Rapid Response: GI Joe suicide scandal gives public "one more reason to hate us"

When one cop is found out to be dirty, it besmirches the badge for the 99.99 percent of officers out there doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons

What Happened: According to the Associated Press, Lieutenant Charles Joseph Gliniewicz of the Fox Lake (Ill.) Police Department staged an elaborate suicide made to look like a line of duty death. Lake County Major Crimes Task Force Commander George Filenko said that Gliniewicz had embezzled thousands of dollars from the department’s Explorer program and “was under increasing levels of personal stress from scrutiny of his management of the Fox Lake Police Explorer program.” It’s difficult to believe such a well-regarded officer and fixture of the community could have done such a thing, but the evidence is apparently rather damning. 

In September, Gliniewicz — who was popularly known as “GI Joe” — had radioed in that he was in foot pursuit of three subjects. Communications were lost, and backup arrived to discover him dead from a gunshot wound. Gliniewicz’s death set off a massive manhunt costing more than $300,000 in overtime and other expenses, according to an analysis by the Daily Herald newspaper. The search resulted in the arrest of three men who were quickly found to be uninvolved. 

Throughout the investigation, Gliniewicz’s family dismissed the suggestion of suicide. With Filenko’s statement today, it would now appear that the family may be denied at least some of their pension benefits — adding another layer of tragedy and grief to a group of innocents who mourn the loss of a husband and a father. 

Why it’s Significant: Fox Lake PD no longer has a brother officer who committed many years of his life to serving the community. He was held up — and rightfully so — as a hero in Fox Lake and many surrounding towns during a funeral procession that spanned 18 miles. During the procession, the streets were clogged with police supporters holding signs that said “BLUE LIVES MATTER” and “THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE” “and “GI JOE IS MY HERO.”

That goodwill and community support gave us all good reason to be reminded that there are many good people out there who love, support, and respect law enforcement. 

News that his death was an elaborate hoax is significant because it raises an issue which is uncomfortable for many in law enforcement — police corruption and the effects it has on public trust at a time when public trust is already incredibly low. 

Top Takeaways: Gliniewicz died in the midst of a very tumultuous time for cops. News that he’d stolen from kids to pay for things like “gym memberships and adult websites” gives ammo to the people who declare — falsely — that all cops are somehow bad. When one cop is found out to be dirty, it besmirches the badge for the 99.99 percent of officers out there doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons. 

As one PoliceOne member stated in a comment on the news, “He gave the public one more reason to hate us.”

Cops sign up to serve, protect, and solve crimes. Cops almost universally agree that their department is better off when a criminally corrupt cop is ejected from the ranks. The problem is that taking action can sometimes be an incredibly difficult thing to do. For all practical purposes it can sometimes be a career killer — just ask Frank Serpico, who reported a widespread and well-established pattern of bribes and payoffs operating within his agency, the New York Police Department. He was lauded by the public but made a pariah within the ranks. 

But that doesn’t mean nothing should be done when you know a colleague has the potential to cause damage to the agency because of some manner of misconduct.

A little over a year ago, I wrote a column called ‘Do something about the corrupt cop on your PD’ in which I wrote, “Standing up to a criminally corrupt colleague takes courage. But you’re a police officer — you’ve got the courage of 100 ordinary people.” 

I concede that doing so is far easier said than done, so let’s consider some advice from PoliceOne Columnist Paul Cappitelli, who wrote the following in his excellent article, ‘3 keys to preventing problem officers in your ranks.’ 

1. Listen
It is paramount that leaders talk openly with first-line supervisors and middle managers about the importance of monitoring the conduct of the troops. Most leaders get so immersed in the daily regimen of keeping the politicos at bay that they lose sight of the fundamental importance of “keeping the home fires burning.” Much can be learned from the misgivings of others, so listen carefully to your first-line supervisors.

2. Look
Often times there are warning signs of bigger problems that are left unchecked because nobody was looking closely enough. Encourage open discussions about these potential problems in private staff settings and conduct administrative inquiries whenever necessary. 

Don’t allow the stellar performance of an officer to deter you from inquiry if it appears that something is amiss. Any information about possible misconduct must not be shrugged off or minimized.

3. Lead
Finally, develop a cadre of leaders who are eagles and sheepdogs. Leaders should hold supervisors and managers accountable to track the habits of every officer under their command. The great, hardworking men and women of the police profession are counting upon the leaders to recognize problems and take decisive action without delay.

What’s Next: The topic of ‘bad apple’ cops has always been relevant, but in this day and age of hyper-scrutiny of law enforcement, the negative effect one cop can have on an entire profession is amplified. We cannot give the anti-cop groups any fodder to perpetuate the lies they spew about police misconduct. 

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.

Further Reading: 
How GI Joe’s funeral restored my faith in police-citizen relations
Do something about the corrupt cop on your PD
Why reporting corruption on your PD can be bad for your career
3 keys to preventing problem officers in your ranks

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