Perspective is a Bitch: How a Squad of Ex-Cops Fights Police Abuses
During his 26 years as a cop, Smith thought he saw things clearly. There were good guys and there were bad guys, and he dealt with some of the worst. But then something changed.
In 1997, Smith retired from the police force. He needed a job to help cover his two daughters’ college expenses, so he signed up as an investigator in the Broward County Public Defender’s Office. He had little idea that he’d end up a key player in a bold experiment in criminal justice, one that aims to give tens of thousands of people who can’t afford lawyers a fighting chance in a system stacked against them. It’s an effort that suggests new ways for court-appointed attorneys to get at the truth, despite their insane caseloads. And a big part of it is getting former cops to police the police.
At the public defender’s office, Smith supervises 11 other investigators, 9 of whom are retired officers like him. Every day, they deploy technology, public records, and good old-fashioned legwork to dig into the sorts of complaints against cops and prosecutors that they used to brush off. In the process, they’re not only turning up evidence of sloppy police work and racial profiling. They’re also finding what they never would have guessed in their previous careers—that some of the sketchy characters they cross paths with are actually innocent.
It wasn’t the most dramatic case, but at the moment when Smith realized his client was a victim, not a perpetrator, he experienced “a complete change of life.” The ideal of innocent until proven guilty had always struck him as a scam invented by defense attorneys. “Now, on the desk in front of me, lay the key to setting free a totally innocent person,” he later wrote in Florida Defender magazine. “It is hard to describe my exact feelings at that point.” He persuaded prosecutors to drop the charges.