Sarah Beth Costello
March 15, 2009
One of the responsibilities of a journalist is to not only act as a watchdog for authority figures in the executive branch, but also in the judicial system.
As American citizens, it is a natural desire to hope for complete fairness among the courts and law enforcers, but this is not always the case.
Just as corruption can easily percolate among politicians, it can also exist among lawyers, judges, prison wardens and guards, law enforcers and even among the military. No one is exempt from the temptation to achieve power and monetary gain and these desires can easily blind enforcers of the law.
Sometimes conflicts of interest can result in unethical behavior. The Sunday Samoan printed an article March 5, 2009 about a law enforcement officer accused of neglecting to abide completely by the law.
According to the article, an officer was lenient in enforcing the law to a father accused of child abuse because of his relationship with the father. The alleged child-abuser is the first cousin of the officer, which might explain his hesitancy to enforce the full brunt of the law.
“Pennsylvania Rocked by ‘Jailing Kids for Cash Scandal'” is another example of corruption and incompetance in the judicial system. In this example, Pennsylvania judges were confronted and accused of sentences children to detention centers for cash. One particular judge plead guilty for “fraud and tax charges.”
Investigating the Local Police
Brant Houston, author of the Investigative Reporter’s Handbook, discusses the investigation of the judicial system and the local police. Houston writes that anyone can cover a police beat and report on arrests, drug busts, murders etc. But constantly observing and investigating the officers is just as important and can be crucial in exposing the truth.
Suspicion and constant awareness for corruption is important. While reporters should never jump to conclusions, a good reporter looks at all aspects; concentrating on the suspects and also the conductors of investigations and arrests.
Houston offers ten techniques for “monitoring individual law enforcement officers.” He recommends continual observation, careful study of a situation (incident, arrest, records and rates), keeping track of “prevention efforts,” talking with average people who have ties with an official investigation, knowing the officers involved, meticulous studying of “budgets and expenditures,” reading personality profiles and files, checking with the Internal Affairs Unit, keeping track of law suits in courts and checking for agency accreditation.
Houston advises that journalists research recruitment and training of local law enforcement agencies to discover the skills and requirements of the officers. Favoritism is not rare among most agencies, and may also exist in your local law enforcement agency. As a reporter, this is also a good angle to investigate in order to distinguish between deserved raises and promotions and ones given for the purpose of coercion.