Prosecuting a bad cop is the hardest work a lawyer can do, as Lizzie Scott learns in my debut novel, “Deadly Force: A Lizzie Scott Novel” (available April 7 from Ankerwycke). Pre-order it here.
Police work is tough. It requires the physical stamina of the toughest blue-collar jobs and mental acuity of the highest white-collar professions. The cop on the beat has to be tougher and quicker than any threat he confronts. He also has to know the law as well as a lawyer, human nature as well as a shrink, and his community as well as a sociologist. I’ve worked with the police as a prosecutor, covered them as a reporter, and relied on them as a citizen. Nobody admires the police more than I do.
Which is why, on the rare occasion when one of them goes bad—or starts off that way—it offends me. Democracy can survive a lot: bad politicians, stupid judges, a jejune media. But a bad cop is fatal. He destroys the law and justice system upon which the entirety of our nation is founded.
Americans have a healthy respect for the police. Which is why convincing 12 of them to convict a bad one is almost impossible. Police officers are by definition law-abiding, brave, and honest. That’s why prosecutors hate prosecuting police officers. They are hard cases to win, but they are even harder cases to bring. The practice in the US Attorney’s Office when I was there was to leave it to the DOJ Civil Rights Division or handle it as the last case you did in the office. Because a lot of police never trusted a prosecutor after she went after one of their own.
Here’s just one sad example of the politics of police prosecution: