Reckoning With Force: Examining the Intersecting Roles of Prosecutors, Police, and Community in Use-of-Force Cases

Friday, April 8, 2016

NYU’s Center on the Administration of Criminal Law hosted its eighth annual criminal law conference entitled “Reckoning With Force: Examining The Intersecting Roles of Prosecutors, Police and the Community in Police Use-of-Force Cases.” This Conference presented a holistic examination of the roles of the prosecutor, police officer and the community in cases in which police use force against unarmed civilians, and examined how prosecutors and police can best work with and protect our communities. The roles of prosecutors, police officers and the community in keeping our neighborhoods safe are often viewed as distinct, yet routinely intersect in important and highly sensitive ways. The conference solicited unique perspectives from leading prosecutors and other law enforcement officials, the defense bar, scholars, community leaders and innovators.


Morning Keynote Address by Vanita Gupta ’01, principal deputy assistant attorney general and head of the Civil Rights Division, US Department of Justice


 

First Panel: The Front Line Behind the Front Line: Examining the Role of the Prosecutor in Use-of-Force Cases Involving Unarmed Civilians

Moderator: Prof. Erin Murphy, Professor of Law, New York University School of Law

Panelists:

  • Alvin L. Bragg Jr., Chief of the Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit, New York Attorney General’s Office
  • John Chisholm, Milwaukee County District Attorney
  • Cynthia Conti-Cook, staff attorney, New York Legal Aid Society and head of the Cop Accountability Project
  • Kevin T. Kane, Chief State’s Attorney for Connecticut
  • Robert J. Moossy, Jr., Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice

The first panel explored and attempted to define the often under-examined role of prosecutors in “use-of-force” and excessive force cases in the “post Ferguson” era.  The roles of prosecutors and police officers are often segregated in public discourse, which ignores the immense overlap of these law enforcement bodies in several areas, including situations involving police “use-of-force” and police misconduct. The first panel examined how the actions of prosecutors might be driving policing of our communities. In particular, the first panel focused on how prosecutors’ offices’ existing policies and procedures contribute to, and possibly exacerbate, the problems stemming from law enforcement use-of-force incidents against unarmed civilians. The first panel sought to evaluate current practices and procedures employed by prosecutors’ offices’ around the country and to glean best practices for how prosecutors’ offices should be handling use-of-force and excessive force cases that directly impact our communities. By viewing this national problem from the lens of the prosecuting attorneys, the first panel expanded the national debate about policing techniques to a new under-examined area – the techniques employed by prosecutors’ offices when these police misconduct and use-of-force incidents occur – and served as a catalyst to address best practices in the field of prosecutors’ offices, not simply police departments.
 

Second Panel: Who Should Police the Police: Self-Policing Post-Ferguson

Moderator: Prof. Barry Friedman, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Professor of Law and Founding Director of the Policing Project, New York University School of Law.

Panelists:

  • Jane Castor, Former Chief of Police, Tampa, Florida
  • Prof. Katherine A. Levine, Acting Assistant Professor of Lawyering, New York University School of Law
  • Christy Lopez, Deputy Chief, Special Litigation Section, Civil Rights Division, US Department of Justice
  • J. Scott Thomson, Chief of Police, Camden, NJ

The second panel analyzed the issue of police policing themselves in the post-Ferguson era.  In particular, this panel explored the strategies that police departments are employing to investigate use-of-force cases once they occur, and also to mitigate risk of a problematic incident with the community before those incidents occur. This panel also explored whether there is a “science” that needs to be discussed surrounding law enforcement – community interactions which might lead to certain cognitive biases. In particular, this panel examined who should be regulating police behavior, tackled how best to train police officers on cultural and race issues, and examined whether there should be an acknowledgment of certain psychological factors in evaluating an officer’s approach of a subject.


Third Panel: Cops, Prosecutors, and Community: Identifying Shared Space in Use-of-Force Cases

Moderator: Anne Milgram, former New Jersey Attorney General and Senior Fellow at the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law, New York University School of Law

Panelists:

  • Baher Azmy, Legal Director, Center for Constitutional Rights, and Professor at Seton Hall University School of Law
  • Nancy Hoppock, Assistant Deputy Commissioner, Risk Management Bureau, New York Police Department
  • Acting Attorney General Robert Lougy, New Jersey Office of the Attorney General
  • Melba Pearson, President of the National Black Prosecutors Association and Asst. Chief of the Career Criminal/Robbery Unit, Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office
  • Prof. Jocelyn Simonson, Assistant Professor of Law, Brooklyn Law School

The third panel explored the critically important role that law enforcement officers play in building community relations.  In particular, this third panel examined how law enforcement officials – both prosecutors and police – can bridge the gap with the community, and propose strategies for community engagement. This panel also explored the role of the media in exposing police deficiencies and the need for police departments to become more comfortable speaking to the media and using the media to the community’s advantage.  This panel asked whether increased community involvement can effectively mitigate risk of a problematic use-of-force incident.  This panel solicited the perspectives of both community leaders and law enforcement officials, and asked all panelists to answer the questions: 1) whether there is anything else police officers can and should be doing to make the communities feel safer and more secure; and 2) whether there is anything else the community can and should be doing to make the difficult jobs of police officers easier.


Afternoon Keynote Address by Roy Austin Jr., deputy assistant to the President and director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs, Justice, and Opportunity, Domestic Policy Council