Often police officers are first in the process to insure the integrity of the proof.
Law enforcement officers (LEO) are tasked with searching for evidence to reveal the entire truth. It is the duty of every LEO to keep the legitimacy of the undiminished story. We know this substantiation of the facts can be in the form of forensic or testimonial information.
“The search for truth-without fear or favor-matters most.” He had that familiar courtroom voice saturated with years of experience and wisdom stemming from a stellar career. I should have expected nothing less from a distinguished prosecutor and New York Times bestselling author. Although I never had the opportunity to work with Robert K. Tanenbaum, I wish I had.
He was speaking in reference to the justice system. In short time, I found him to be an extraordinary professional promoting integrity as key. Tanenbaum reminded me we often forget the test questions.
Why are we here?
With an adjustment in demeanor and a prideful stance, a police officer may recurrently reply that he or she answered a calling to public service. We have cheated our audience for so long with this standard explanation. Our generic response really falls short. Certainly, we are here to serve others but it is “how we serve” which is paramount, if not more so than as to whom. I’m not referring to specific duties, but to substance and quality of service.
George Whitmore Jr. passed away on October 8, 2012. Conceivably, we should recognize the name of the man whose coerced false confession was used against him in the famous Career Girls Murders. Coincidently, on August 28, 1963, the two victims were murdered the same day Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech. Ultimately Whitmore was exonerated of all charges because of questions raised by Assistant District Attorney Mel Glass which led to a collaboration from prosecutors to find the true killer. Despite this outcome, it took years to clear his name. The treatment of Whitmore was cited in the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Miranda v. Arizona.
For many years Tanenbaum managed the Homicide Bureau in New York County under the leadership of District Attorney Frank Hogan. The trials circa the 1970’s of Black Liberation Army members in the murders of NYPD officers Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini were documented in one of his books: Badge Of The Assassin. This novel was later adopted into a 1985 television movie in which he was portrayed by James Woods. Badge Of The Assassin is not unlike today where we are riddled with false narratives, social unrest, and the murders of officers.
Perhaps many people are more familiar with other high-profile cases in which Tanenbaum served. For example, he was a special prosecution consultant in the Hillside Strangler case and Deputy Chief Counsel for the Congressional Committee investigation into the assassinations of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. While Tanenbaum is legendary in many arenas, his heartfelt conversation revealed to me within his soul lies a warrior for justice.
Let’s talk about sinister human beings who passively accept evil as their leisure sport.
Law enforcement hunts the evil feared by most. It galvanizes us to capture those who are menacing to others. When villainy prevails, it drives police to do better. In fact, we work harder, extend ourselves, and go to great lengths to effect justice. It is with certainty every LEO will face it. Wickedness comes in many degrees and may present itself in many forms.
The unusually remarkable cases have always fascinated me. Many of the publicized circumstances surrounding serial crimes involve an offender with psychotic behavior. Police often handle persons in psychotic states on patrol or as a detective. Whether the behavior is temporarily induced by drugs or in a depraved individual, both pose an extreme danger to society. Those are two entirely different things.
When a sequence of criminal actions with a predictable pattern of behavior and methodology becomes evident, police categorize those events as serial cases. If the acts are personal crimes within the realm of being brutal, abnormal, violent, and executed without a conscience, you are more than likely dealing with a psychopath. Most people are familiar with psychopathic killers because they often have multiple victims and are highly publicized. Some cops may never land a serial killer case or encounter a gruesome maniac while others might investigate several.
Meticulous attention to details is paramount for convictions of dangerous killers. Emotions run high in these instances, which can cause errors in judgment and missed clues. A sense of urgency for public safety becomes a priority, driving resources and investing extra time and efforts into manhunts. The minutia within statements and contained in the evidence along with proper legal procedures must always be realized.
The Piano Teacher: The True Story of a Psychotic Killer written by Robert K. Tanenbaum and Peter S. Greenburg details a chilling Manhattan serial killer. Charles William Yukl was a professional piano teacher who brutally murdered then mutilated his victims. His first conviction resulted in a plea bargain devised by Assistant District Attorney John Keenan, a friend and colleague of Tanenbaum, and agreed to by the defense headed by George Monaghan, which rendered him a short sentence.
Why a plea bargain?
The defense attorney cited a potential for Yukl’s confession to be useless in violation of his Miranda rights. The prosecution recognized Yukl’s sadistic behavior was dangerous for society but the looming likelihood of an overturned verdict would have been worse. After serving his time, Yukl was released and soon killed another female victim in similar modus operandi. He later hanged himself in prison after the conviction.
Defense pleas such as insanity and incompetency can come into play under appropriate circumstances. The prosecution has to prepare for these defenses. While they are two separate arguments, they pose to excuse the offender’s responsibility. According to Tanenbaum, a key product of the justice system must be that those who commit crimes are held responsible.
While advocating the foremost duty granted a prosecutor is to carefully analyze cases, Tanenbaum unequivocally stressed the importance of searching for the truth and holding offenders accountable for their criminal actions. The truth comes from all those connected to the justice system, including the defense. Furthermore, any service must be conducted objectively excluding any political and social agendas from work product and legal procedures.
Doing the RIGHT things IS your duty.
Are we doing the right things?
Police administrators often promote tactical thinking and practices reflect “doing things right”. These thought processes trickle down to the troops and the career becomes muddled with education, skills training, practical exercises, and legal updates. The particular components are necessary for effective policing. It is not wrong by any means, but possibly incomplete. When we give value to police work by “doing the right thing”, we put forth strategic thinking and validation into the justice system.
“We must always do the right thing, even if it is the harder thing to do.” It is not a sticky note plastered to my forehead, although it should have been on the dash of my patrol car when I was assigned a new rookie. This point was my mantra my recruits should have remembered if I was their trainer at any point in their career. Tanenbaum brought forth those similar stances from his experiences into our conversation.
“We must get back to basics. We must do the right things. The justice system speaks of our character as a nation.” Tanenbaum spoke at length adamant that all persons- whether indigent or wealthy- should be free of unfair treatment, travesties of justice, and should be afforded the same opportunities while keeping the system void of becoming a “political vent”. At times I could almost hear a gavel being dropped on key talking points as if it was uttered by a judge during a significant court decision.
Charles H. Spurgeon said, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
Robert Tanenbaum spoke to me of the current events plaguing law enforcement, societal discord, and the hot points in our justice system. Hitting on the highlights, he was quick to point out troublesome areas, which should concern all persons. It was his opinion that although there are winners and losers in the media, they have been complicit and continue to follow their own agenda. We should be infuriated when we hear of partial truths or the media focusing on a portion of the facts. It is even more egregious when the truth is spun and not reported as factual but based upon some facts.
I was pleasantly surprised he laid out the evidence of exponential fallout from the media’s false narratives in some of the current events and condemned the process of having too many press conferences involving district attorneys with political motivation leaking into their work. Largely, the court systems have revealed different outcomes when prosecutors were quick to charge persons in order to suppress political pressure. It was apparent Tanenbaum believes the justice system should be apolitical and all officials should be conducting themselves with the utmost ethics and demonstrate probity in their positions. In essence, some of the publicity promoting the false narratives has ruined lives and divided communities in recent events.
Consequently, Tanenbaum’s newest novel is titled: Without Fear or Favor. The depth of this legal thriller is astounding. In brief, it is about values. Additionally, it reveals truths quashed by false narratives and political agendas often plaguing the justice system today. It resonates with the recent events we have seen in America.
Liberty and justice for all should not be reflected upon, but ingrained. They are rights afforded us all. With so much power in the hands of law enforcement, the liberties of others should be closely protected and all person’s rights safeguarded. No one should have to preach their significance.
Equally important is not to rush to judgment without all the facts and evidence. Any travesty of justice is one too many.
Law enforcement are not only peace keepers, but truth finders.
It was invigorating to listen to an advocate of justice whose knowledge spanned decades of high profile cases during many pivotal and political events. As Tanenbaum praised police officers, he also hammered home on the duty to assiduousness all have in law enforcement. We should not gather “enough” facts for an arrest or process “enough” evidence in a case, but we should seek the entire authentication. Police officers should be vanguards for the truth.
Are you searching for ALL the facts?
Offenders often give us omissions rather than full confessions. We continually strive to extract the truth from them in interviews and interrogations while also corroborating it with evidence. Some evidence is in plain view whilst much more is hidden. Persons with knowledge may hold information necessary to solve a crime. These are not new revelations, but certainties known to law enforcement. Police have to search for all of the answers: the entire story.
Due diligence encompasses reasonable steps to satisfy legal requirements. This is not enough. Police officers are obligated to be comprehensive and all-inclusive in any and all investigations. Likewise, inequities or any breach to impartiality and fairness when enforcing the laws and other duties regarding public service is really unacceptable.
As LEOs, we realize the facts come from many avenues and all leads and evidence trails must be pursued. In turn, the separate components of the justice system interconnect and officials in all capacities should keep sacred the moral value of doing the right thing. “And while doing so,” Tanenbaum said, “should be orchestrated without fear or favor.”
We must never forget to focus on the law enforcement big picture for the greater good.
We may never be legends like Robert Tanenbaum, Frank Hogan, and their associates. However, we can leave a standing legacy in our own community by not only being tactically right but also strategically doing the right things: without fear, without favor.
Justice is about moral rightness and lawfulness. Integrity and honor emulate through our character and the quality of our work. Hold steadfast to values. Be mindful of details and seek truth in its entirety. Do so with the utmost ethics, being resolute to the equality, fairness, and moral treatment of others.