Hypocrisy at its Finest: The Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights

Scott Greenfield, New York criminal defense attorney and author of the highly-regarded Simple Justice blog, has an interesting post today concerning the federal constitutional rights police officers enjoy when they are interrogated about suspected criminal conduct. (Read his blog post here.)

While the federal rights Greenfield discusses would be seen by many as giving police officers “special treatment” that ordinary suspects do not enjoy, the disparity is nothing compared to the rights that California police officers have been granted by our state’s Legislature.

These rights, referred to in the California Government Code as the “Peace Officers Bill of Rights,” grant numerous privileges to cops during questioning by their superiors about suspected misconduct. I summarize 14 of them below.

Now, I don’t begrudge the police unions from demanding these rights. I’d ask for unreasonable perks from the Legislature, too, if I thought that they’d grant them to me. But I’ll try to keep them in mind next time one of my friends in law enforcement (especially you, Tommy) whines about “liberal judges” granting “too many constitutional rights” to my “guilty clients.”

These rights, referred to in the California Government Code as the “Peace Officers Bill of Rights,” guarantee numerous privileges to cops during questioning by their superiors about suspected misconduct. The rights include, but are not limited to, the following:

(1) The interrogation shall be conducted at a reasonable hour;

(2) If the interrogation occurs while the officer is off-duty, he or she is entitled to be paid for being there;

(3) The officer must be informed prior to the interrogation of the rank, name, and command of the officer in charge of the interrogation, the interrogating officers, and all other persons to be present during the interrogation;

(4) All questions directed to the officer under interrogation shall be asked by and through no more than two interrogators at one time;

(5) The officer must be informed of the nature of the investigation before the interrogation begins;

(6) The interrogating session shall last for a reasonable period, and person under interrogation shall be allowed to attend to his or her own personal physical necessities;

(7) The officer may not be subjected to offensive language or threatened with punitive action, except that an officer refusing to respond to questions or submit to interrogations shall be informed that failure to answer questions directly related to the investigation or interrogation may result in punitive action;

(8) No promise of reward shall be made as an inducement to answering any question;

(9) The employer shall not cause the officer under interrogation to be subjected to visits by the media without his or her express consent nor shall his or her home address or photograph be given to the media without his or her express consent;

(10) If a tape recording is made of the interrogation, the officer shall have access to the tape if any further proceedings are contemplated or prior to any further interrogation at a subsequent time;

(11) The public safety officer shall be entitled to a transcribed copy of any notes made by a stenographer or to any reports or complaints made by investigators or other persons, except those which are deemed by the investigating agency to be confidential;

(12) The officer being interrogated has the right to bring his or her own recording device and record any and all aspects of the interrogation;

(13) If prior to or during the interrogation of the officer it is deemed that he or she may be charged with a criminal offense, he or she shall be immediately informed of his or her constitutional rights;

(14) Whenever an interrogation focuses on matters that are likely to result in punitive action against an officer, that officer, at his or her request, shall have the right to be represented by a representative of his or her choice who may be present at all times during the interrogation.

(Don’t believe it? Read the entire statute here.)

If these rules are really necessary to protect police officers from dealing with the “stress” of an interrogation by a fellow cop, imagine what would be required to give similar comfort to a suspect who isn’t a police officer – a person far less capable of withstanding official pressure.

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