All it takes is one bad apple to ruin a bushel, right? If that’s case (and it is) one has to wonder how bad the bushel smells for the men and women of the Philadelphia Police Department right about now.
I contend that 99.999 percent of cops are honorable, honest, morally righteous individuals committed to helping others and protecting the communities they serve.
I concede that 0.001 percent are brutish thugs who besmirch the badge well beyond their own agency. The kind of stuff alleged to have taken place in Philly makes us angry because when a ‘bad cop’ makes headlines, it has an adverse effect on cops everywhere.
Tackling the Problem Head-On
Right up front, let’s remember that there are people in every profession on Earth — from airline pilots who fly drunk to school teachers who molest our kids — whose lack of integrity should preclude them from continuing in those chosen careers. In many cases, those bad apples are never caught — never brought to justice.
Unlike those professions — where the incompetent and the incapable can languish undetected for decades — law enforcement is pretty good at ensuring that individuals possessing moral vacancies and ethical relativisms are not allowed to remain in police work.
Those who would commit crime as readily as they would fight it don’t belong in the company of the men and women whose high ethical and moral standards are the stuff of heroes. And for the most part, they’re never even allowed into the recruit academy. Those who do slip through are routinely rooted from the ranks.
But some interlopers defeat those barriers.
A department’s IA division isn’t likely to get a ton of love in the squad room, but cops almost universally agree that their department is better off when a criminally corrupt cop is ejected from the ranks. Those who disagree are probably criminally corrupt themselves.
Gordon Graham advocates for background checks to be continual and ongoing. I’m not sure I’d go that far (although I suppose if I was managing a risk pool, I could see the argument).
I suggest something simpler: Identify the problem, and take it upon yourself to do something.
See Something, Say Something
Go directly to the person tarnishing the badge on your chest. Talk with them in private and in confidence. Correct them if you can. And if you cannot, then it’s your responsibility to take it a step further, and speak with a supervisor. Then they have to have a conversation with the problem individual. If that fails, the problem needs to be escalated to IA, DA, and the Chief — the big guns.
Yeah, I know:
• Snitches get stitches
• Go along to get along
• No ratting out a fellow-cop
Speak up. See something, say something.
Silence despite the knowledge of corruption or criminal activity in your midst is tantamount to aiding and abetting. Such silence is complicit approval. Such silence is killing the trust of the ordinary, law-abiding citizens you’ve sworn to serve and protect.
Such silence must be crushed.
Standing up to a criminally corrupt colleague takes courage. But you’re a police officer — you’ve got the courage of 100 ordinary people.
When the news of those six Philly cops broke, PoliceOne contributor Jack Hoban told me, “Nietzsche once said, ‘He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.’ When an officer assumes the behavior of the criminal it is a classic example of Nietzsche's sentiment.”
Hoban added, “Is it disrespect for the law? Is it disrespect for the lives of others who exhibit behavior you don't agree with? Is it plain old greed? Perhaps all of the above. As ethical protectors — or ethical warriors — we are sworn to protect everyone. Even criminals, if only long enough to get them safely to trial and on to prison.
“That is the ethic that brings honor to the profession. Sustaining that ethic in a police force — and building the trust contract with the public — requires strong leadership coupled with unfailing displays of moral courage — which can nip officer misconduct in the bud — from top to bottom,” Hoban said.
Hope is Not a Strategy
The topic of ‘bad apple’ cops has always been relevant, and this commentary is in no way meant to solely reflect the current issue confronting the Philly PD.
I hope that all six officers will be found to be totally innocent of the charges against them, and “be exonerated and returned to duty,” as one of their attorneys put it.
I truly hope so.
But hope is not a strategy.
Let’s build our strategy on the words of Edmund Burke:
“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”