New York legal decision puts spotlight on constitutional policing
- Written by Amy Dinsmore
- January 19 2016
The principles of constitutional policing are always lurking in the background at law enforcement agencies. While each department may apply those principles in unique ways, there is a constant need to ensure everyday policies and practices fall in line with the U.S. Constitution. Complying with this goal is especially difficult in a nation fighting a war against terrorism. Most terrorists are civilians living in homes and walking the streets just like any other civilian, and police officers need to be able to identify suspicious behavior and prevent attacks from taking place.
Police and the fight against terrorism
Preventing terrorism is a difficult battle for police, and recent actions in New York City highlight the complexity of the situation. The New York Police Department had been performing surveillance on individuals within the Muslim population in the aftermath of 9/11. This activity led to a couple of key lawsuits against the NYPD, and action has been taken to prevent future problems, The New York Times reported.
It is vital to note that no admission of wrongdoing has taken place, and the lawsuits did not result in direct prohibition of activities that were performed. Instead, the report explained, the mayor will appoint a civilian supervisor to monitor surveillance relating to the fight against terrorism.
Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project and a representative for the plaintiffs on the case, told the news source that the safeguards being put in place in New York City should provide a check against discriminatory behavior.
“We hope the settlement shows that effective policing isn’t at odds with constitutional policing,” Shamsi told The New York Times.
Are your policies ready to prevent terrorism and uphold the Constitution?
Policy management places a huge burden on any law enforcement agency, but those dealing with significant anti-terrorist operations face an especially complex situation. They need to be aware of legal decisions, like the one made in New York, on a continual basis so they can update policies in response. They must also be prepared to frequently fine-tune policies to be sure they are protecting civil rights while still doing what they can to protect the public.
Terrorism is incredibly challenging to deal with from a policy perspective because the Constitution mandates that people are treated equally regardless of race, religion or gender. These core civil rights must be upheld by police – the justice system exists, in part, to ensure that everybody can enjoy these civil rights. But the lines of what is appropriate and what should be prohibited can quickly blur when police are in the middle of an investigation.
Clear policies and engaging training can protect your agency and its officers from breaching constitutional law. You don’t need to send everybody in your department to law school to accomplish this. Digitizing policies so they are more accessible for officers can go a long way to ensuring everybody takes the time to understand them fully. Similarly, using video and media-rich content in training can ensure modules keep the attention of their audiences. Cost-efficient document management software systems make these capabilities possible, enabling agencies to keep up with the demands of the Constitution in the fight against terrorism.