UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

August 11, 2009

OVER FOUR THOUSAND PEOPLE A YEAR WHO WON'T GET INVITED TO THE WHITE HOUSE TO HAVE BEER WITH THEIR ARRESTING OFFICER

Colbert I King, Washington Post - A 2003 [police complaints] board study found that D.C. police made far more "disorderly conduct" arrests per capita than cops in other large cities. Sometimes, the board reported, it appeared that the arrests were retaliation for rude behavior by residents during their encounters with the police.

That's a serious error. Disorderly conduct laws apply to a breach of the public's -- not a cop's -- peace.

As the Office of Citizen Complaint Review noted, echoing the D.C. Court of Appeals, and courts in other jurisdictions such as Massachusetts, a "police officer is expected to have a greater tolerance for verbal assaults . . . and because the police are especially trained to resist provocation, we expect them to remain peaceful in the face of verbal abuse that might provoke or offend the ordinary citizen."

Too many citizens don't know that. They often choose to post and forfeit collateral to end the arrest and avoid having to appear in court, even though the arrest may be improper. True, no conviction. But the arrest stays on the books.

Since the 2003 report, the D.C. police department has modified its arrest procedures for disorderly conduct to make the collateral forfeiture process clearer. It has also provided more training about the law and arrest procedures, and it has stressed that officers must follow the law.

Residents are arrested in D.C. for disorderly conduct in large numbers: nearly 5,000 in 2007, more than 4,200 in 2008 and 4,469 this year as of Aug. 5.

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