The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) of 1946 waived the doctrine of sovereign immunity of the United States government. After its enactment, all federal workers lack defense of their employment and become liable for their wrongdoing to the same extent as natural persons according to the local laws of a particular location where negligent or wrongful acts took place. After the enactment of particular amendments to the FTCA in 1966 and 1974, local justice and security agencies took much of a burden and could decide on the procedures for investigation and adjustment of tort claims on the local level.
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Containing more than a dozen exceptions, the FTCA of 1946 did not cover particular categories of misconduct of federal employees. Thus, for example, one of the exceptions were “claims arising out of assault, battery, false imprisonment, false arrest, malicious prosecution or abuse of process, except where based upon acts or omissions of federal investigative or law enforcement officers occurring after 1974” (Funk, Lubbers and Pou, 2008, p. 635). The situation changed after the enactment of amendments in 1974. At present, functioning as the coercive force of the society, police officers not only effectively preserve civility but also commit misconduct, taking advantages of their federal employment.
As it was cited in Hughes (2001), Sherman (1974) noted that “Much of police history is peppered with corruption scandals and reform efforts that serve to further exacerbate this regard of control of the police” (p. 240). Regarding the issues of police accountability, the two broad categories of measures for controlling and adjustment of police misconduct include internal administrative procedures and legal acts. Whereas the effectiveness of the internal sanctions is often doubtful, tort law controls the second method of controlling the actions of police officers. The number of suits against the officers has increased significantly within the recent decades. As it was cited in Hughes (2001) del Carmen (1991) noted that “suits against the police are so ubiquitous that they are considered a way of life in the United States and an occupational hazard to police officers” (p. 242).
However, besides the positive consequences of reducing the number of professional misconducts, the suits against the police officers cause a lot of negative consequences for the departments. Thus, all cases result in resource-draining, presupposing a variety of monetary costs, such as defense, pay-out and insurance costs. Besides the fiscal impacts, potential liability regarded as the professional threat intensifies officers’ stress and prevents some talented individuals from deciding on this sphere, and leading to the lack of professionalism of police officers. At present, approximately 37 percent of plaintiffs win the cases and receive the monetary gain (Hughes, 2001, p. 243).
The litigation liability case of Perez, a Los Angeles police officer, is known to be the biggest scandal in the history of the city police. Though the court sentenced him to five years for cocaine theft, the accused received immunity for shootings and fabricated evidence. After the spread of the scandal, the campaign determining the roots and main reasons for civil rights abuses started in Los Angeles. Casting a shadow on the reputation of the Rampart division where Perez had been working, this investigation shed light upon a number of other cases of police officers’ misconduct. Disregarding the attempts to handle the issues of the federal employees’ accountability have been made since 1946 when the FTCA was adopted, police officers still manage to find the gaps in the current legislation and take advantages of their employment.
Weak supervision and lack of funds are the main preconditions of numerous cases of officers’ misconduct. However, these are the weak sides of federal regulations and insufficiency of controlling measures that made possible not only police malfeasance but also deportation of immigrants who became witnesses of officers’ misconduct. Relying on the internal procedures for predicting and preventing the crimes, the government oversees the subjective human factors and leaves space for committing negligence or wrongful acts by federal employees. Thus, allowing the local divisions to develop internal procedures for tort prevention and adjustment, the FTCA leaves them almost uncontrolled.
Thus, during the investigation of the Perez confessed that the police officers of the Rampart division planted false evidence and took advantages of their position for the purpose of producing impression on their supervisors. As it was cited in Cohen (2000), Gene O’Donnell, a professor at New York College of Criminal Justice, noted that “the seed of corruption begins when cops are asked to fill in the blanks for district attorneys to make cases” (Gangsta cops). Thus, this case demonstrated the insufficiency of both internal measures and legal acts for ensuring the same level of liability for federal employees and other citizens.
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Another example of police officers’ abuse of their power is inducing the defendants to confess in crimes, which they have not committed. Including the right to remain silent, the US criminal system gives emphasis to confession of one’s guilt, regarding it as satisfactory evidence. However, “many of these out-of-court confessions did not receive adequate judicial scrutiny. Why? Because the judges and juries did not know exactly what the defendants said, and who did what, leading up to those confessions” (Sullivan et al., 2008, p. 30). For example, Michael Crowe, a 14-year-old boy from Escondido, California, confessed in murder of his sister Stephanie after the interrogator put psychological pressure on him. The boy was said that he had failed a lie detector test and his sister’s blood had been found in his room, and his unstable state of mind did not endure this strain.
At present, a complete electronic record of the interrogation process is one of requirements for accepting the voluntarily confession as satisfactory evidence. Though the requirements of interrogation process do not allow physical and psychological coercion, federal workers can implement some sophisticated techniques for receiving the confessions. At the same time, in particular cases it is difficult to distinguish between interrogation techniques and illegal acts of putting psychological pressure on defendants. Thus, disregarding the amendments to the FTCA have improved the procedures of controlling the police officers’ activities, the regulations remain inconsistent and particular cases of power abuse still occur.
Waiving the sovereign immunity of federal employees, the FTCA of 1946 and following amendment of 1974 did not specify the regulations procedures, shifting this burden on the local divisions. While measures for controlling and adjustment of police misconduct include both internal procedures and legal acts, the federal employees’ power abuse remains possible. The increased number of suits against the police officers against the police officers demonstrates the improvements in the current legislation and shifts in the public consciousness.
Cohen, A. (2000). Gangsta cops. Time,155, (9), 30. Web.
Funk, W., Lubbers, J., and Pou, C. (eds.) (2008). Federal administrative procedure sourcebook. Chicago, IL: ABA Publishing.
Hughes, T. (2001). Police officers and civil liability: “The ties that bind”?. Policing, 24(2), 240.
Sullivan, T. P., Vail, A. W., & Anderson III, H. W. (2008). The case for recording police interrogations. Litigation, 34(3), 30.