Michael Tabman

The Perp Walk – Walking a Thin Line?

In Crime and Security, Uncategorized on July 18, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Recently, a New York City Councilman took issue with what is known as the “Perp Walk.” The Perp Walk is when the police parade an arrested suspect in front of the media. The issue is whether this process violates the Constitutional protection of the presumption of innocence. The theory that a person in handcuffs, surrounded by cops, and at times appearing disheveled and unclean, exudes an appearance of guilt – and does that prejudice spill over to the trial. There is no clear data to indicate whether or not the Perp Walk effects the trial, but is it the right thing to do?

Again, we look back at we discussed in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn arrest. Have we become a society of presuming guilt based solely on an accusation? Does the Perp Walk play into that unsettling tendency?

Let’s first distinguish between the Perp Walk and freedom of the press. During my career, I have been photographed and videotaped arresting people. The press filmed this after learning that we were executing arrest warrants at various locations. I have never participated in a cooperative effort with the press to give them exclusive access to photograph an arrestee.

You may expect that as a career law enforcement officer, I would support the Perp Walk. I do not. However, I also never interfered with the press taking pictures. As I have stated in my previous blogs, a law enforcement officer, in public, acting in his official capacity has no reasonable expectation of privacy. Unfortunately, for the arrestee, he also has no reasonable expectation of privacy. Just as I could not shield myself from being photographed, I could not shield the arrestee. I distinguish between cops being filmed in the course of their duties as opposed to cops cooperating with the press to give them exclusive access to those under arrest. I believe the latter is an invasion of privacy and an abuse of power.

Television shows in which law enforcement and media partner up are immensely popular. That speaks volumes to our voyeuristic tendencies. I risk being on the unpopular side of this discussion, however, I do not like shows in which the media and police team up and arrest people for entertainment. I realize that many of the individuals are caught committing illegal and distasteful acts. However, I prefer that law enforcement stick to law enforcement. They are not in the business of increasing a network’s ratings. Law enforcement’s intent can be put into serious question when the cops become part of the entertainment.

Let the press do what the press does. What they report and how they report it will be guided by appropriate laws and industry ethics. Let the cops do what cops do – enforce the law with no other motivation or intent.

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