Being a good cop might be the toughest job in the world. Maybe that’s why there are so few of them.
Fortunately, there are some very good cops. Peace officers who walk the talk about “Protect and Serve.” Men and women in blue who do their level best to treat people, all people, fairly and equitably. It isn’t easy. They are few. But they’re proof it’s possible.
There are also a lot of go-along to get-along types that are common to every organization. They show up, make their rounds, play the game whatever way appears to be the safest, smartest, easiest way to retirement, make as few waves as possible. If kicking ass is what is expected, they do their share. And they don’t get in the way of those cops who are more enthusiastic about inflicting pain as a privilege of the job.
As we all have seen far too often to ignore, there are some very bad cops. Sadistic, brutal, and racist. Trigger-happy, lying, cheating, stealing, “I’m in charge – don’t fuck with me” cops who sooner or later become murderers.
They bring the entire profession down to their level. They succeed for one simple reason: the Code of Silence to which every cop, good, bad, or indifferent, is secretly pledged.
Even the very best cops turn a blind eye to the “throw-down” weapons so many cops carry, the falsified reports they file, the perjury they commit in court, the unprovoked beatings they administer to those they arrest, the graft and corruption they engage as an everyday part of the job.
It is so rare that a cop will break that code, to call out another cop for his or her behavior, that when Frank Serpico did it in New York many years ago, they wrote a book and made a movie about what hell his life became as a result.
The Code of Silence is founded in the Us Against Them mentality that far too many cops adopt. They are separate from the rest of society. They are warriors and the public is the enemy. They apply it in inverse proportion to your social status.
The further you are down the socio-economic scale, or if you happen to be something other than white, the more you look like Them. Keeping the peace means keeping you in line. Us making sure you know your place in the scheme of things.
Cops are taught to immediately take control in every situation where they come into contact with the public. They make a point – the point – of inflicting their will on Them. Because they can. The powers that be apparently want it that way.
If you resist in any manner whatsoever, if you object, complain, pull away, try to run, god forbid fight back, try to exert your right as a human being to have a say in what happens to you, they raise the ante very quickly, mercilessly, and too often fatally.
If you’re lucky, they may merely brow beat you into submission. More often they’ll cuff you, maybe beat the crap out of you, and charge you with a crime. If you’re still resisting, if you haven’t submitted, if you struggle, argue, try to run, or fight back, or maybe just because they want to, they may kill you.
Some of them do it because the need to dominate gets out of control as the situation escalates. Some of them do it because they’re scared, rattled, surprised, and they react. They are armed, they take out their weapon, and they pull the trigger. It might be a mistake, they might wish to hell they hadn’t, but you are dead.
It might be rationalized. Shit happens. The heat of the moment. Split second decision. Something that looked like a gun or a knife or a club. All the possible explanations we might offer to explain away a fatal outcome. Those are horrible mistakes where lives are lost but they are not the worst of it.
What is so terrible about the Code of Silence is that it reduces the entire profession of policing to the lowest level of its practitioners. The sadists are the ones who welcome the opportunity to fully and finally inflict their will on you. They do it, they enjoy it, they prolong it as you plead for mercy, and finally they kill you. And because they say nothing, even though they know better, their colleagues and the union that supports them are complicit.
All the talk about reforming the police is nothing but words until ALL cops are held accountable for the behavior of the worst of them. They know who the bad cops are. They see them in action day after day. They have to ignore them, cover for them, lie for them, turn a blind eye to sadism and murder.
It has to stop. They need to call them out, make them accountable, get rid of them, refuse to accept anyone among them who would compromise the profession.
We need to raise the standard of what is and what isn’t acceptable in professional police work. We can’t make it happen until the best cops set that standard, and demand that their colleagues join them in that level of policing. They need to be the expectation rather than the exception.