Monday, August 31, 2009

The Existence of Two Sets of Rules:
One for Police and One for Everyone Else

JusticeThe existence of the separate set of rules is one indication that you are living in a police state. Peer-to-Peer Accountability - FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, August 2009

I suppose I should view this article as a sign of hope. At least someone in law enforcement is recognizing that there is a problem in the ranks. The "thin blue line" really does exist. But they don't address the "is it good or bad for society," they are only interested in its impact on the organizations.
Those entering the law enforcement profession bring their traditions, faiths, and ethical and moral compasses. While assimilating into the culture, they exchange their individual identities for that of team members. They wear uniforms, often attend an academy away from their families and homes, and may be treated as new recruits who lack value until becoming sworn members of the force. As training continues, they are inculcated into the culture of their department and the profession. If officers lack a strong personal, traditional, or ethical basis, the custom of the department supplants theirs and becomes their core value. In this instance, the thin blue line is created.

With the advent of modern policing and the visible arena in which law enforcement now functions, the issue of ethical decision making has risen to the forefront. Several high-profile cases have garnered national attention and made the actions of law enforcement officers come into question and focus. One such incident involved presumably ethical officers not speaking up or not preventing a peer from seriously injuring a handcuffed suspect. When such a gross violation occurs and no one intervenes, it is not surprising that some officers let the minor transgressions go unaddressed. “The bottom line is, sometimes we cover for each other. For most of us, there is the realization that what happened was wrong. We see our behavior as a setback, not a victory. We analyze what went wrong and try to fix it before it happens again. But, no matter how we feel or what we believe, we are judged by our actions, not our intentions, and the costs can be horrendous. When confronted with video camera footage or audio recordings, the code becomes a trap and the first cop to tell the truth is usually the only one to escape permanent damage.”
But the authors don't even see the extent of the problem. They don't see, as the old saying goes, that the problem begins when the camel's nose first gets under the tent, not when the whole animal is inside. When cops are not chastised for minor violations, why should they not move on to bigger violations? "If you give a mouse a cookie, he's gonna want a glass of milk."

The first scenario they discuss is telling. Two cops are handing out traffic citations around a school for violations of the school zone speed limit, until they stop a fellow officer and don't hand out a citation. Everybody got tickets except the cop. He could drive 40 MPH through a 25 MPG zone with no ticket, only a verbal (no-record?) warning. The authors think this is probably OK.
Does the public, moreover, the law enforcement agency itself, really expect its officers to cite off-duty ones for minor traffic violations? How might that affect esprit de corps among those sworn to protect not just the public but also each other?
No, I don't EXPECT them too. It isn't because I am worried about the esprit de corps of the officers. I don't expect them too because I know cops let cops slide on all kinds of things.

But I do believe the cop in this scenario should receive a ticket. If they handed out to the first 12 citizens to break that law, why did they change the policy for the 13th citizen? Because cops get special privileges? Because cops don't have to obey the (traffic) law?

police scofflawsNow there is an environment where cops don't feel bound to obey the traffic laws. So parking in a bus lane (you or I would probably be towed) is no big deal. Not for an emergency, just because they can. The fact that their illegal parking ties up the street during rush hour and creates grid-lock and inconvenience is not their problem. (Did an ambulance need to get anywhere on that street during that time? I hope not.)

One would hope that doing a breathalyzer test after an accident in which alcohol is suspected would be standard procedure. Waiting four hours - presumably for the cop in question to sober up - should NOT be standard procedure. But it is only one of those pesky traffic laws after all. Not that different from going 40 through a 25 MPH zone (populated by distracted children).

A tradition of getting free coffee, morphs into cops demanding premium drinks from Starbucks. Someone will feel pulling a gun at McDonald's makes sense, because they think the service is bad. Others will try to walk-out on a bar tab.

Before you know it you are dealing with LAPD's Rampart Scandal or Chicago PD's late and unlamented Special Operations Section.

Perhaps not the most egregious violation of this nature, but not the least is the way some officers are treated regarding domestic violence. Consider the case of Drew Peterson, a former police sergeant in suburban Chicago. He is charged with the death of his 3rd wife.
The rant is about the way the Bolingbrook police force treated this guy during his third marriage. His wife, Kathleen Savio, filed for an order of protection. (Which would have stripped his guns and probably kept him from working.) She went to the emergency room as the result of beatings administered by this guy. The local police were at her home numerous times, but somehow, they never managed to file any paperwork against their brother officer
They "exercised their discretion" in the case of domestic dispute and no one (ever) was arrested. I'm sure the fact that they would have been arresting a police officer - one of their own - never entered into their decision making.

Now all these issues, and the others I have chronicled under Cops Behaving Badly, have been brought to the light of day, and some of them have seen a semblance of justice. But none of them came to the light of day with the first allegation by a civilian. In the case of situations like the Special Operations Section or Jon Burge and the Midnight Crew of Area Two, they went on for years, and impacted countless lives - in some cases innocent lives. In some cases, the preference given police officers who step over the line may have cost lives.

Now the authors of the article in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, admit that published instances of police receiving special preferences "erodes public trust," but they seem to see it as a public relations problem, for the corrosive affects it has on the police themselves is never mentioned. Minor traffic violations are seen as minor. They are not seen as the camel's nose getting under the tent, or the first pebble in an avalanche. Of course the authors are law enforcement officers.

The sad fact is that when many of these behaviors are brought to light, far from trying to rid their ranks of bad apples the cops - usually in the form of unions - defend them and sue for their reinstatement. So that it is difficult to remove them from duty. Are you still worried about the public trust? Are you worried at all about rogue cops?

When police officers are victims of crime, the penalties are often increased. Should the same hold true if it is the police officers who are committing the crimes? Or do you think there should be 2 sets of rules? Do you think the world should be divided into Cops and "Little People?"

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