Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced on Monday that he is one of 42 prosecutors from across the country who have signed a pledge to reject campaign contributions from law enforcement unions, including the Police Benevolent Association in New York City.
“Protesters have drawn critical attention to a criminal legal system that has caused immense pain and injustice and does not even aim to keep all of us safe,” said a joint statement written on behalf of the coalition. “More importantly, these protests have forced us to reckon with our responsibility to build trust between our communities and those operating within this system.
“As key actors in that system, we cannot cling to the status quo and pretend there are no issues with the way things have been done. We need to change by separating ourselves from law enforcement unions.”
This pledge comes after a poll from Data for Progress and The Justice Collaborative Institute and a report written by Kate Levine, an associate professor at Cardozo School of Law, that showed support for the idea of separation between prosecutors and police.
The data showed that 56 percent of people polled strongly or somewhat support ethics rules that would prohibit prosecutors, who are often elected, to accept campaign contributions from police and police unions. Fewer than 25 percent of people opposed the idea and 54 percent of respondents support state laws to prohibit these donations.
“Under traditional conflict-of-interest law, it is hard to see how prosecutors switching sides from working with police to prosecuting them does not raise a conflict, especially when the elected prosecutor has taken money from the union that represents the officers,” Levine wrote in her report. “Prosecutors are charged with representing the entire community, not just the police.
Levine’s report explained that one of the most dramatic conflicts of interest arises when prosecutors investigate police officers themselves and decline to bring charges against officers who kill and injure members of the community.
“In the vast majority of places, the elected prosecutor who works with the local police department is also the office that investigates, charges and tries the case,” Levine said in the report. “In 2015, The Guardian US found that 85 percent of cases involving a police officer who shoots and kills a civilian are resolved with a secretive grand jury process controlled by the locally elected prosecutor. Very few cases against police officers are handled independently.”
The website DumpCopCash.com was set up to publicize the pledge, but it goes farther than merely pointing out the 42 districts attorneys who signed it — it names the names of the district attorneys who refused to sign, like Manhattan’s Cy Vance, and it lists the DAs who didn’t bother responding to their colleagues.
There were 13 DAs, including Vance, who refused to sign. Vance’s office did include a statement that in his most recent campaign he has not accepted law enforcement contributions. There was no pledge to return previous funds.
More than 100 prosecutors didn’t respond to the pledge, including Melinda Katz, the Queens County District Attorney, and Darcel Clark from the Bronx.
The same day the report was issued and the pledge signed, the Legal Aid Society issued a public call to Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon to release files on NYPD officers with documented credibility issues.
“Now with Police Secrecy Law 50-a fully repealed and the injunction sought by the police unions denied by the courts, New York’s District Attorneys should release the information they have on officer credibility issues, including reports of officers lying on the witness stand, and falsifying evidence and official documents,” said a statement issued by the Legal Aid Society. “Likewise, all governmental agencies in possession of documents concerning police misconduct share that responsibility, and The Legal Aid Society again calls on Mayor Bill de Blasio to make police disciplinary records publicly available, as promised earlier this summer.”