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La Plata & Waldorf Criminal Defense Lawyer
The Charles County Criminal Defense Firm Hablamos Español 301-259-3488

Police Transparency Benefits Everyone


A recent law requiring public access to law enforcement disciplinary records that occurred prior to the law is being challenged by a police union here in Maryland, noting that because officers were promised confidentiality at the time, they are entitled to protection from public scrutiny. The courts will decide how to balance the required disclosures against the potential damage to an officer’s reputation. It brings to mind the basic social contract that exists between law enforcement and the communities they serve, balancing on transparency and trust. As we all know, that can be extremely difficult to achieve.

Practical Inferences 

Surveys indicate that about half of people in this country say they have a declining perception of police and other law enforcement agencies primarily because of a perceived lack of transparency. This indicates that law enforcement must do a better job of shining the light on their policies and procedures and giving the public access to data and decisions made by top officials. It could be the only way to get the public trust they need for maximum efficiency. Agencies must necessarily integrate clear policies designed to build transparency into the world of law enforcement:

  • Use modern technology to effectively track and report crime, use-of-force incidents, and more.
  • Implement a civilian review board that works with law enforcement with the power to provide oversight, accountability, and updates to the public.
  • Publish guidelines, annual reports, organizational charts, use-of-force data, and additional material whenever possible for public perusal.
  • Design a means for police accountability that is fair to officers and that makes sense to the public.  When it comes to use-of-force issues and the public believes particular actions are overly aggressive or inhumane, but the department stands behind them, there should be an explanation/rationale for those procedures and when or why they are deployed.  If particular officers experience multiple issues, they should be held accountable for that. And when officers clearly lack compassion and decency, they should be removed from the force.
  • Publicize every use-of-force incident and include pertinent data including documentation on relevant demographic information, the type of force and reason it was used, and the names of officers involved.
  • Study and evaluate incidents that are complicated and that result in negative outcomes so they might be prevented in similar situations down the road.

Benefits of Transparency 

Most of the information about police actions received by the general public comes from news stories. Knowing this, one might ask how transparency in law enforcement might improve community perceptions?  Clearly, most stories that have gotten a lot of traction in recent years have exposed officers as merciless enforcers who appear to enjoy punishing citizens. The question is, are these isolated incidents or common practice? Transparency and accountability can answer the questions the public has about these incidents and, if effectively handled, can boost community confidence in police.  When secrecy is the rule in police agencies, the public  can be counted on to assume the worst.

Certainly there are legitimate problems in any organization, but when they are addressed openly, the prospects of remediation are much more likely, satisfying the public demand for better outcomes when police deal with juvenile offenders, racial disparities, mental health issues, and other problems topping the public agenda.

Improving Outcomes 

There are pluses and minuses in every agency, and we know that sweeping problems under the rug is no recipe for improvement.  At The Law Office of Hammad S. Matin, P.A. our La Plata & Waldorf criminal defense attorneys advocate for transparency in law enforcement.  If you’ve had a run-in with the law, contact our office for a confidential consultation today.



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