New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

Document Type

Article

Comments

90 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 1827 (2015)

Abstract

Of all the agencies of executive government, those that police—that employ force and engage in surveillance—are the most threatening to the liberties of the American people. Yet, they are the least regulated. Two core requisites of American constitutionalism are democratic accountability and adherence to the rule of law. Democratic accountability ensures that policy choices are vetted in the public arena and have popular support; the rule of law requires that those choices be constitutional as well. Legislative enactments governing policing are few and far between. Although police departments have internal rules, these rules are rarely made public or publicly debated. When it comes to regulating policing, we rely primarily on ex post judicial review, which at best ensures policing practices are constitutional (though it often fails on this score), and does nothing to assure democratic accountability or sound policymaking.

This Article argues that it is fundamentally unacceptable for policing to remain aloof from the ordinary processes of democratic governance. All police practices—such as use of drones or other surveillance equipment; SWAT, Tasers, and other means of force; checkpoint stops, administrative inspections, and other warrantless searches and seizures—should be legislatively authorized, subject to public rulemaking, or adopted and evaluated through some alternative process that permits democratic input. In addition to spelling out the ways in which the ordinary processes of governance can be utilized to regulate policing, this Article fills in substantial gaps in the existing literature by analyzing why this has not been the case in the past, and explaining how, within the existing framework of administrative and constitutional law, courts can motivate change. It also directs attention to the manifold questions that require resolution in order to move policing to a more democratically-accountable footing.

Date of Authorship for this Version

11-2015