What could possibly go wrong?

Last week, I wrote about the issue of law enforcement and mental health, specifically wondering why our profession isn’t the loudest voice in calling for commonsense gun safety legislation. The issue is part of a much larger mix of factors that combine to take a huge emotional toll on officers today.

From last week: “In the past few years everything has gotten worse. Everyone’s angry. Politics, social media, non-stop noise and hatred, putting us all on edge. We know as cops what that means. The cop on the street is the one on the front line of this crap when it boils over. Mental illness, domestic violence, murders, fights, opioids, homelessness, poverty, desperation. Oh, yeah, and assume everyone is armed in our gun culture existence. And our nature is to stuff it down. Unwind with a drink, close our social circles, tell ourselves it’s us versus them like never before. What could possibly go wrong?”  

And then yesterday, Police One reports yet another NYPD officer commits suicide. California cops got into a gun battle with another shooter armed with an assault rifle. One killed, two wounded. Every single day we are surrounded by carnage.

First-Responders-and-PTSD

My friends, our mental health has always been under stress. Police work is inherently dangerous, thankless, stressful stuff. In our modern world, the darker side of our profession is now on full display. The bad apples are now exposed as never before. Social media and cell phones are blaring the ugliness daily. Guns are more prevalent, and available than ever, to the point that every training you get instills the fear “everyone is armed” and “everyone hates cops”, therefore everyone wants to kill you.

Talk about stress.

On top of that, mass shootings are on the rise. The .223 or AR-15 or AK-47 type rifles are all the rage now, flying off the shelves at a record pace, thanks to slick ads that equate ownership with “manhood” and “strength.” Our gun culture has reached a fever pitch. Our anger and partisanship has reached a fever pitch. Our race wars haven’t been this heated since the height of the civil rights riots. Police are underpaid, undertrained, under equipped, and still expected to perform at unrealistic levels of superhero (or antihero) status, just like on primetime TV.

Every problem polite society won’t deal with lands at the feet of the street cop. Rarely do we solve the problems to anyone’s satisfaction. What human can live up to that kind of expectation in the face of so many threats?

Then there is the very real presence of bad actors within police ranks. Racists, sexists, homophobes, white nationalists, and just plain old incompetent and lazy. Every good cop wonders daily why these people don’t get fired, and if they do, why don’t they get de-certified? Why do they too often get to move on to another agency to fuck everything up for those of us just trying to do a good job and stay alive?

The public has no clue. We don’t want to tell them because we don’t want to make things worse. But wouldn’t publicly shaming and purging the bad apples make policing look better in the eyes of the public? Wouldn’t law enforcement regain some credibility if we policed ourselves more effectively? What if we actually dealt with the many damaging online law enforcement sites that allow and encourage angry, hate-filled language spewed under the cover of free speech? The dangers we face don’t excuse misconduct or racist rants. Good cops know these sites only feed the malignancy.

Our conduct is scrutinized because the badge and public trust make us different. The shame when bad cops are exposed only reflects upon the rest of us to the extent that we allow or have allowed those stains to remain in our ranks. Officer morale suffers in-house. Officer safety takes a hit when those bad actors shame our profession. Angry people want to hurt cops. That is the real consequence.

We need leadership to face our own shortcomings head on, not cowardly excuses or weak-sauce reasons not to take action. Leaders who demand the highest levels of professional behavior. Leaders who insist on sound policies and tactics. Leaders who stand by their officers when they do the job properly, and terminate those who stain the badge. Leaders who ensure their officers get the training, equipment, and support they need, rather than stoke the flames of division with the ‘war on cops’ rhetoric.

It’s time we take a hard look at ourselves and decide who we want to be. Professional, moral, respected public servants that most of cops are, or the immoral, dangerous, unethical, hacks the bad apples make police seem? Will we continue to enable the worst among us out of some misguided loyalty? Because if we keep telling ourselves empathy and emotion make us weak, we’re superhuman crime-fighters, we’re immune from human feeling, refusing to name problems, provide cover for misconduct, unwilling to admit fault, and unable to reconcile these conflicts, we will not survive. Personally or professionally.

And that, my friends, is what can go wrong.

Be safe.

We cannot tolerate sexual misconduct

A few weeks ago a story hit the news about two plainclothes NYC police officers accused of raping a young female whom they had arrested on a minor narcotics charge. According to the complaint, the girl was with two male friends when stopped. The officers found an unknown number of loose Prozac and Klonopin pills in her purse. They arrested her and told the male companions to pick her up later at the precinct. Here’s where it gets bad. After loading the female up in the transport wagon, the woman says that the two officers sexually assaulted her in the wagon, enroute to the precinct. The officers denied the charge.

I’m fully aware that many complaints are wrongfully lodged against police officers every day. However, in this case, DNA from her sexual battery exam, and I presume the wagon, matches the officers. What came next is really troubling to me. You guessed it, just like virtually every defendant any one of us has ever arrested for rape, they now say the sex was consensual. They resigned from NYPD because they know sex on duty is a violation of NYPD policy. So, they eliminated their firing and are acting like every perp we’ve arrested for rape by claiming she wanted it. The cop in me says a handcuffed prisoner cannot consent. Full stop.71vaBBkMyuL._SY450_

But this New York case gets even worse. Now, there is an allegation by the victim that no less than nine other officers questioned and tried to intimidate her at the hospital the night of the incident. If your instinct is to defend the officers or say the woman and her mother are lying, remember hospitals have cameras and large staffs as potential witnesses. Maybe those other cops thought they were trying to help their fellow brothers in blue, but leaning on a sexual battery victim isn’t helping anyone. It’s only making the situation worse.

Let’s be real. If the woman had accused her two male companions of rape, and we found handcuffs and firearms in the car or on them, we would charge them appropriately with armed sexual battery, or forcible rape, or whatever your state’s language. We would say matching DNA made the case a slam dunk and congratulate ourselves on a job well done. We do it every day. The fact that the accused are cops doesn’t change the probable cause.

The victim’s story and DNA in this case make her complaint credible. The fact that the accused are two armed police officers makes this power dynamic even more disturbing. Their professional status makes this infinitely worse. Yes, they should be held to a higher standard. We should be angry when guys like this shame our profession, not twisting ourselves into pretzels trying to defend the indefensible. No, I don’t want to hear how they’re just a couple of bad apples, or about her personal history. None of that is relevant. The police officers were in a position of authority and power. With that authority comes a responsibility to behave professionally.

What’s crazy is that there is no law in New York that prohibits on-duty, armed, police officers from having sex on duty. The sadder truth is that there is no such law in most states. I served as a police officer in Florida, and I’m glad to say that on-duty sex–even consensual–is grounds for state revocation of police certification. The loss of police certification is the least the public should expect from those we entrust with public safety.

Right now, even in states like Florida, there is no mandatory reporting of sexual misconduct if no criminal charge is filed. There is currently no national database or reporting of officer misconduct. The decertification database is voluntary and woefully incomplete. This allows departments to ignore the practice as they see fit, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how that might empower guys like these former NYC detectives to prey on vulnerable women. We can no longer tolerate a systemic failure to deal with sexual misconduct on duty. Law enforcement needs a professional code of conduct and mandatory standards nationwide. Our profession requires public trust to succeed. A uniform morals conduct policy with real penalties and consequence like permanent revocation of police certification is a good place to start.

“No one is required to choose the profession of a police officer. But having chosen it, everyone is obligated to perform its duties and live up to the highest standards of its requirements.” –Calvin Coolidge

 

Stay on the side of right

The news in the past few days has been filled with the pardon of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio and tough guy Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, who is selling a new book. I’ve seen praise over the past couple of years from law enforcement officers and former colleagues for both of these men. There is this narrative that they represent tough, no-nonsense leadership that make them the quintessential cop’s cops.

Are these guys who we really want to emulate?

I know it’s easy to get caught up in the tough guy rhetoric. So, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the men being touted as the example for law enforcement to follow. That way we can ask again if these are our values.

As sheriff in Maricopa County, Arpaio famously bragged that his tent city jail was a concentration camp. Investigations since the mid-90’s have exposed extreme abuses in Arapaio’s jails, where even paraplegics demanding catheters in order to urinate are physically abused. People who require insulin or other medication for survival are denied and some die as a result. You can read more about the abuses at his jails here.

But let’s move on to his street law enforcement abuses. Arapaio ordered the arrest of reporters who wrote stories he didn’t like. He fabricated an assassination attempt on his life, trying to frame a convict for the non-existent crime. He said he considered the comparisons of his department to the Klan as an honor.

These shocking cases pale in comparison to Arpaio’s most far-reaching and devastating attack on the rule of law, professionalism, and integrity in law enforcement practice. In Arpaio’s county, race wasn’t one factor in a law enforcement reasonable suspicion for a stop, the way most law-abiding cops do their jobs. In Arpaio’s world, racial profiling is the only factor necessary for a stop. Officers only need to say the individual “looks like an illegal immigrant.”

These are the reasons that the Bush DOJ opened investigations to the sheriff. Arpaio has been well known as a sheriff who consistently violates constitutional rights. It might fun to wax poetic about what a great world it would be if we could ignore the pesky laws that govern police behavior and just stop anyone we want at any time. Message boards abound with posts about how working for Sheriff Joe would be great. But, no upstanding cop with integrity should be defending the actions by this thug masquerading as a lawman.

In Milwaukee, Clarke’s dubious resume isn’t quite as long, but he also has many complaints racked up, including an inmate who died of thirst after deputies turned off the water to his cell. He became furious when a man on a flight “disrespected him” and had deputies, including a K9, meet the man when he disembarked from the plane in Milwaukee. He said the man threatened him. No charges were filed.

These men attract lots of attention for their bluster and bravado, but nothing about their actions or words are helpful to law enforcement. Police departments rely on good community relationships in order to effectively solve crime, and more importantly, cops need good relationships for their personal safety day to day. Cheering civil rights violations and abusive behavior is not the path to improved community relations. If we truly believe and worry about the dangers for cops in our current national discourse, then we should reject the rhetoric of these kinds of leaders.

We need to be very careful in the way we show our commitment to our profession. Cop’s support for abusive and illegal policies should be a red flag to all who care about our future. Police have to stand on the side of the constitution, because that is the foundation of our freedom. When cops are willing to encourage civil rights abuses and thuggish behavior from so-called real lawmen in some twisted need for validation of our worth, then we need to take a hard look at ourselves. Blind loyalty in our ranks has never been the answer.

Good cops know the difference between right and wrong. Stay on the side of right.

Be safe.