Every state has guidelines — or statutory requirements — for treatment of crime victims. Whether the responsibility of implementing these laws is that of police officers, prosecutors, or designated victim advocates the rights of victims typically include notification of dispositions on the case, information on restitution, and the opportunity to make a statement about the case during proceedings.
But what if that victim happens to be a police officer? My research shows that half of cases involving assaults on officers are dropped or pled away with no notification of the victim officer. In only 25 percent of cases were officers given the opportunity to comment on sentencing or disposition of the case. In another twist, one out of four officers who are victims of assault or resisting arrest were subsequently investigated as suspects in the case themselves — no surprise to those of us who have to lay hands on resistive subjects who readily claim excessive force. Complicating the officer-as-victim scenario is that in 75 percent of cases, officers complete the entire investigation of their own victimization in assaults and resisting cases with no other investigating officers involved.
Police officers are not exempted from laws designed to support and serve crime victims. The unique crimes against police officers that arise during the course of our duties should be uniquely handled by the justice system, but to the contrary they are frequently disregarded.
Officers who have been assaulted — regardless of the severity of the resisting or assault — should be able to feel confident that prosecutors, judges, juries, and their own departments will be supportive of criminal prosecution of offenders. Attention to these cases is tragically insufficient nation wide. Only seven percent of officers surveyed had received any victim services, 15 percent of officers wanted so speak out but feared peer pressure to “suck it up,” and 13 percent of officers state they almost never ask for assault or resisting charges because of weak prosecution, and a stunning 83 percent reported being injured and not reporting it or seeking treatment for pain.
Officers are not nameless, faceless victims. Officers are fellow citizens to be served and, importantly for society, each of us represents the collective will of law abiding persons and an assault on the badge is an affront to every good citizen. It is of great importance that police officers assert their rights as citizens in prosecution of cases in which they have been assaulted or resisted.
One of the opportunities that should be provided in most jurisdictions is the victim impact statement. Here are some things you might want to say:
• Assaults on officers must be considered not only for the single incident, but in the context of cumulative affect. Police officers suffer higher premature mortality rates, can develop PTSD related symptoms from repeated assaults over a career, and must necessarily develop increased anxiety, suspicion, and caution in every future contact with the public as a result of each assault or resisting.
• Mention any loss of time from work, including sick days. Be honest about sleep loss, non-visible injuries (83 percent of officers suffer injuries for which they seek no treatment), and any costs associated with the event such as a torn uniform, broken watch, dented glasses, etc.
• Relate how the event affected your family – were your partner or children frightened, has their behavior changed or anxiety increased?
• Wax philosophical. Comment on the greater issues of law and order, respect for authority, examples set for the community and other offenders. These are huge issues that need to be pondered by prosecutors and judges. You may be willing to forgive the defendant or write off the experience, but what does that do for our profession and our community if the courts grant undue leniency?
As a profession we need to recognize that our warrior mindset, willingness to sacrifice, and daily life of courage need not keep us from demanding civil treatment and justice from the same system we diligently serve. In the end, it is our obligation to demand the best for our finest.
Dr. Shults is chief of campus police at Adams State College in Colorado. He can be reached at http://www.joelshults.com