Black Hats Destroy the Thin Blue Line
Police departments have a legal and moral responsibility to ferret out and remove unethical and abusive employees for the sake of the public’s well being. Determining whether or not the officer is actually guilty can be a difficult task. Sometimes the officer is not guilty, but gets run through the wringer and/or convicted anyway. The abuse was so pervasive that California passed landmark legislation, “The Police Officer’s Bill of Rights,” AB 301. Thirty some years later, things are much better, but violations still exist. And, it seems to be true, to one degree or another, for law enforcement agencies in general.
During brouhaha over problems with some of his police officers, former LAPD Chief Darryl Gates asked rhetorically if anyone knew where police officers came from. The answer; the general public.
Law enforcement recruitment and screening processes are rigorous. But, they can’t identify, nor eliminate, all persons with negative traits. I’m talking about the traits of incompetence and/or malevolence, which allow people with power, be it big or small, to devastate the lives of other officers.
Entering police work for a Los Angeles County municipal police department in the early 1970’s, I soon learned that there are supervisors, sergeants and above, who abuse their authority and make the lives of their subordinates miserable through arrogance, incompetence and/or downright meanness. The evil ones are relatively few in number, but it does not take many to spoil the brew.
Here’s a typified unacceptable scenario. Someone makes a complaint about an officer. A supervisor conducts an investigation, and generates a report of the findings. Unfortunately, the supervisor: does not make a diligent effort to determine all of the facts; fails to report exculpatory evidence; falsifies evidence through admission or omission; writes a report that is slanted unfairly against the officer. The “summary” report is read by staff officers, who often never examine the original data nor properly scrutinize the indictment. Staff then adjudicates the issue by determining discipline ranging from a verbal reprimand to termination of employment and/or forwarding the findings to the district attorney for criminal prosecution.
Because of continuing violations of police officers’ individual rights and the breaches of contractual agreements by city and police staff, police officer associations file grievances and defend their members.
Occasionally, police officers have their discipline overturned by impartial, non-police, hearing officers and the courts. But, that does not occur until far reaching economic and emotional damage is done to both the officer and his family.
After a fired officer is reinstated or lesser discipline overturned, police administrations don’t generally go back and examine how the travesty occurred. Where is the commitment to an examination of the malicious and/or incompetent investigation? Why is there often no discipline for offending investigators?
Judicial and law enforcement administrative systems are designed upon the concept of truthfulness. When truthfulness is absent, the weight of the systems unjustly descends upon the head of the hapless in a form of police corruption. Accordingly, a lying investigative officer loses all credibility and must be fired, whether officer or chief.
There is one other twist to internal police corruption, and that occurs when a guilty officer does not receive discipline because he was protected by a corrupt supervisor. That state of affairs is a tremendous morale deflator for the rest of the police department.
It is no secret that police officers suffer far more stress from within their agency than they do from working the streets. There ought to be a law requiring law enforcement recruits to be advised that the profession is hazardous to their mental health.
Oh, but it gets worse. Incompetent and dishonest supervisors often manage to get promoted. And, so the rot tends to rise toward the top.
The white hats are the truly good, well intentioned, capable people who are promoted to supervisory and staff positions. Unfortunately, they are sometimes placed in the unenviable position of having to depend upon unethical subordinates.
Are you wondering what all of this has to do with the general public? A perception of an unfair police administration creates an environment conducive to poor morale, the growth of police corruption and an arrogance that leads to a lack of adherence to the rights of police officers and citizens alike. It may mean that some citizens get hassled, arrested and/or prosecuted unfairly. It definitely means that the public is not getting a fair return for its considerable investment.
All of this makes you feel warm and fuzzy about your local police department, doesn’t it?
Arrogance of Power or Informed Leadership