This morning I listened to a brief NPR radio piece on attempts by U.S. urban police departments to break the code of silence among police officers. This is a reaction to the current political outrage over the deaths of citizens at the hands of police. This code of silence, which refers to the closing of ranks among police officers when a fellow police officer does something inappropriate, has a long and deep history. Why? Here are some reasons.
Reason 1: In the U.S., due to the general lack of intelligent funding for and research about crime prevention, police officers are vastly outnumbered and, in many cities, grossly under-armed, compared to the criminals. Like soldiers, police officers who are battling in skirmishes without proper leadership must have the loyalty of their comrades to avoid being isolated, injured or killed in a crisis situation.
Reason 2: High-crime neighborhoods in U.S. cities have their own code of silence as part of their indigenous civilian culture. Snitches are likely to be ostracized or even killed. Why? Because in most of these neighborhoods, criminals are part of almost every extended family and have relations on every block.
Reason 3: Litigation/prosecution. Fellow officers are loathe to cooperate with internal investigations which may lead to precedent-setting litigation/prosecution which could apply to them at a later time.
Reason 4: Prison means torture and potential death for incarcerated police officers.
Reason 5: Police unions. Police unions have become too powerful in U.S. cities. They have transformed from benevolent associations, which offer support to families of police officers who are killed or injured on duty, to greedy and corrupt political forces within city government. They successfully strong-arm politicians for outrageous wage increases and benefit packages. Police work has ceased to be a meritocracy. It is a tenured job with ample retirement benefits, and the code of silence is one way in which police unions ensure the gravy train never stops delivering.
Reason 6: Public ignorance and inertia. Police officers have developed a valid perception that they work somewhat in opposition to current political correctness among civilians who nod complacently at criminal behavior, as long as it does not directly effect them as individuals. The current popular misconception that all criminals are hapless victims of their environment is just plain stupid. However, it contributes to fear, laziness and lack of engagement with law enforcement on a local level.
Reason 7: Police officers are predominantly male and heterosexual. The code of silence is a form of male bonding among heterosexual men. It is a degraded form of team spirit, a concept which heterosexual males are conditioned to from an early age. This is revealed whenever studies are done on spousal abuse, for example.
Unfortunately, the discussion on NPR this morning with a major politician yielded none of these concepts in detail. There was fatuous talk about studies. No mention was made at all of unions, salaries, benefits, litigation, insufficient training, etc.. The code of silence was presented as some mysterious process that has just happened. Once again I was left feeling that I am living in The Land of Stupid.