Like many Americans, especially those on the political left, I have a distrust of the police. I had several negative experiences that left me jaded, including one in which I was the plaintiff in a federal lawsuit. My default brain thinks of the worst men and women in blue. It’s often unfair, and it’s something I try to overcome.
One thing that I have come to realize very recently is that, like in any other vocation, there are police officers who are born whistleblowers. Like everyone else, they have told the truth when they witness waste, fraud, abuse, illegality, or threats to public health or safety. It’s something to celebrate.
It is difficult to be (or to have been) a whistleblower in the intelligence community. You become an outcast among the people you consider friends, among the people to whom you have entrusted your life. It’s not an easy transition from one-time insider to persona non grata. But it happens, not only in the intelligence community, but also among the police.
And in many cases, the fallout for police whistleblowers is at least as severe as for whistleblowers elsewhere in government.
Moses Black of the Gonzales Police Department in Louisiana is one such whistleblower. In 2015, Black, a veteran officer, reported a colleague for using excessive force on a handcuffed prisoner. An internal review board exonerated the colleague, and police chiefs almost immediately began retaliating against Black. He was suspended for 90 days for being late for work once.
The city council overturned the suspension, but Black was later fired after questioning a neighbor about a seatbelt ticket she received from another officer. Black could not find work in any other Louisiana police department.
code of silence
This kind of police behavior is not new. In the 1920s, President Herbert Hoover established a commission to investigate what appeared to be the failure of the nation’s police officers to end the violence surrounding illegal liquor sales. The main problem the commission found was that police departments valued loyalty more than efficiency or competence. One of the commissioners wrote: “It is an unwritten law in the police department that police officers should never testify against their fellow police officers. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
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In 1970s New York, the Knapp Commission, formed after revelations by police whistleblower Frank Serpico, found that its own investigation into police corruption was repeatedly undermined by what a police captain described as “a code of silence superior to the omerta of the police”. underworld.” And despite the Knapp Commission’s numerous recommendations, a new commission in 1994 found that police whistleblowers routinely had their lockers burned or their tires slashed.
This commission concluded that “if the (NYPD) ever hopes to make lasting improvements in the control of corruption, it must do something it has failed to do in recent history: recognize that the silence exists and take steps to overcome it”.
This anti-transparent and corrupt attitude is not unique to the police. Prison guards often react in the same way to whistleblowers. A guard at the Churchill County, Nevada, jail told reporters that after reporting misconduct involving the inappropriate use of force to his superiors, a sergeant told him, “Jesus Christ, Erwine, why don’t you embrace them all? They’re convicts, for God’s sake!
Michael Erwine was fired and, like Moses Black, could not find work as a prison guard or police officer in the state of Nevada.
It is a national problem. Police whistleblowers have won lawsuits against their services in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Baltimore, Seattle and smaller departments in South Carolina, Florida, Texas and Oregon. But still nothing changes. Indeed, a study of USA today found that police departments frequently misrepresent the internal affairs investigative process to conduct whistleblower investigations.
The USA today A study further found that even on the rare occasions when officials who retaliated against whistleblowers were punished, they were almost always allowed to keep their jobs or quietly retire with their pensions.
There are very few avenues for reform here. Legislation will not solve the problem; it’s been tried. Blue ribbon signs failed. Federal investigations and warrants failed. The solution can only come from within. It is only when the police themselves invest in reform and embrace the rule of law they want to impose on the rest of us that we will get the change we deserve.
Crossposted from Consortium News.