Today I will write about police departments in general. The FBI, the Massachusetts State Police or your local police. They are not different when it comes to protecting their own. There’s a good book out which tells about this. It’s called The Fence. It’s about the Boston Police Department. Within any police unit there’s a lot of bickering but if someone outside dares say something uncomplimentary toward it, then that person becomes marked as an enemy, even if the people on the job agree with him.
I had the experience once with the state police when I complained to the colonel about the actions of a sergeant at the Foxboro barracks that I believed went beyond the pale. The colonel launched an investigation. A captain from somewhere came to interview me. He spent about a half an hour listening to my version of the events. I heard nothing back but after a while but heard the investigation had been closed and a report filed. I had a chance to see the report. It pretty much concluded I had lied about what happened and that I might have some mental deficiencies.
Nothing involved anything criminal so I let it go. I should have known better than to think something would come of my complaint. That, by the way, was the only time I did complain, and as you may guess, I would not complain again for obvious reasons.
Many of the cops looked upon ADAs as an obstruction and interference to the way they thought things should be done. They want ADAs to just take their cases and prosecute them, no questions asked. In fact, they’d prefer that people from their own departments prosecute the cases rather than an outsider, which the ADA was always considered to be. That was the way it was once done.
They are right in their appraisal that the ADAs are a hurdle that they have to pass over before their case can be prosecuted. That’s how the system is supposed to work. I met with every ADA we hired and gave them a little introductory talk. One thing I told all of them is that we are not cops. Our jobs are different. The cop has the hard job of being on the street and encountering the daily wash and flow of the citizenry. She has to make immediate decisions under immense pressure and sometime she might run into a person who is extra belligerent, or goes through a harrowing experience, or runs into the same person again and again. Sometimes the cop jacks up the charges, sometimes the wrong person is grabbed, sometimes the way in which the evidence was gained was not right, or sometimes the person should not be charged at all. I’d tell the ADAs we want our cops to be aggressive but that is not the job of an ADA.
An ADA has to take the evidence the cop gathers, analyze it, and make a decision on the best way to prosecute it, if she decides to prosecute it at all. ADAs work in a less threatening environment where they have the time to analyze cases. If they act as rubber stamps for cops, they are not doing their jobs. The cops job is to gather the evidence; our job was to analyze it and present it in the proper manner.
I recall one occasion I had a district court assistant district attorney (ADA) call me. He was in the middle of a state police case where the trooper’s evidence against the defendant came from a tape recording the trooper had secreted in his cruiser on which he secretly recorded the defendant’s conversation with another person. The ADA wanted to know how to put it in evidence. I told him he couldn’t because it violated chapter 272, section 99 which prohibits secret recordings without a court warrant. It was all the evidence we had that the defendant committed the crime so the case had to be dismissed.
The ADA told the trooper. He became quite upset. He said to the ADA, “I should have listened to what they told me at the Academy.” Hearing that I thought he had been told that he couldn’t secretly record people. But that’s not what he meant. He went on to say, “They taught us not to tell the ADAs how we got our evidence.”
These point out the big problems with all police departments — they are insular, suspicious and protective of themselves from outsider. Prosecutors are very much considered outsiders, which I think they should be. They are on the same team but have a different function.
The walls would break down when you worked closely with some of the investigating officers over a period of time. The state police officers assigned to our office worked hand-in-hand with us every day. The decisions were often made after discussions in the quiet of our offices. We would discuss what we knew and what we thought we could learn by taking this or that step. The same would happen when I worked closely with one of the various task forces I interacted with.
Working with the state police in the office and working with the uniform troopers was like night and day. I’d notice this when I’d go with the state police from my office on searches or to crime scenes. The guys from the office knew why I was there. I’d know enough to stand out of their way. But I had a function to make sure that if any searches were to be done in other places or even if the time at the crime scene was to be extended, I’d insure the legal sufficiency of the paper work to do the next step. The guys in uniform looked at me suspiciously as if I was intruding on their turf, it was a state police investigation and I was an outsider.
My observations of the federal system are that the cops have too much influence. Gerry O’Sullivan the head of the federal Strike Force told how he was afraid to go against the FBI. On the state system it may be the same thing now, because I know in my time it was a constant battle to ensure the ADAs didn’t succumb to the pressure from the cops. What is happening now will depend on the DA as to how much he backing the ADAs get and how much discretion they have. Some DAs don’t want to make waves and they defer to the cops like some U.S. attorneys, but that’s not how the system is supposed to work.