Be very careful with Officers’ Bill of Rights

By Arlene Violet, Esq.
Posted 8/1/23

Another legislative session in Rhode Island has come and gone without any action on a perennial issue, reform of the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights. To be sure, some Constables on Patrol (COPS) have …

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Be very careful with Officers’ Bill of Rights


Another legislative session in Rhode Island has come and gone without any action on a perennial issue, reform of the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights. To be sure, some Constables on Patrol (COPS) have escaped a rightful punishment because of its onerous terms that have served as a roadblock to appropriate sanctions.

Let’s not forget, however, that, initially, protection for police officers who tried to do their jobs without political interference was the main motive for its initial passage. In far too many communities, mayors and other politicians sought to punish their political foes by interfering with the police department. It is imperative that law enforcement stay impartial in the exercise of their considerable powers. Legislators over this summer should mull over what the balance ought to be before making changes pell-mell.

Another consideration should be how to keep the law enforcement job attractive as a career option. The starting place has to be with the police officer himself/herself. Every time an incident of abuse goes unchecked, public scorn is sure to follow. The day is long past gone when the “true blue” can remain silent when rogue cops belittle the badge by illegal or criminal action.

There is certainly some culpability for the demise of respect for those on the beat when the public sees the great wall of silence.

I recently dined with a police commissioner of a very large metropolitan police force. Needless to say, we talked about the recruitment problem of appropriate candidates. One trend is that police departments are no longer “legacy” oriented. In the past, it was considered an honor to follow in your father’s footsteps in such an honorable occupation. Not only is there a dearth of candidates coming from law enforcement families but also the officer in service is the one actually discouraging his/her child from entering the ranks. This is understandable since respect for the occupation is at a long time low.

Yes, police officers themselves have nobody to blame except themselves when they turn mute when abuses within the force occur. Yet, parents are letting little Johnny and Mary disrespect law enforcement. Children should be raised to respect those who put their lives on the line, since there are an overwhelming number of cops who do that day in and day out. 

As numbers diminish in the ranks, it is somewhat frightening to contemplate what the future holds. The Commissioner shared my concern that if the trend continues the United States may very well see mercenary forces taking the place of the police officer. Personally, I think this would be a disaster, particularly for civil rights.

Mercenary armies have underscored this blasé approach to human rights. For-profit companies fielding officers would, no doubt, further bury abuses and clip resources in order to make more money.

Before this brave new world arrives, it would behoove all of us to take a reality check. How do we make the profession more attractive? How do we reward the good cops? How do we raise children to appreciate the service of those who protect us? 

Let’s ferret out the answers to those questions before we throw the baby out with the bath water when we make any change to the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights.

Arlene Violet is an attorney and former Rhode Island Attorney General.

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