Cop Tips: Police Cultures Across America
Jan. 22, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Each police department has its own culture, its own persona, a way that they appear to the public and the way that they view themselves. For example, in the late 1980s, the Dallas Police Academy was next to Bachmann Lake (which is more of a pond, really) and every day they told police recruits that Dallas PD was the best police department in the world. Period. Surrounding agencies didn’t necessarily agree, but Dallas officers were firmly convinced.
You get similar attitudes from other big departments. LAPD is very proud of the role it has had in police professionalism. It was hailed by experts in the last 50 years as being one of the best big city departments, and was tough and aggressive. SWAT was born here.
It was also a very corrupt department until 1950, when Chief William H. Parker took over and cleaned up the department. Parker made the department independent of politicians and ran the department with an iron fist. So you ended up, 50 years later, with a department where the Rampart Division’s gang unit planted evidence and beat people who complained against officers.
NYPD has a similar problem—back in 1992 a report showed that the department worked on a 20-year cycle of corruption and reform, over and over again. Police Commissioner Patrick Murphy had cleaned up the graft and corruption in the 1970s, for it to return in the 1990s and get cleaned up again. Only this time, the culture was replaced with one that suppressed crime at any costs. So officers beat confessions out of people, until Bill Bratton pushed for more changes.
And then you have the Chicago Police.
Overwhelmingly, the Chicago Police have been known for corruption, abuse, and cover-up from at least the 1960s on, and more likely since the 1930s on. So now we have police videos being released that show possible murder and questionable officer-involved-shootings. We have videos that show that the reports filed by police officers in the incidents bear more of a resemblance to Star Wars than to reality.
The officers in the Chicago PD have learned how to deal with this, by just ignoring their constituents in order to protect their own. From 2004 to 2013, Chicago paid out $500 million in settlements to abused citizens. That means that every man, woman, and child in Chicago is paying $20 per year just to the victims of the police.
And they tolerate it.
When you have an organization, any organization, you get what you demand from the employees. The Marines teach their members that you don’t leave a fellow Marine on the battlefield, and that as a Marine, they are the toughest American service members.* The Texas Rangers believe in the saying “One Riot, One Ranger,” that they are so tough that it only takes a single Ranger to shut down an illegal assembly.
If you want to know about the culture in Chicago, from a police officer’s standpoint, all you need to do is to watch the old Kevin Costner movie, the Untouchables. You’ve got police officers who cover-up illegal activities, because that’s what they are expected to do by other officers. It’s all about peer pressure and what is expected. These are the people who, as a police officer, you depend on. They are the ones who will save your life on the street.
New York officers tried to set up Frank Serprico to die due to his testimony on police corruption. Now that NYPD doesn’t seem to tolerate the graft that was present in Serprico’s day, it has other problems. But you have to find a catalyst, and you have to then force the change on the organization.
To change the culture in a department like Chicago, where you have 12,000 officers, you have to completely break it down to start over. You have to bring in upper-level management that will not tolerate the blue wall of silence. You have to hold your local politicians accountable, if they can’t fix it, vote them out. You have to have an effective internal affairs program instead of a rubber stamp, like the one that in the last five years, of 28,567 complaints filed, produced abysmal results.
- 33 officers were fired. That’s 1/10th of one percent. One officer in a thousand.
- 254 officers were suspended without pay for more than seven days. Nine officers in a thousand.
- 797 officers were suspended for less than seven days. 2.8%.
- 915 officers got a reprimand or no action, even though the complaint was sustained. 3.2%
What message does this send to both the police and the public? When the officer that killed one of the latest victims has over 20 complaints and lawsuits? The officers have no reason to change.
You don’t allow your legal department to cover-up misconduct; you instead become transparent.
You bring in outside investigators, truly outside ones, not retired officers from Chicago PD.
You commit to fix the problem. And you stick with it.
*As a former paratrooper, I know for a fact that they are wrong, but that’s not really germane to the story.