December 5, 2011

Policing Ourselves

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In reference to my column where I talked about the Chicago Police Officer who tarnished our badge and our profession by falsifying an incident, a reader wondered if I get pushback from my fellow officers when I bring these topics to light because I’m supposedly breaking the “blue wall of silence” by illuminating these dark places.

The answer is no.

I sometimes feel like police officers get painted with a broad brush because the headlines report about corrupt officers leading people to believe that all police officers are dishonest. I can concede to the fact that there are police officers who should have never been allowed to assume the great responsibility that comes with the power they are afforded. I will admit that there are some police officers who use their position of authority in ways that serve themselves. There are police officers who take advantage of sick time and leave the officers who come to work every day to pick up their slack.

While they exist, it is in minuscule percentages when compared to those officers who come to work every day and do their jobs with a warrior spirit and a servant heart. The people that disrespect their office and abuse their power exist in every profession. They exist in religious institutions, the medical profession, political office, and most recently, in the locker rooms of prestigious colleges. Give me any profession and I will show you someone who has violated the core principles of humanity and the organization they represent because of their own character flaws.

The reason I don’t get any negative feedback on calling out the ones who don’t deserve to wear the badge is because the great majority of our officers are just as angry as the public at large about the lack of respect for the position they hold. In fact, the main reason institutions get into trouble in the first place is by failing to acknowledge when someone in their own organization does something devoid of ethics. Or worse, they cover up the wrong-doing in the hope that no one will find out about it.

I don’t think the general public is naive enough to believe that no one will ever abuse their position of influence or office. But we expect that it be dealt with swiftly should it occur. When the Catholic Church covered up the sexual abuse allegations against Priests, the public was outraged. When Penn State turned a blind eye to the heinous sex acts being committed on young boys by their beloved coach, we took issue.

The same goes for the “thin blue line” in policing. In the police departments of old, I can assure you there was cover-up and corruption. But I can tell you with great confidence that the times have changed. In our profession, if you commit an act that is a disgrace to the badge, you stand alone. The thin, blue line of loyalty has dissipated because there are systems and processes in place by which cover-up and deceit only serve to get an officer unemployed. Blind loyalty is no more.

Just like the public should be outraged when organizations attempt to cover up wrong-doing for the sake of avoiding a scandal, so should every person who is a part of the disgraced organization. The reason the police officers don’t get upset with my shining the light in dark places is because they don’t want those unworthy to wear the badge either.

It takes immense moral courage to stand against a colleague who you know to be engaging in behavior that is destructive or illegal. And it takes even greater mental fortitude as the leaders of organizations where it is occurring to acknowledge it. But it must be done.

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