There is a lot of chatter these days about why cops are quitting the job in droves, particularly in places where reformist prosecutors have been elected (e.g., Kim Foxx in Chicago and George Gascon in L.A.). The ugly truth of policing in these counties and states where reformist State’s Attorney or District Attorney policies dominate does not quite hit home for most people.
For most, a non-prosecuting prosecutor is a talking point. It might even be a mere ideology, even if closely held, which exists in the abstract.
The reality of working in such a climate is something few understand in its depth. Most people also do not grasp the impact on policing’s future. We can easily talk about the immediate impact, which includes rising crime rates and a political culture where people no longer wish to become cops blah blah blah. These points are self-evident.
But what is the future impact? What exactly are we going to see as this continues? Let’s talk about the present day to grasp the full impact on policing’s future. I can tell you about what I see, in my state, particularly in my county.
Imagine, if you will, being the victim of some crime. Let’s say someone burglarized your home and stole your computer (for many, this would be a significant loss because of work saved on the computer, sentimental photos, sensitive financial information, etc.) and several other critical items of yours. In most states, burglary is a severe, felony-level crime. You, as the victimized homeowner, call the police. An officer responds to your call for help, takes an initial report, and starts an investigation. After diligent and thorough police work, the officer identifies the suspect and builds a rock-solid case. In my state, the next step would be to charge the suspect. However, before that can happen, the officer needs to go through a process called felony review. This process is where an officer contacts the State’s Attorney’s office and speaks to someone in that agency who handles criminal prosecutions, the prosecutor. If the prosecutor hears the case and thinks he can get a conviction, they agree to charge the suspect.
Read that again – if the prosecutor believes he can get a conviction before an arrest, he agrees to charges. Charging a suspect in this process is subjected to the conviction test – before anyone hears any of the evidence! This is to make an arrest in the first place. If you are the victim who has had the sanctity and security of your home violated, had your valuable (and sentimental) items stolen, you would want your day in court, wouldn’t you? Well, if the prosecutor does not think he can win the case – good luck to you. You won’t have any day in court, let alone any opportunity even to appeal that decision because there was no ruling to appeal. Felony review happens BEFORE court.
For the record, both prosecutors and judges both enjoy complete immunity.
It is a sad state when officers do not have experience testifying in court. They learn a lot from it.
Let’s take this one step further. In my six years of policing in Illinois, I’ve testified in exactly ZERO felony trials. Zero. I’ve sent more felony cases than I can count to my State’s Attorney. The cases that passed their conviction sniff test did not even make it to trial. One hundred percent of my cases have been pled out – meaning the individual took a guilty plea. I have yet to see the outcome of such a deal involving the original charge. Meaning, one hundred percent of the time, rock-solid felony cases that passed the prosecution’s Conviction Sniff Test were reduced to lesser crimes. Many times, these convictions were for misdemeanors. Now, let’s bring this back to you as a victimized homeowner. Congratulations, your felony burglary case has now been reduced to a misdemeanor trespassing case. The person who burglarized your home won’t spend much more time in jail. The part that galls the cops is when we watch the prosecutor pat themselves on their backs for avoiding a trial. That’s right. State Attorneys celebrate the AVOIDANCE of the courtroom. All the drama we see in fictional cop T.V. shows … that’s precisely what it is. Fiction. A prosecuting attorney prepping for a trial is as rare as a lightning strike.
To my knowledge, Illinois – specifically in Cook, Lake, and McHenry counties – is the only state where a cop must call a prosecutor before charging a felony. Other states have some level of review of felony charges, but the review typically happens after an arrest and an official charge. But, even in these states, demoralization still exists.
Considering a burglary scenario, imagine someone having charges dropped or dismissed – again before going to court – because another attorney determines the case is either un-winnable or has some political bent against prosecuting that crime. As the victim, you have no recourse.
What is demoralizing cops these days is prosecuting to leverage rather than facts. Court and justice are no longer about evidence or facts. It is now about leverage – does the prosecution have enough leverage to force a plea deal? That’s a win in the prosecutor’s mind. They get their conviction. It looks like great work when they take the easiest path, which is done repeatedly.
There is no justice anymore. There is only minimization. This is how you get cops who won’t enter classrooms when someone inside is shooting children. This is how you get incoherently written reports that won’t hold up in court.
So, what does the future of policing look like? It looks like de-policing. It looks like cops who don’t make solid cases because they lack the experience of scrutiny in court. It looks like justice is never served, and criminals are never punished.
About the author:
Eve Kulcsar is a 6-year veteran of municipal policing in Illinois who has been a regular presenter at the yearly Rangemaster Training Tactical Conference since 2014. She is a long-time student of the defensive arts, having trained with Tom Givens, Craig Douglas, Paul Sharp, Roger’s Shooting School, the late Dr. William Aprill, Cecil Burch, Steve Fisher, and Erick Gelhaus, among others.