Should Police Officers Be Held Liable For Not Catching A Killer In Time?

While I was at the National Retail Federation Loss Prevention conference earlier this week, Albuquerque Chief of Police Ray Schultz gave a very interesting keynote about how his department has focused on the property crime.

While some law enforcement want to tackle headline-grabbing violent crime, Schultz said catching petty thieves is his force’s top concern.

"Tomorrow's violent criminal is today's petty criminal," Schultz said, saying property crime is down 28 percent in the city.

Property crime also touches more people, Schultz said. Even the chief isn’t immune, having his identity stolen twice. The first time, criminals used his credit card number to order and ship tractors to Africa. The second time, Schultz found $1,200 worth of Chinese food ordered in Los Angeles under his name.

But, on a different note, he also quickly mentioned an interesting lawsuit and how it might affect law enforcement’s ability to do their jobs in apprehending violent criminals. Once done with the conference, I looked into the life of convicted murder Clifton Bloomfield.

Bloomfield’s story is not for the faint of heart, and you can read a little more about him here and here.

To put it quickly, Bloomfield savagely murdered at least five people in the Albuquerque area in a three-year span and thankfully was sentenced to 195 years in prison in 2009.

And the aftermath his final set of murders -- Tak and Pung Yi and newlywed Scott Pierce -- has set off an interesting chain of events that might set a precedent for law enforcement.

The Yis were found murdered in their home in late 2007. Police thought they caught a quick break and arrested two traveling magazine salesman who were seen in the area before the murder. One of the men confessed, and both were put in jail to await trial.

But DNA evidence found under Tak Yi’s fingernails came back a few months later and excluded both suspects. Police were back on the hunt for a killer. But officials later realized the DNA pointed to Bloomfield, who was already in prison for the murder of Pierce in the summer of 2008.

Pierce's widow, Katherine, has filed a wrongful death civil suit against the City of Albuquerque and various members the police department saying more should have done more to catch Bloomfield after the Yis were murdered instead of just relying on a confession.

The suit contends that if police had done more, Pierce may not have been one of Bloomfield’s victims. The case is scheduled to go to a jury trial later this year.

Schultz indicated that if the city and officers lost the upcoming case, Albuquerque would appeal, and the issue might end up in the hands of the Supreme Court to decide.

What do you think about the case and the precedent that could be set? Should law enforcement (and by default, taxpayers) be liable for acts of a criminal they don’t catch in time? Could Scott Pierce’s murder have been prevented, or was it just a tragic case?

Posted by Brent Dirks on Jun 16, 2011

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