Can you name the bad police forces in your area? Off the top of my head I’ll pick Worcester, Springfield, Revere, Abington, and Stoughton. I’m not talking routine speed traps, I mean real problem cases. Robbery, burglary, major civil rights violations.
How do they get that way?
One reason is, it’s almost impossible to fire bad cops in Massachusetts. Three out of four attempts to discipline officers are overturned by arbitrators. It’s been that way forever and cities keep agreeing to arbitration. Politicians deliberately chose a system that makes discipline impossible.
A typical case comes out of Springfield. Officer Gregg Bigda threatened to kill some young men or plant drugs on them. He said nobody would believe them. He told them the cells in his police station had no cameras. But he wasn’t in his police station, and he was caught on camera.
That wasn’t his first offense. It won’t be his last. We have to assume he perjured himself in every case he ever testified in. Any defense attorney could convince a jury not to believe him.
If there were any justice he’d be fired, tattooed “bad cop”, and kicked out onto the street. But Springfield protects bad cops. The city stalled until it was too late to fire him. Our hands were tied, they said. They tied their own hands.
Luckily, in some cases we have jury trials to protect the people from their government. Not in traffic cases, usually, but for major crimes.
The reason Bigda isn’t out busting heads or robbing people like his fellow officers is his vulnerability to cross-examination. For now the department has him on desk duty. (Across the country, an L.A. County deputy has a similar problem. That government is standing by its man too.)
Meanwhile, another Springfield officer was fired for saying “people shouldn’t block roadways” after a protester was run over in Charlottesville. He made the comment on his personal Facebook page. Lots of people say things like that online. But public opinion around here says the dead woman is a martyr. The police comissioner justified the firing because the incident led to bad publicity.
In Massachusetts a police officer can put a bullet in the back of somebody’s head and get away with it. Politically incorrect comments are literally worse than murder.
It’s not all arbitration’s fault. Some of the fault lies in the mirror. Stoughton’s police department was dirty because the town liked it that way. Like 80% of voters disapprove of Congress while voting for the incumbent, lots of people talk about police misconduct without making it a voting priority.
A lot of the fault lies with prosecutors who depend on bad cops to feed them cases. I wrote about Palmyra, Missouri using its police force for extortion. After a TV station exposed the scheme, the top news item on the Marion County prosecutor’s Facebook page was about how much money his office was going to seize from people caught by Palmyra’s speed trap.
It takes a criminal, I guess.
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