Neighborly advice on getting on well with cops

Any time a group of prosecutors get together to talk shop, soon enough the conversation will be directed toward local law enforcement, or “my cops,” to use technical jargon. I am perplexed sometimes at the fussing that goes on about law enforcement officers, and what they won’t do or don’t do for their respective prosecutor’s office. I don’t mean to imply that prosecutors and their staff don’t appreciate and support law enforcement—to be sure they do—but there seems to be a disconnect on some level between law enforcement and prosecutors.
    Maybe I am delusional, but I will readily admit for the most part I experience few to no problems with law enforcement officers in my district. I don’t gripe about them (well, maybe sometimes) and to my knowledge they don’t bad-mouth me. Now, I don’t want to imply that there have never been issues; there have been. I further don’t want to imply all of the officers within the 39th Judicial District are the reincarnation of Starsky and Hutch; they are not. In fact, only a couple could not legitimately claim to be the reincarnation of Barney Fife, and I am being generous with my description here.
    This begs the question: Why do so many prosecutors have issues with their officers and I don’t? I can’t answer this, but I can say how I relate to my cops. First and foremost, living in a small community has its advantages. I know my officers and they know me personally. I know their families and in some instances I have known them my entire life. Perhaps the personal relationship is helpful. When an officer brings a case report in, we have something to visit about in addition to the case. I can find out if the fish are biting or how little Johnny’s Little League team is doing. These officers are genuinely my friends.
    Because intake is a vital part of the prosecution of cases, I think prosecutors have to be mindful we don’t convey the idea we are better or smarter than our officers. I will confess here and now, I get way too many three-line felony offense reports: “saw drunk, arrested same, end of report.” When I send this back to the officers, sometimes multiple times, I only rarely tell them how stupid they are, and I am only mildly demeaning. Really I never do that. I might give them some good-natured ribbing regarding their report and send them on their way. They will generally give me some smack back, something like a competent prosecutor would run with that case. I do convey how important this information is and I provided a copy of TDCAA’s Guide to Report Writing to each of them. I will sometimes pull a manual from my desk and say, “I must not have given you one of these. Use it—you will find it helpful.” A few dirty words later and they are off to finish the report.
    My investigator, Luke Griffin, really should be a law clerk for the Court of Criminal Appeals. He refers to himself as a retired wrecker driver and frequently brags he aced his GED. But don’t let that country drawl fool you: He is one smart dude. I put him only slightly behind Ted Wilson on search and seizure law. I kid you not—if you have a search question, call him and he can answer it. Each week, as we receive our recent case summaries from TDCAA, I will usually read through them, sometimes scanning them to see if anything interests me. Not Luke. He reads, catalogs, and indexes them. When he sees something that has to do with our officers, he will catch me and tell me he thinks this case will have an impact on how officers conduct an investigation. We call a meeting of our officers and alert them to the case. The officers are appreciative of this, and it gives us a chance to talk about other issues.
    My office door is always open for any officer at any time for anything. Most of the officers will drop by every couple of weeks for a cup of coffee and to shoot the bull. When they do a particularly good job on a case, I try to remember to tell them that I appreciate their hard work and that they did well. An officer in the 39th Judicial District does not get paid much; they could double their salary tomorrow in the oil field. They do their jobs because they like it and because they want to make their communities a better place to live. I take the opportunity to convey my appreciation for that.
    Another thing I do is work hard not to reject the officer’s case. I don’t accept a case if it doesn’t constitute an offense, but I do my best to prosecute their cases. This takes a little extra work and some extra time on my end. The easy thing to do is to reject the case, but oftentimes, with a little additional effort the case will fly. These officers work hard and appreciate it when you prosecute their cases. They don’t like to stay out late and write reports only to be told they have done it all wrong and that the case won’t work. The quickest way to get on the wrong side of law enforcement is to arbitrarily reject their hard work.
    I solicit input from my officers on punishment recommendations. They often know the defendants and their history in our community better than I do. If an officer tells me a defendant is not a suitable candidate for community supervision, I will give a great deal of consideration to that. This caveat, though: For some of my officers, a suitable candidate for community supervision never existed. A few years ago I prosecuted an elderly lady for delivery of a controlled substance. Despite a lengthy criminal history and despite recommendation to the contrary from law enforcement, I succumbed to her lawyer’s persistence that she was on her last leg and offered community supervision. Not long after an officer came by for coffee and told me he heard she wasn’t reporting to the probation department and that I should revoke her. I told him I would check on it. It turns out she was bedridden in the nursing home … so I didn’t revoke her. I chided the officer, and he informed me she had been slinging crack for 30 years around here and was probably just faking.
    It is my philosophy that you must have an appreciation for what your officers go through on the street. My wife is a prosecutor, and she is more tender-hearted while I am more tender-footed. Sometimes she kids with the officers about them being so mean, and they tell her go out there and let them cuss at her, spit on her, and fight her—and that is just before breakfast—then see how sympathetic she is.
    The effective prosecution of crime is a team sport. A quick coaching cliché: No member of the team is more important than the other. Foster the sense of team with your officers and let them know you are all working together to lock up the bad guys. The next time you deal with an officer, remember that because of the job he does, you and everyone in your community can sleep a little easier at night. Let them know you appreciate them and prosecute their cases, and you won’t have any problems with your cops. And on that rare occasion that you have an officer who just doesn’t get it, call them into your office, lay your cards on the table, and as gently as you can, tell them, “Sorry, but you, sir, are an imbecile.”