Sunil Dutta has been promoted to LAPD lieutenant since we last heard about his writing and opposition to capital punishment. He has an opinion piece this weekend in the Ventura County Star about the execution in Texas of Cameron Todd Willingham, "innocent of setting the fire; he was, instead, a victim of a shoddy crime-scene investigation." Dutta ruminates on cops and policing:
Thirteen years ago, in a fit of idealism, I left my comfortable and satisfying career as a scientist and joined the Los Angeles Police Department....
The LAPD was in transformation during my earlier years as a starry-eyed idealist. An excessively micromanaging personality, Chief Bernard Parks had terrified the entire LAPD with his heavy-handed disciplinary system; cops were leaving the department in droves. And, then came the federal oversight, the Consent Decree.
Throughout these transforming experiences, though suspicious of the functioning of a police agency, I found most of the officers were professional and honorable....Corrupt officers can destroy people’s faith in policing and cause incalculable harm to those with whom they come in contact.
However, a major shortcoming in policing, something far more dangerous, has never been completely addressed seriously by our criminal-justice system. My scientific temperament picked up this issue within a short time after I joined LAPD, and a fear has always persisted in my subconscious that major harm could result from our reliance on two fallible tools: eyewitnesses and shoddy forensic science.
Criminal cases built solely on eyewitnesses or informants, he says, should get extra scrutiny in the judicial system.