You can Trust Us—We’re the Police!
Nov. 3, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — The whole point of being a professional is that you can trust the profession to police itself, to evaluate itself, to regulate itself, and to discipline itself. Among the traditional professions, such as law, medicine, and to a lesser degree, the clergy, all have certain things in common.
All have a requirement for specialized training or education. Lawyers spend three years in law school, doctors go for four years, and a three or four year divinity degree is used for the clergy. Then there are other requirements, such as passing the bar for lawyers; performing internship and passing the medical boards for doctors; and the clergy, depending on the particular sect, they must be ordained or “called” to the pulpit.
They all police their own, hold themselves to a high standard, and discipline themselves. Ask any lawyer how they react when they get a certified letter from the state bar—and watch the blood drain out of their face. The same thing happens with a doctor on a question from the medical board, etc. In most states, minor disciplinary actions are secret, not to be disclosed to the public. Even most public disciplinary actions only note that an attorney was reprimanded and vary rarely provide any detailed facts on the infraction.
It is not surprising that the police have used this same professional model, even though police work is nowhere close to a profession, but more akin to a trade guild. While all of the traditional “learned professions” require a college degree, potential police officers only require a GED and an academy of six months or less. In some states, you can work as a police officer for a year before attending an academy to teach you how to be a police officer. You don’t see that in any of the professions.
In the traditional professions, the professional exercises their professional judgment, making discretionary decisions as to their work: a lawyer determining trial strategy; a doctor selecting a pharmacological solution instead of surgery; a priest counseling a penitent. The police also exercise discretion, whether to arrest or not, to use force or not, to investigate an allegation of crime or not.
There’s a difference though, a significant one. In the traditional professions, once one is hauled in front of one’s peers, the peers actually look at the conduct and discipline its members. There is even a segment of the legal profession that works almost exclusively on licensing issues, representing professionals in those types of hearings. Other professionals who are called as witnesses tend to tell the truth, to let the chips fall where they may.
That’s not how the police operate. First, an officer accused of misconduct is almost never pulled in front of a state licensing board, they are investigated by their own department. If they are represented by counsel, it is more likely than not a union attorney. It is also more likely than not that his fellow officers will stand up for him, forming the “blue wall of silence” that has been repeatedly spoken of, only the police repeatedly deny that this is a problem.
Until they don’t deny it.
In Spokane, Washington, a female police officer attended a cop party and had too much to drink. She passed out and woke up to find a male police officer digitally penetrating her, and in Washington, as in most states, that’s sexual assault and a major felony (OK, in Washington, it is technically “Indecent liberties,” but it is still a Class A felony and punishable by life in prison). So she reported it to a co-worker and to a supervisor. Spokane police then had the county sheriff investigate the alleged offense. An internal affairs investigation was to be conducted after the conclusion of the criminal case.
So based on the evidence, the sheriff’s office gets a search warrant and executes it, collecting a number of items of evidence. And when they seize the evidence, such as the bedding, blankets, and the like, imagine their surprise to learn that it had all just been washed by the homeowner police officer, destroying any possible evidence. Or that the cell phone of the suspect had mysteriously “disappeared.” Yeah, right.
So Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich accused the Spokane police of misconduct, from the officers involved in washing the evidence all the way up to the top, claiming City Administrator Theresa Sanders did not want the term “sexual assault” in the press release. Knezovich noted that the officers involved had been tipped off, warned prior to the warrant being obtained.
As of today, Sergeant Gordon Ennis is on paid administrative leave for the sexual assault investigation, and Officer Doug Strosahl for tampering with evidence. Ennis killed a man in 2011, and was exonerated by the department. Strosahl was involved in a police shooting that killed a man in 2010, where the dead man had a shotgun and a history of suicide attempts. He was also cleared.
So police want to use the same general guidelines in investigations as used by the professions. The problem is that the misconduct is vastly different—most lawyers get in trouble for technical details on trust accounts versus operating accounts, on how they moved and accounted for money. Doctors tend to get in trouble for record-keeping violations. Police officer tend to get in trouble for use of force. Against people.
Here, you have an allegation of sexual assault. Both officers have been involved in the death of another person in the past. Nowhere will you see a licensing body get involved, although they could if (and apparently only if) one of the accused officers is convicted of a felony. Knezovich has proposed stricter standards for police officer licenses, and generally for a more professional approach that would allow the licensing board to take action on its own.
Here you have a sheriff who has pushed for new laws allowing the revocation of police officer licenses facing a union-department who opposes that law, and what happens? The unionized department apparently leaks information on a criminal investigation to the police officer suspects, who allegedly destroyed evidence, while the city administration may have wanted to hush it up.
But you can trust us…