Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Why Cops Aren't Whistleblowing These Days

It may be true that abusive cops are few and far between, as police organizations typically claim. The problem is that other cops rarely hold them accountable. Perhaps that’s because they know they will be treated the way Max Seifert was. For all the concern about the “Stop Snitchin’ ” message within the hip-hop community, police have engaged in a far more impactful and pernicious Stop Snitchin’ campaign of their own. It’s called the Blue Wall of Silence.

Consider New York City police officer Adrian Schoolcraft. Schoolcraft was concerned about quotas for stops and arrests imposed by his commanding officers. Worse, some officers had been instructed to downgrade offenses, or even talk victims out of pressing charges, to make the city’s crime statistics look better. NYPD officials publicly denied there was any quota system or data fudging, but that didn’t jibe with what Schoolcraft was hearing in the station house. So he surreptitiously recorded commanding officers giving the instructions. According to The Village Voice, he brought his complaints to “a duty captain, a district surgeon, an NYPD psychologist, three Internal Affairs officers, and five department crime statistics auditors.” None of them took action against the officers imposing the quotas.

But the department did take action against Schoolcraft. Last October a SWAT team appeared at Schoolcraft’s Queens apartment, threw him to the floor, handcuffed him, and had him forcibly admitted to the psychiatric ward at Jamaica Hospital. NYPD officials lied to hospital staff about Schoolcraft’s condition, causing him to be held for six days against his will. Officially, the visit to Schoolcraft’s apartment was prompted by an unapproved sick day. But that does not explain the show of force or the removal of documents related to the quotas from Schoolcraft’s home.

In October The Village Voice reported another troubling incident, in which 10 rookie New York cops viciously beat a cabbie outside an Upper East Side bar in 2008. None of the cops were charged, although a few faced administrative discipline. Their captain was promoted. The only cop to suffer any serious repercussions was Sgt. Anthony Acosta—the one who tried to stop the beating. He was stripped of his gun and badge and assigned to desk duty.

There are more stories like these. Last year a former Albuquerque cop named Sam Costales was awarded $662,000 in a lawsuit against his own department. In 2006 Costales testified against fellow officers after an incident that resulted in the arrest of the retired race car driver Al Unser. Costales said Unser did not assault or threaten officers from the Bernalillo Sheriff’s Department, as claimed in police reports, and his testimony helped Unser win an acquittal.

None of the Bernalillo deputies were disciplined. But by now you probably can guess who was: Sam Costales. His own chief opened an internal affairs investigation of Costales for wearing his police uniform when he testified in Unser’s case. Albuquerque cops apparently are permitted to wear the uniform when they’re testifying for the prosecution, but not when they’re testifying for the defense.
As is often the case when an officer is investigated, the police union got involved—but not to protect Costales. James Badway, secretary of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, sent an email message to the Bernalillo sheriff stating that the union was “embarrassed” and “ashamed” that Costales would testify against fellow officers.

In his 2005 book Breaking Rank: A Top Cop’s Exposé of the Dark Side of American Policing, former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper explains the implicit threats that make the Blue Wall so successful: “You have to rely on your fellow officers to back you. A cop with a reputation as a snitch is one vulnerable police officer, likely to find his peers slow to respond to requests for backup—if they show up at all. A snitch is subject to social snubbing. Or malicious mischief, or sabotage.…The peer pressure is childish and churlish, but it’s real. Few cops can stand up to it.”

That makes it all the more important that police administrators and political leaders support and protect the cops who do. The most disturbing aspect of these stories is not that there are bad cops in Kansas City, New York, and Albuquerque. It’s not even that other cops covered for them, or that unions have institutionalized the protection of bad apples. It’s that the cover-up and retaliation extend all the way to the top of the chain of command—and that there has been no action, or even condemnation, from the elected officials who are supposed to hold police leaders accountable."

Many savvy businesses work this way. And sure, cop-shops are businesses because they sure ain't the oath-swearing heroes of yesteryear.

Back when I was making part-time money whenever home, I'd head on over to my Uncle Ricky's automobile dealership. Uncle Ricky had a gigantic square mile or so of different name brand automobiles, but he'd usually stuck me with either Toyota or Honda sales, mostly Honda. The Japanese government you see subsidizes its automakers so there's always more profit to be had in the long run. Whenever a customer would call or bring in a vehicle that was under warranty, it was the salesman who sold him the car, along with the mechanics who would repair what was wrong, who'd talk the owner out of making a formal complaint. We'd always toss in some freebie to keep this between friends, and Honda and Toyota customer appreciation numbers soared and the report of defects diminished. To this day, both Toyota and Honda continue to lead the automotive pack with regards to customer appreciation and high quality when in truth they turn out as many clunkers as anybody. Just ask an honest mechanic or salesman.

Everyone stood together to hide whatever was wrong with the product, and oh sure it got fixed but it was rarely ever entered as an official malfunction. They referred to it as the Yellow Wall of Silence. We did it with tire upgrade, or a free year of oil changes, the cops do it by beating the complainers half to death on some filthy sidewalk then swearing it was his fault.

On the other hand, my real job of being a Marine meant weeding out what was unfit to be Marine'ish. Yes, we stood up for a fellow Marine but if he did something un-Marine-like then he had to face the music because those entrusted with the public's defense must be held to a higher level of accountability. Not so with the modern constabulary. The public is nothing more than the nuisance that can get in the way of a pleasant day at work. Cops speed when they want, on duty and off, disregard traffic signals and have been known to kill anyone getting in their way, even if that way is simply going to the dry cleaners.

And most of the time they get away with it. Or lets say they used to get away with it. Not that the old media reports upon it with any degree of regularity but the new one sure does and most of the reporting isn't of the cheerleader kind.

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