Treat police and citizens equally and openly

Why should police officers be protected by anonymity when they are accused of wrongdoing? After all, they accuse people all the time, and those they accuse are publicly identified.

Perhaps the New London City Council and the Police-Community Relations Committee, which have been wrestling with the problem for years, ought to listen to judges explain to prospective jurors that American law demands that police and ordinary citizens be considered as equals.

Jurors, who decide the guilt or innocence of someone accused of a crime, are usually surprised when a judge tells them not to give the testimony of a police officer more weight than the testimony of any ordinary citizen. The judge explains that a policeman who makes an arrest should be held to the same standards of honesty and credibility as any other person, uniformed or not. The judge says a police officer is just like the rest of us and deserves no special consideration when telling his version of what happened.

And, the judge will emphasize, probably over-emphasize, the important concept that an arrest is just an accusation. Everyone arrested on a criminal charge is considered innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

That's American law. And because the law gives police officers no honesty advantage over any other citizen, it follows that an accusation made by a citizen against a police officer should be given equal status.

Citizen complaints, like police arrests, are only unproven accusations.

Of course, the public can be forgiven for taking a police accusation a little more seriously, particularly since newspapers, like The Day and other media, publish the names of people arrested in daily police logs. The law says arrests are public information and cannot be withheld from view.

Because arrests are publicized, and because the public is not so carefully instructed by judges about the weight and importance of unproven accusations, arrests do in fact stigmatize citizens to an unfortunate degree.

In that respect, a police officer has additional power to affect the lives of those arrested. Why should any officer be protected from the same risk of an accusation made by a citizen who, by law, is his or her equal?

In view of the equal credibility afforded to both police and citizens under the law, accusations by one against the other deserve equal treatment.

And both should be a matter of public record.

Stan Simon, who lives in Groton, retired after working as a criminal justice reporter for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Hartford Courant, where he also was a city editor. After retiring Simon was a part-time copy editor at The Day.


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