Good Cop, Bad Cop

Yesterday’s post about the Department of Justice’s investigation of the Baltimore police department contained several suggestions about implementing change. A recent series of articles in the Washington Post pointed to a reform I omitted.

The Justice Department’s investigation of Baltimore police this month rebuked the agency for an entrenched culture of discriminatory policing. Deep within their findings, Justice investigators singled out a core failure: Baltimore’s system for identifying troubled officers was broken and existed in name only.

In Baltimore, Justice found that critical disciplinary records were excluded from its early intervention system, that police supervisors often intervened only after an officer’s behavior became egregious and that when they did, the steps they took were inadequate.

According to the Post, many police departments have inadequate “early warning” systems, and many have none at all. As a result, “bad apples” are protected, rather than identified, until they do something so egregious that it cannot be covered up.

An early-warning system, of course, is only as good as the data it includes. Some systems, according to the Post, exclude the sort of information one would expect–complaints filed, incidents of excessive force–instead recording things like grooming violations (growing a beard in violation of the rules) or absences. And as one officer noted, recording even relevant data doesn’t do any good if no one is reviewing it and acting on it.

The real problem is a very human one: the deeply-embedded tribalism that causes us to see the world as “us versus them.” The culture of a police department is very similar to that of a military group. Such “bonding” can be an important asset when danger approaches, but it can lead to a counterproductive protectiveness when one of “ours” is accused of improper behavior. When the accusation comes from someone who doesn’t look like “us”–someone who is culturally or socio-economically or racially different–that tribal instinct can overcome good judgment.

As strong as that impulse is, it behooves us to recognize that there are a lot of good guys in blue who play by the rules and require others to do the same.

Back in my City Hall days, I remember a conversation with the then-Chief of Police, about a lawsuit that had just been filed against a member of his force. Far from being defensive, he immediately agreed to investigate the allegations, saying “When we give someone a lethal weapon and the authority to use it, we have an obligation to make sure he is well-trained, emotionally healthy, and wearing a badge for the right reasons.”

Says it all.

13 thoughts on “Good Cop, Bad Cop

  1. “When the accusation comes from someone who doesn’t look like “us”–someone who is culturally or socio-economically or racially different–that tribal instinct can overcome good judgment.

    As strong as that impulse is, it behooves us to recognize that there are a lot of good guys in blue who play by the rules and require others to do the same.”

    The above copied and pasted comments from Sheila are strong points. Does the “different than us” carry over to racial differences within police departments? The ugly camera phone videos we have been subjected to (although they seem to be missing from social media these days) resulting in deaths have shown primarily white cops on black civilian “victims”. The points made by the DOJ investigation of the Baltimore police department refer to a deep concern I have held for decades regarding the inner working of all police departments. That “blue line” which seems to demand an unwarranted loyalty of their “brothers in blue” no matter their criminal actions. In the civilian world, covering up for criminal activity can result in arrest and prosecution for aiding and abetting family members and friends. At times, it is fear for their own lives that people do not come forward. It is considered that when a civilian commits a crime, they become a criminal. Fellow police officers too often are not seen in that same light due to their official uniform, badge and gun.

    Only a few years ago there was a brief rash of Indianapolis police officers arrested for criminal activities; some were prosecuted. Then there is the David Bisard case; no need to list the 3 years of cover-ups and delays but the fact that it took a second drunk driving and accident in another country to get him off the roads says a lot about IMPD inner-workings. IMPD offered no protection to the public from his drunken habits.

    Move back into police history to the stories of Frank Serpico and Popeye Doyle who laid their lives on the line (Serpico was left bleeding on a dirty tenement floor by fellow officers after being shot in the face while attempting to serve a warrant); they had taken an oath to uphold the law, they saw no difference between uniformed/armed officers and civilians committing misdemeanor and heavy felony crimes and performed their sworn duties, thus endangering their own lives.

    Per the Washington Post article; “And as one officer noted, recording even relevant data doesn’t do any good if no one is reviewing it and acting on it.” Unless and until this changes, we will continue to have criminal activities covered up by those who have sworn to and paid with our tax dollars to protect us BEFORE we become victims if possible.

  2. There is no question that the police in this nation are the best in the world, and getting better. In my lifetime (a long time) I have seen them improve beyond what I ever expected.
    This whole process of looking into their procedures and ways of operating, especially in different cities or counties (as in Arizona) is a move that will make them even more responsive and able to do their job effectively.
    The people in law enforcement are living, breathing examples of civic responsibility at work. The Justice Department has done well to push forward as they have. Can any one imagine this happening under the Quaker Nixon and the felon Agnew’s ‘law and order’ administration?

  3. Sheila:

    “In Baltimore, Justice found that critical disciplinary records were excluded from its early intervention system, that police supervisors often intervened only after an officer’s behavior became egregious and that when they did, the steps they took were inadequate.”

    In most places, the police have two main duties:

    #1 Protect the public

    #2 Protect the oligarchy controlled system

    When in conflict, #2 will always prevail. That’s why police review boards with community representation are not a reality in most communities.

  4. My late father was a decorated homicide detective with the Indianapolis Police Department, serving 33 years on the force. He started out as a beat cop and transferred to a homicide before I was born in 1953. He was a crack shot, also a World War II combat veteran and also the lead police forensic artist, but never shot anyone. He knew how to talk to people and always treated people with respect. He, and my Mom, raised yours truly and my siblings to act the same way.

    He told me several times when I was a young man that you cannot police a community without the cooperation and support of that community and that it came from police officers showing respect for those that they policed. Somehow that simple concept has been lost on many that wear a badge all over the country and that “us versus them” mentality has come to permeate many departments. It’s really a sad thing since a police department is a reflection of the community they serve, with the emphasis on the word “serve”. That additional simple concept was never lost on my Dad nor us. Somehow that common sense approach to policing has to has to re-emerge and maintained.

    I’m very proud of the fact that my Dad was one of those “good cops”.

  5. “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should be attended by BODYGUARD of lies”
    `British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill

    The TRUTH surrounding the oligarchy, especially in the Deep South, just as in wartime needs a BODYGUARD. In peacetime, it’s called the Police or Sheriff’s Department.

    Both Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland are on the fringes of the Deep South. In the Deep South, the controls are much firmer and consequently, at least for the present, things appear to be somewhat normal. Just give it time.

  6. I wonder how many thousands of interactions there are every day in our country between law-enforcement and civilians? In my own experience, working in retail for several decades, most of the officers I observed during the times when we needed their intervention, were professional and courteous to all involved, even when being provoked to action by someone who was very angry or scared. In this age of instant exposure, the bad actors are instantly exposed to all the world. Is it the same phenomenon we see in the media reporting of the “news”? If it bleeds, it leads can make us all believe that there is so much danger of all kinds in our communities that we arm ourselves to the teeth and hunker down in our homes in constant fear and distrust.
    I do believe that the departments all around the country need to be fully funded and have periodic external review by non-political appointees. Officers who are out on the street for years and regularly see the worst of human behavior, need to be evaluated and trained to deal with the fallout of that kind of stress. Most of all, those candidates for the training academy need to be carefully screened for violent, authoritarian tendencies and weeded out before they ever get in uniform.
    We owe it to ourselves to have the best order of law we can. If we allow the violent, the bigoted, the mentally ill, the bullies to infiltrate law enforcement at every level, we all lose.

  7. Tom,

    My best friend in grammar school and junior high, Tommie Reeves, became Acting Sheriff of Nassau County which is just to the north of Jacksonville. He had been with the Sheriff’s Office in Jacksonville for many years. Tommie died a few years ago. I’ve never been around anyone with more integrity and courage than Tommie. And he was recognized and awarded for those attributes.

  8. JD; I believe the vast majority of us realize the “bad apples” are the minority and the vast majority, even if poorly trained, do their job to the best of their ability often against difficult situations. The fact that the few we have seen in the deadly videos have been reprimanded, reported for misconduct and abusing their authority on numerous occasions but remain on their jobs armed and with short fuses, is the problem. In the case of David Bisard; fortunately his second drunken vehicle accident was only property damage to his own vehicle and the bridge he hit. But he shouldn’t have been driving after killing one man; permanently disabling another man and a woman, totally demolishing three motorcycles and his patrol car. He was allowed to “work the accident” he caused while breaking several laws and police restrictions. Bisard is not the only police officer who has committed such crimes; it took the second drunk driving accident (property damage) to remove him from IMPD. And that took over three years due to repeated cover-ups, rescheduling court hearings and through it all, the FBI was involved in the investigation.

  9. My model, that 5-10% of every group of humans are either real criminals or those who fail in public trust, just seems to cover most things that need fixing in society.

    I agree with Anthony above, a good cop is a magnificent thing and there’s lots of them. A person in poverty with dignity and a still generous heart is also a magnificent thing. Humanity in general is a magnificent thing. Then there are the criminals and entitled. Few in number but the cause of most of societies ills.

    But the good keep on keeping up with being responsible for themselves and neutralizing those who are, in the true sense of the word, anti social.

    Let’s always give credit where credit is due.

  10. I do not know but I would think the Justice Department after all these years would put together guidelines for police training. Not that the army is the best example, but you had basic training and then advanced individual training A.I.T.). Basic Training is eight weeks and then A.I.T. can be another 4 weeks or more. Obviously, we going to train police not soldiers. At least in the Army, you have periodic re-training and refresher courses.

    Any way Marv, I agree with you when the Organs of State Security have a conflict between serving and protecting the public vs the Oligarchy, the Oligarchy will prevail. The Memorial Day massacre of 1937 in Chicago is an example in the extreme.
    ======================================================================

    As a side bar to an earlier blog this week on Big Pharma – Heather Bresch, the CEO at the center of EpiPen’s 471% price hike, sold 100,200 of her shares earlier this month and earned more than $5m from the sale. Earlier this week, Bresch was invited to testify before the US Senate to explain the price hike. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/aug/27/mylan-ceo-sold-stock-epipen-price-hike-heather-bresch

    I can be certain Bresch will be given the usual treatment those in power receive at Senate hearing, a wrist slap for being too greedy and getting caught. A nod and wink that the system of Crony-Capitalism will be protected.

  11. Pete,

    “But the good keep on keeping up with being responsible for themselves and neutralizing those who are, in the sense of the word, anti-social.”

    My friend Tommie, really exemplified those attributes. Both of us were being raised by our grandparents. We protected each other. And I guess that HE lead us both into focusing on “neutralizing the anti-socials.”

    My story growing up in Jacksonville is in “Images of America: Jacksonville’s Southside.” Most of the pictures came from Tommie and since we were best friends, I’m pictured also. We both had pretty much the same experiences. [ We were both starting guards on the Junior High Championship Team, the other side scored 10 points. The next year Tommie broke his neck when he dived into a swimming pool that was too shallow. He wasn’t paralyzed but wasn’t allowed to play any contact sports in high school].

  12. There are no “good cops” until cops begin reporting cop wrongdoing. The cover-up is as bad as the crime.

  13. It’s not all police interaction with citizens. I recall vividly that when I was a Marion County Deputy Prosecutor in police court in the late 1950s (before being promoted to Criminal Court) that a police officer talked to me before the morning hearings and asked me to forget to ask the venue question on his DUI cases (which automatically turned the drunk driver loose on motion) and that if I did, I would find $115 in my mailbox for each such occasion. I was insulted that he even thought I would take bribes and told him to forget it and went at once into the judge’s office and told him of what had just happened. The judge told me not to worry about it; that the municipal judges knew who these guys were. I thought that begged the issue and was even more concerned with the judge’s response when later that same judge called me into his office and told me that I had a 92% DUI conviction record and that that was too high – and that from now on my conviction record would be 66 and 2/3s%. I thereafter lost cases where the evidence had been identical to that in my previous convictions. I have often wondered if that judge was on the take, too, and that his calling me in for a talk set the stage. There are police problems both without and within the system, I was led to believe, and I suspect such problems have continued since I was a young prosecutor.

Comments are closed.