are interested in the case and by providing photographs, invoices for damaged personal or department equipment and medical records documenting your injuries, you help the prosecutor learn more about the case. You also help personalize your case. Most prosecutors are swamped with case files. Make it easy for them to learn the facts about your case. If you meet a prosecutor who is not willing to listen, remember that the elected official at the top of that chain of command will listen.
There are many resources available for LEOs injured in the line of duty. I will write about them in a later post. However, we are working in Georgia to pass a law to prevent anyone who commits a forcible felony against or injures a LEO from receiving First Offender status. You can read the bill and follow the progress in the Georgia legislature here. Consider similar legislation in your state. I drafted and submitted this bill after working with LEOs who were injured, some severely, only to find that the perpetrator was given First Offender status.
In our society, we rely on law enforcement to protect us. When a suspect assaults, attacks or injures a LEO, he or she has just faced the highest level of force our constitution will allow us to use to stop crime. The actions of that suspect should be treated differently. In an age of hate crimes legislation, I can easily make the argument that a crime against a LEO is a hate crime with implications that the malice is directed toward society as a whole. However, that would me too much philosophy for one blog post!