A new ruling out of the state of California provides extra protection for police officers who defy the chain of command when reporting unlawful behavior at work. Shockingly, police officers did not have First Amendment protection when they attempted to reveal corruption within law enforcement organizations. This new decision, handed down on Aug. 21, ensures that public safety officers will be afforded the same rights as those within the private sector.
The decision by the 11-judge appeals court panel was sparked by a suit brought by a detective who had allegedly been punished for reporting wrongdoing in the workplace. This person had been vilified for reporting brutality by the Burbank Police Department to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office. The detective will now be permitted to sue his former employers for First Amendment violations, an avenue that had been closed to police officers punished for whistleblowing.
The detective was fired after reporting abuse of suspects that became rampant throughout the department in 2007. A high-profile robbery investigation turned physical when officers assaulted suspects, grabbing one by the throat and brandishing a gun. Suspects were also slapped during interrogation. Booking photos provided evidence to support the man’s assertions. The Burbank police put the man on administrative leave before eventually terminating his employment. A lower court had ruled that the man was not retaliated against because administrative leave did not constitute a punishment.
The implications of this ruling affect not only police officers but also the general public. If officers are given additional protection when reporting abuse, the residents of California are less likely to be harmed by those who are supposed to protect and serve. An alternate reporting structure for these officers will provide an important safeguard against police corruption and abuse in our communities. In addition, officers are more likely to receive the financial compensation they deserve from suffering retaliation after blowing the whistle on department misdeeds.
www.latimes.com, “Court ruling favors police officers who report on-the-job misconduct” Maura Dolan, Aug. 21, 2013