Toward a Uniform Code of Police Justice
30 Pages Posted: 28 Dec 2016 Last revised: 30 Dec 2016
Date Written: December 27, 2016
The recent (and seemingly consistent) news of police abuses has lead to significant discussion on how best to curtail this conduct. Much of this work focuses on making sure that officers are subject to appropriate criminal sanctions for their behavior. This essay — while espousing a similar refrain — takes a step back and wrestles with a more fundamental question. Why are police officers — given their unique responsibilities and powers — subject to the same criminal code as non-officers?
This essay is the first to propose that police officers should be subject to a separate set of criminal rules, much like we’ve already done with military personnel under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (“UCMJ”). We, as a society, recognize that military personnel have special role to play. They are a fighting force tasked to defend the country. While we honor their service, we recognize the need for special obligations commensurate with their duties. So goes the rationale for promulgating the UCMJ and its unique criminal provisions. Police officers too are uniquely positioned in our society. They also are tasked to keep the peace and protect us but from internal instead of external threats. Most notably, they too are imbued with special powers such as the ability to detain suspects and use physical force if necessary. These privileges should also bring with them special criminal rules regulating their behavior when carrying out these duties. This kind of uniform code could, for instance, include specific criminal prohibitions relating to excessive force in carrying out police duties or conduct unbecoming a police officer — provisions that are not currently in the criminal civilian code but which already have analogs in the UCMJ. This change would make it easier for prosecutors to bring charges and, in turn, instill greater confidence in police accountability.
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