OWS Trials Could Change the Way Police Do Business

by Jake Neher
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Occupy Wall Street protesters arrested
Adrian Kinloch, flickr.

Some experts say more acquittals likely.

This week marked the beginning of what will be a long string of trials related to the Occupy Wall Street protests.  A Manhattan judge acquitted student photographer Alexander Arbuckle of disorderly conduct Tuesday, after pictures and video showed police misrepresented events in their reports.

Some experts say the trials could have a big impact on how police deal with protests in the future.

Eugene O'Donnell is a professor of law and police science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He says although he thinks the NYPD does a world-class of job handling protests, those situations often lead to arrests made on shaky legal ground.

O'Donnell says that means the department should keep a close eye on the Occupy Wall Street trials.

"Making arrests is the starting part of the process," O'Donnell says. "What ultimately happens in court is the other side. And you really shouldn't be doing one without having a sense of what's happening on the other."

O'Donnell says he wouldn't be surprised to see many more acquittals and dismissals.

"Often the arrests are made because then and there there's a decision that they have to be. And, frankly, the legality or the strength of the cases can be secondary to the considerations of public order and public safety."

Cheryl Bader is a professor of law at Fordham University. She's representing a handful of protesters in the cases. Bader says there could be big implications for police if a clear pattern of acquittals emerges.

"Then the message will be taken that that kind of peaceful protest, even if it is somewhat disruptive of the normal flow everyday life, is supported," Bader says.

Bader says she expects the trials to continue at least into the fall, with some cases already scheduled for September.

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