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f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

December 3, 2007

“good cops” and the blue code of silence

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,Schenectady Synecdoche,viewpoint — David Giacalone @ 2:49 pm

Our disdain for the Omerta Code among lawyers — the legal profession’s wide-spread Code of Silence and willingness to overlook the transgressions of its members, and its failure to diligently regulate itself — is no secret. [See, e.g., our discussion of the Silent Associate (concerning the 2004 Connecticut case Daniels v. Alander); ; the great contingency fee cover-up; and lawyer discipline and disclosure issues.] But, our motto “sometimes, silence is not golden (it’s yellow),” is perhaps even more appropriate, and the stakes are surely more important, when the tribal silence and guild secrecy is perpetrated by the very people society trusts to fairly and effectively enforce its criminal laws — the police. (But, see, our May 2004 post “scandal-ridden cops more popular than lawyers“)

in her silence
the tea kettle
announces winter

his headstone
rises with the moon
above the silence

………………………………….. by Andrew Riutta
“his headstone” – Full Moon Magazine (2005)

That’s why I want to draw your attention to a column written yesterday for the Schenectady, NY, Sunday Gazette, by its venerable, inveterate, often pointedly insightful, curmudgeon, Carl Strock. It’s called “Open letter to Sch’dy’s good cops” (Dec. 2, 2007). Here are some prime excerpts, which I hope will motivate you to read Carl’s entire piece, no matter where you live (emphases added):

StrockCarl Dear Good Cops,

I’ve heard a lot about you over the years, about how you greatly outnumber the supposedly “few bad apples” in the Schenectady Police Department, . . . so I’m writing to you directly to offer my regards along with a few suggestions.

You probably know who you are. You are the officers who go about your jobs honestly and conscientiously. . . . . You do the job that you are paid to do, without cheating, as indeed many other people do, and I salute you for it.

But here’s what I wonder about. We always hear about how brave you are, about how every day you lay your lives on the line for the rest of us, and yet you don’t seem to be brave enough to stand up to the laggards, the cheats, the crooks, the bullies, the malingerers, and occasionally even the criminals that you work side by side with. How is that?

How come you don’t have the courage to denounce and expose them? . . . It shouldn’t be difficult if you constitute a majority. . .

How come you keep quiet? And not only keep quiet, but sometimes, when one of your own is arrested and plausibly charged with criminal behavior, you make a show of defiant support on the courthouse steps, brows furrowed and arms folded, and consent to your union funds being used to pay for the accused’s legal defense.

Let me guess one possible answer: You’re afraid your fellow officers will resent you and will no longer cover your back when you’re in trouble on the street. They’ll call you a rat.

That’s what I have often heard, and it may be true, but it does call into question the claim that you are a majority and the bad apples are few. . . .

Anyway, I’m eager to believe that most of the members of the department are good, but maybe I have a more expansive idea of “good” than simply doing the job one is paid to do and looking the other way when it’s convenient.

. . . Simply going along to get along, after all, is what low-lifers on the street do. Sure, facing down an armed drug dealer takes courage. But so does standing up for what’s right on the job.

My one nit to pick with Carl is his suggestion: “Act with the same vigilance and the same integrity that the good members of other professions exhibit when they find corruption in their ranks.” That’s because, as far as I can tell, no self-policing profession does a very vigilant job of exposing its own dirty laundry. Of course, that is no excuse — especially when the profession(s) in question has as its core mission preserving the effectiveness, fairness and justice of our legal system.

For more information on the current problems in Schenectady, see “City Council will analyze police report” (Daily Gazette, by Kathleen Moore, Dec. 3, 2007), which describes a grand jury formed after Detective Jeffrey Curtis pled guilty to stealing and smoking crack cocaine, much of it taken from his own vice squad’s drug evidence safe. The Report cites a “secret society” and “a dysfunctional continuum” that dated back decades. According to the Gazette, the grand jury “strongly suggested that better supervision and promotion by merit, rather than seniority, are needed to deal with the ongoing problems at the department.”

after the big flock
geese flying north

the village of nondrinkers erasingSF
is silent . . .
plum blossoms

……………………. by Kobayashi ISSA, translated by David G. Lanoe

his side of it
her side of it
winter silence

…………. Lee Gurga – from Fresh Scent (1998)

update (Dec. 4, 2007): Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice augments the theme of this post today in “The Blue Wall Revisited (Again).” Scott blames the public’s state of denial over whether we have a problem, saying “we believe that they are there to protect and serve, regardless of the evidence to the contrary.” In a Comment at Simple Justice, I suggest that a large portion of the public condones excessive force used by police, and would be quite unhappy with a police department filled with nothing but Dudley Do-Rights. Looking the other way when “deserving” bad-guys get a little extra justice, sets the stage for out-of-control policing.

Meanwhile, at his New York Personal Injury Law Blog, Eric Turkewitz reported yesterday on ” Medical Malpractice and the White Coat of Silence,” which begins “A study released today shows that almost half the nation’s doctors fail to report unethical, incompetent or dangerous colleagues.”

.. You may be amazed, and surely will be disappointed by the information found in “POLICE CODE OF SILENCE: FACTS REVEALED, ” which was presented to the 2000 Annual Conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, by Neal Trautman, Director of The National Institute of Ethics. Here are just a few of the survey results revealed by Trautman:

Facts About Academy Recruits

Twenty-five basic law enforcement academies from 16 states took part in the research by administering and collecting 1,016 confidential questionnaires completed by academy recruits. The findings included that:

· 79% said that a law enforcement Code of Silence exists and is fairly common throughout the nation.

Facts About Current Officers erasingS

The sampling of current officers was comprised of 2,698 fulltime officers from twenty-one different states. . . .
· In response to “Please describe the first time you witnessed misconduct by another employee but took no action,” 46 percent (532) advised they had witnessed misconduct by another employee, but concealed what they knew.

· In response to the question “At the time of the incident occurred, what did you think would happen if you revealed what had taken place?” the five reasons listed most often were: I would be ostracized (177 times); the officer who committed the misconduct would be disciplined or fired (88 times); I would be fired from my job (73 times); I would be “blackballed” (59 times); the administration would not do anything even if I reported it. (54 times)

· 73 percent of the individuals pressuring officers to keep quiet about the misconduct were leaders.

erasingSF The Report offers many recommendations. Here a just a few of the important


1. The police Code of Silence exists.

4. The Code of Silence breeds, supports and nourishes other forms of unethical actions.

6. The Code of Silence in law enforcement is more dominant and influential than most other vocations or professions.

9. Whistle-blowers are generally not supported by the administration of law enforcement agencies.

15. The Code of Silence typically conceals serious law enforcement misconduct for years before the corruption is revealed.

16. Some officers who participate in the Code of Silence rationalize their behavior by convincing themselves that what they are doing is not actually hurting anyone, while others intentionally replace the facts with a self-serving version because it is emotionally painful to admit the truth.

17. The majority of officers who have been in law enforcement for several years have directly participated in the Code of Silence.

18. The Code of Silence is prompted by excessive use of force incidents more than for any other specific circumstance.

22. The Code of Silence and the “Us versus them” phenomenon often bond together.

32. The “rotten apple” theory that some administrators propose as the cause of their downfall has frequently been nothing more than a self-serving, superficial façade, intended to draw attention away from their own failures.

See, also, Walking With the Devil: The Police Code of Silence (2004) by Michael W. Quinn

For additional illuminating materials on the problem of police and their Code of Silence, see:

  • POLICE CULTURE AND THE “CODE OF SILENCE,” by John Westwood, Ph.D (re: British Columbia, Canada)
  • Cracking the Code of Silence” by Stephanie Salter, San Francisco Chronicle (March 9, 2003), which begins “The public face of the San Francisco Police Department is angry and indignant in the wake of grand jury indictments of Chief Earl Sanders, his assistant chief, three deputies and five officers.”
  • Police Stress: Code Of Silence,” by Ronald Terry Constant. which has a good discussion of Tribal Values.
  • Finally, learn more about the most famous cop whistle-blower, Frank Serpico.

open mic
the silence after
a haiku sequence

death register
nothing fills silence
as the ink dries

……………… Matt Morden – Morden Haiku

As Martin Luther King, Jr, said in his famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

the baby finds
the breast

……………………. Yu Chang from Upstate Dim Sum

A clear hot day
the silence
behind the butterfly

………………………………. by Rebecca Lilly, from Shadwell Hills (Birch Prees Press, 2002)

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