The largest organization of public defenders in the country is building a “bad cop” database, aimed at helping defense attorneys question the credibility of police officers in court. The database was created by the Legal Aid Society, a New York–based nonprofit that represents an average of 230,000 people per year with a staff of more than 650 lawyers.
The database already contains information about accusations of wrongdoing against some 3,000 NYPD officers, and is being used regularly by Legal Aid lawyers. The ambition behind the project is to create a clearinghouse for records of police misconduct—something the NYPD itself does not make public—and to share it with defense lawyers all over the city, including those who do not work for Legal Aid, Slate reports.
At a time when police departments around the country are being criticized for a lack of a transparency, the arrival of Legal Aid’s database represents a bold attempt to systematically track officers with a history of civil rights violations and other kinds of misbehavior, and thereby force judges, prosecutors, and juries to take the officers’ past actions into consideration when adjudicating cases. If a defense attorney can successfully call into question the credibility of an arresting officer, she might be able to convince a judge to let a defendant out of jail without bail, or maybe even to dismiss the case entirely. Information about an officer’s past misconduct can also serve as a bargaining chip during plea negotiations with prosecutors.