Cal. Litig. 2018, Volume 31, Number 1

Police Officers On Trial: "Protect and Serve" or "Protect and Survive"

By Thomas M. Madruga

Police officers are under heightened scrutiny by the public these days, viewed often as part of the problem rather than the solution. In cases against them, no matter the deed, officers are arguably forced to justify their lawful conduct at the civil courthouse. Transparency is a good thing, but it must be balanced against manifest public disclosure and an employee’s right to privacy, along with institutional officer-training benefits that inure to society in general.The Internal Affairs (IA) process has traditionally been used internally by a department to evaluate and determine the proper use of force by officers and their compliance with department procedures, and to improve officer performance. But this process is now the subject of civil discovery. Current law is to allow the review and disclosure of the factual portions of IA investigations in civil actions and to order disclosure of portions of officer interviews that can be used for impeachment at trial. This trend may ultimately alter the internal review process for the evaluation and training of police officers, which would adversely impact an important component of officer training.

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