During the next few months, I will be posting current events which highlight some of the main points in my forthcoming book — why we need to improve our nation’s police. While I spent thirty plus years as a police officer — the last 25 of them as a chief — I still see some glaring reasons why the things I championed still need to be addressed.
Today’s focus is on CORRUPTION and the POLICE SUBCULTURE. And there is no more glaring example of this locally here in Wisconsin than what the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel posted yesterday as their front-page story, “Over the Line : Milwaukee’s Law Enforcers Include 93 Violators — or More.”
Another examples comes from New York where The New York Times recently reported, “16 police officers were arraigned at State Supreme Court in the Bronx, incensed colleagues organized by their union cursed and taunted prosecutors and investigators, chanting ‘Down with the D.A.’ and ‘[police commissioner] Ray Kelly, hypocrite.’ As the defendants emerged from their morning court appearance, a swarm of officers formed a cordon in the hallway and clapped as they picked their way to the elevators. Members of the news media were prevented by court officers from walking down the hallway where more than 100 off-duty police officers had gathered outside the courtroom. “ You can read more of the story at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/29/nyregion/officers-unleash-anger-at-ticket-fixing-arraignments-in-the-bronx.html?_r=1&emc=eta1.
In my book I strongly addressed the dangers of secrecy and rule-breaking among police, in the subculture called police work this is what I first experienced and it left a lasting imprint upon me for my entire career:
“Years ago as a young police officer, I remember finding myself being deeply enmeshed in the life of being a cop. I soon realized that my identity, social life, and even family life revolved around me being a cop. I worked every day with police and socialized with them when I was off-duty. My preferred company was other police. I also realized I was closer to the man I was paired with at work—my partner—than I was to the woman to whom I was married. I shared more of my thoughts, feelings, hopes, and dreams with him than I did with her. Each day at work, I trusted my partner with my life. And then I realized that if he did something wrong, I would no more give him up than I would my own mother. That is the power of a subculture… a distinct group of people who have patterns of behavior and beliefs that set them apart from society as a whole…
“One of the more difficult areas of improving police is dealing with corruption when it is part of the police subculture. I use the term “corruption” broadly to include acts such as: stealing things, receiving regular payoffs for enforcing or not enforcing the law, accepting gifts and favors not afforded the general public, disregarding departmental rules and orders; lying, issuing false reports, making false testimony or committing other acts a person knows is dishonest or morally wrong. Corruption exists when police break the law, whether in pursuit of enforcing it or to enhance their own lives by accepting special favors, gifts like free food, liquor, or money or other items of value.
“On the other hand, proper professional police work involves scrupulous adherence to the law while enforcing it. It is being honest to a fault.”
In the Journal Sentinel article, investigative reporters found at least 93 Milwaukee police officers (5% of the force), from street cop to captain, have been disciplined for violating the laws and ordinances they were sworn to uphold. Offenses included sexual assault, domestic violence, drunken driving and shoplifting. This was according to police department records that took the Journal Sentinel two years and thousands of dollars to obtain. All these officers still work for the Police Department.
The conclusion of the investigative reporters is scathing:
“The Police Department, district attorney’s office and Fire and Police Commission share responsibility for keeping officers in line. All three fall short. The department tolerates misconduct. Prosecutors give cops career-saving deals. The commission reduces punishments when officers break the rules. As a result, police who have crossed to the other side of the law keep the power that comes with the badge.”
(You can view the entire article online at: http://www.jsonline.com/watchdog/watchdogreports/at-least-93-milwaukee-police-officers-have-been-disciplined-for-violating-law-132268408.html).
Arrested Development: One Man’s Lifelong Mission to Improve Our Nation’s Police is due to be released in January, 2012