by Ron Hocevar
Scott County Attorney
We are buried by claims in the media that law enforcement is racist and incompetent – or the opposite, that police officers are trigger-happy zealots, super-competently framing people for crimes they did not commit.
The first portrayal was even featured in the latest Super Bowl halftime show. And further, that prosecutors then take that corrupt information to court and convict people at any cost. None of this is true and it is a shame that our leaders throughout the country are afraid and rarely stand up and defend our law enforcement community and prosecutors. In Scott County, the criminal justice system works very well.
Law enforcement provides one of the core functions of government – to ensure the safety and security of all citizens. In an average day, police officers are far more likely to try to save someone’s life by performing CPR than to respond to an active shooter in a school. But they have to be equally prepared for both. Most officers would be very content to not ever have to unholster their service weapon. And when an officer does have to shoot someone, it is truly the last option available to them.
Police Officers sometimes are called upon to make life and death decisions in seconds. For police officers, this is an extremely stressful decision, and something no officer wants. One or two seconds of indecision of an officer to act could cost them their own or another innocent person their life.
When you walk into the Scott County Attorney’s Office, the first thing you see is a framed poster that states: “Justice – administration of what is right, just and true.” This accurately describes the unique role of prosecutors in the justice system.
Unlike defense attorneys who represent just their clients, prosecutors represent the community as a whole in an effort to do what is truly right. Prosecutors have the duty to protect the rights of both victims and defendants. And we take this duty seriously, which is why prosecutors in this office rarely talk to the media about current cases. Unfortunately, this restriction can sometimes lead to a very one-sided story in the news.
When an innocent person is vindicated after being unjustly convicted, podcasts are created, movies are made; it’s a big deal. And it should be. But the vindication is usually because of an advance in technology, such as DNA testing, that allows the justice system to obtain information now that was not available then. The truth is that unjust convictions are extremely rare.
One commentator recently criticized a prosecutor’s office with a high conviction rate, arguing that this was an example of how the system is fixed in the prosecutor’s favor. This makes no sense. Prosecutors decide what cases to charge and what charges to bring. We take into account the recommendations of law enforcement and crime victims but the final decision is ours and ours alone. So a high conviction rate does not indicate a flawed system, it indicates that prosecutors are not abusing their power and are only charging cases that should be charged.
In Scott County, we have an outstanding law enforcement community from top to bottom. So the next time you see a police officer, don’t think that they’re just looking for something you’re doing wrong. Instead, introduce yourself and thank them for helping to keep us all safe.