Speech to Canadian Association of Police Boards
August 17, 2006.
First of all I want to say thank you to the Canadian Association of Police Boards for
bringing me here today, especially Larry Jackson and Jennifer Lanzon for all their
assistance. It is a humbling experience to be included in a program with such
distinguished men and women and I want you to know I am very grateful.
I‟m just a retired cop and as most of you know I wrote a book about the police code of
silence titled “Walking with the Devil.” As a police instructor I was frustrated with the
police ethics books that were available and I felt it was important to tell future cops, and
the public about the ethical dilemmas cops face, specifically I wanted to tell our future
cops about the police code of silence, because it is the code that keeps even good cops
from telling you what unethical cops are doing in the name of “Protect and Serve.”
My first title for the book, by the way, was not “Walking with the Devil,” it was “Nobody
gives a shit about a free cup of coffee.” My editor nixed that. She knows that I really do
care about the free cup of coffee. I just don‟t see it as a serious dilemma. A dilemma, by
definition, presents you with two equally distasteful choices. And where is the dilemma
in deciding whether or not you should pay for your coffee?
Like most cops, I found it insulting that our department thought they needed to hire an
expert to tell me I needed to pay for my coffee or food. Cops should be taught the
foundations of ethical decision making but too many police ethics lectures try to create
dilemmas out of conduct that has only one clear choice. Cops see right through that, and
once they do they will shut out everything you have to say from that point forward, no
matter how valuable it might be.
I think this happens because most departments are reluctant to tell their cops that doing
the right thing can be disastrous for both the officer doing the telling and the accused. We
don‟t want to tell our cops that doing the right thing could mean losing the support of
your peers, being labeled as a snitch, or possibly even ending your career. We want
happy endings, we want to support our cops, and we want to tell them how important it is
to be honest and forthright. We want to believe that honesty is always the best policy, but
in truth, it‟s not.
For example: What do you do when a cop who‟s saved your life does something
unethical or illegal right in front of you? No matter what you do in a situation like that
there will be negative consequences for both of you. And in most police training, and
most police ethics classes, we do nothing to prepare our cops to make that kind of
In fact some departments even deny the existence of the code. The Houston police
department wrote in Police Chief Magazine that the code of silence is a myth perpetuated
by Hollywood. I think we all know better.
I have been involved in police training for over 25 years and I understand that when we
are trying to instill a positive value we want to be able show the good it will do. We want
to be able to present the student with positive outcomes if they make the right choice. But
how do we do that with the Code of Silence when telling the truth and lying can bring
equally disastrous results?
I loved being a cop and I still work part-time as a Special Deputy U.S. Marshal. I come
from a family of cops. My dad was a cop, my sister is a state cop. My brother-in-law and
his wife are retired cops and my ex-brother-in-law was a cop and is still in the criminal
justice system, he‟s just on the other side of the bars now somewhere in Kentucky.
I‟ve been retired for 7 years but I still get ready to jump out and help when I drive
by a cop on a traffic stop. When I see someone challenge a cop I wait to see what is going
to happen. I try to make eye contact with the challenger. I want him to know what the
stakes are if he is going to play that game. And I still carry a gun.
I don‟t do these things for fun. I do it because I owe a life-debt. Over a 30 year
career many cops put their lives on the line for me. They didn‟t stop to ask if I was right
or wrong, they just stepped in; and I wasn‟t always right. Like every cop, I made
mistakes. Cops know that‟s part of the deal. Many of those willing life-savers didn‟t even
know me. The mere fact that I carried a badge was enough for them; men and women
willing to put their life on the line for you just because you‟re a cop. What kind of loyalty
does that buy? I‟ll tell you. It is internationally assumed that if you are a cop and you see
another cop in trouble you will jump in to help. And the Code of Silence is an outcome of
But cops don‟t typically get brought into the code with big events. It typically starts out
with something much more benign. Bear with me while I read an example from my book
“You are on foot patrol in a downtown alley with your training officer when you
observe a young woman urinating in the alley behind a bar. She is in full view of a group
of well-dressed theater goers. With their noses in the air they, who expect to be obeyed,
tell you to “Do something!”
As you approach her, she stands and staggers a little. Her speech is slurred as she
explains (in one breathe) that there was a line in the bar for the women‟s can and she was
about to pee her pants she didn‟t know she could be seen from the street she was in such
a hurry to pee and “those assholes in the men‟s room” wouldn‟t let her use a stall and
now she‟s peed all over her new shoes because you surprised her and made her jump and
You interrupt her ramblings to ask for ID, but she left her purse with her friends in the
bar. You know the bar is hostile to cops, and your partner is quick to say “We are not
going in there to get her ID.” You assume the only option is arrest. It never occurs to you
to just let her go. You tell her she is under arrest for urinating in public. You put your
hands on her and turn her around to handcuff her. She begins to struggle and call you
names. This is not a fight, just active resistance, but her arms are wet and slick with
sweat, and you are quickly losing control.
Statistics and your officer survival training have drilled into you that any struggle that
lasts more a minute usually results in an escalated use of force and injuries to either the
officer or the person being arrested. From your training you also know that some drunks
don‟t even realize they are causing a problem for the officer. About 3 seconds have
passed, and she is pulling away. You need to respond. You use a tactic that takes her to
the ground quickly so you can handcuff her, but it puts her face into a broken bottle you
did not see in the dark. When you turn her over there is a large laceration across her
cheek and through her nose and it is pouring blood. You are momentarily stunned by
what you see, and your partner‟s only comment is “What did you just do?!!!!”
You used the training you received and things have gone very badly and she is still
resisting. Now your partner has stepped in to help control her. Blood is going
everywhere, and you are trying to call for an ambulance and control her at the same time.
The blood makes her hands and arms extremely slippery, and you have to use additional
pressure to hold on to her, which causes additional bruising and more screamed
About this time the bar empties out into the alley. When they see you “beating” this
badly bloodied woman they become hostile and threatening. You and your partner drag
her, kicking and screaming, out to the street and quickly get her into the arriving
ambulance. In the process she loses her shoes and gets abrasions on her heels. You tear
her slacks in the struggle, and one breast is now hanging out of her torn tank top. You get
her in the ambulance as quickly as possible and tell the medics to get moving.
As the junior officer you ride to the hospital with her and listen to her constant 100
decibel tirade about the “fnnnn cops.” Then, just as you get to the hospital she turns to
you and says “Officer, thank God you‟re here. Some cops beat me up in the alley. Look
what they did to me!” All you can do is stare in silence. She doesn‟t have a clue what
You are covered in her blood from the struggle. It is all over your shirt and face. You
can taste it, and that‟s not a good thing. The medic is advising you to wash it off as best
you can with the wipes he is handing to you. You start thinking about the blood borne
pathogen lecture on HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis, and your stomach is turning. Things have
gone badly because in your eagerness to do your job, and your lack of experience, you
didn‟t consider other options to arrest or physical force. And, although you employed the
tactic correctly, you probably should have used a different take-down in this location with
You have a very petty crime, and a very major injury which you have to believe will
result in a very major lawsuit. You are still on probation, and your use of force will
probably be viewed as unreasonable in light of the injuries sustained by the young
woman. As a rookie you could lose your job. Your career in law enforcement will be over
before it begins. Trust me - this is exactly what is going through your mind.
Your partner, a senior officer, also knows that when this woman complains and you go
to internal affairs and admit you disfigured her face in the process of handcuffing her,
when she wasn‟t really fighting back, while being arrested for a crime for which you
could have just as easily let her go, you will both be named in the inevitable lawsuit and
some attorney will make a lot of money.
In a best case scenario you see days off without pay and your name in the paper being
accused of maiming an innocent young woman with no prior record. A zero chance of
promotion or ability to transfer to a specialty unit is all in your future, if you can call it
that. And, best of all, when your senior partner shows up at the hospital, she brings up
each and every one of these possibilities to make sure you understand the gravity of the
situation for both of you. Your partner knows from years of experience how to push a
person‟s buttons, and now she‟s pushing yours.
She reminds you: “Remember what happened to the cops in the Rodney King case?
Can you say „Hi, I‟m your new cellmate?‟ What do you think this young woman‟s face
will look like on the 10 O‟clock news; especially when they do a side by side comparison
with her virginal pre-tattoo and metal-free junior prom photos? The pictures will be gory
and sensational close-ups, and they will be on the evening news for about a week. With
every complaint of excessive force you get from this day forward, those pictures will
resurface in the news.”
After running all these possibilities by you, she lets you stew in silence for a short
while. She says she better do the paperwork on the arrest while you sit at the hospital
with the prisoner. You really have no choice, as junior officer you do what the senior
officer says. Her final words to you at the hospital are, “Do not under any circumstances
say anything other than she was fighting with us and fell on some broken glass. Have you
got that?” You get it alright. You are already considering other career options, if you
don‟t end up in prison.
While waiting with your prisoner in the emergency room you suffer the wrath of the ER
nurses. You note that they are getting their own story from her, in between her sobs and
tears, about what happened. They take lots, and lots, of pictures of the wound, her
clothing and her bruises. The nurse‟s questions to you are thinly veiled investigations into
what you did to this young woman. They will see, once you get the blood washed off,
that you do not have a single scratch. A nurse with a mocking smile will casually list for
you all the potentially devastating diseases you may have been exposed to from the
prisoner‟s blood, based on the needle tracks on her arms and her history of hepatitis,
herpes, gonorrhea, and an HIV positive boyfriend. Her final question to you is “Did you
hit her in the abdomen area? I need to know. She‟s pregnant.”
It doesn‟t take long before you really dislike the ER staff and your prisoner. In the
meantime a number of her drunk and angry friends from the bar have shown up at the
hospital, and they are very hostile. They start threatening you with lawsuits and other
unnatural and unspeakable acts of violence. Hospital security eventually takes them
away. You begin to wonder if your partner abandoned you and went home.
Now the watch commander, the Chief‟s representative, shows up at the hospital. He
takes one look at your prisoner and says “Your report will be in my hands before you go
home tonight officer.”
After an eternity of two hours your partner gets back to the hospital with the report. She
tells you to issue a citation and leave it with the young woman now that she is sobering
up and waiting for the plastic surgeon. “You know the rules. If you make „em bleed you
got to arrest „em for something, and we can‟t take her to jail at this point” she says. “I ran
her name and birth date and she comes up clear warrants, living at the address she gave
us. Besides, it‟s time for dinner and I need to change shirts and get some coffee before
you get us into any more shit tonight.”
First stop is the station to shower and change clothes. Worried, angry and dejected you
go to dinner with your partner where you meet with two other veteran cops from the
precinct. As you all sit down the senior partner gives you a copy of the two-page arrest
report detailing the crime and the officer‟s actions.
In reads in part: “Responding to a citizen‟s complaint about a female urinating in
public officers encountered an angry drunk with her pants down urinating in the alley.
When told she was under arrest she swung at the officers with her fists and tried to kick
Officer Smith in the testicles. Off balance when her kick was deflected by the officer‟s
quick actions, she fell. Officer Smith tried to catch her before she hit the ground.
The officer‟s attempts were in vain, and the young woman hit her face on the ground
landing on a broken liquor bottle that could not be seen in the dark. She responded
violently, and it took both officers to handcuff her. After handcuffing her Officer Smith
provided first aid and the prisoner was immediately transported by ambulance to the
hospital for treatment in the emergency room. Neither officer was injured in the arrest.
Prisoner was tagged in lieu of arrest and left in the care of the hospital.”
You don‟t know what to think. Clearly this is not what happened. There was struggle,
that‟s true, and you did provide first aid, but you don‟t remember her trying to kick you
or swinging at you. The Code has surfaced. Your senior partner passes the report to the
other veteran officers and they voice their unanimous approval with comments like “It‟s a
god damn work of art, as usual. You are lucky kid that you have her as a partner.”
When you start to question what will happen if anyone finds out the truth all three
senior officers are quick to give advice. “Kid, it‟s on paper, so this is the truth. You didn‟t
do anything wrong. That‟s what happens when you use all that Kung Fui shit you learned
at the academy. You took her down, and it was just bad luck this stupid bitch got hurt, but
that‟s her fault, not yours. If you are one hundred percent truthful do you think it would
help? You will be up to your ass in internal affairs, the FBI, and civil suits. She was
drunk, she won‟t remember what happened. You made a common rookie mistake. It‟s
handled now; just don‟t let it become a habit.”
The final word comes from your partner. “Listen. I did the paperwork. I witnessed the
whole thing, and I am the only witness. Besides, everything is already filed and in the
computer. I feel bad for this girl too, sort of, and the city will probably pay for her
surgery, but if we don‟t stick together on this, your job and mine are on the line for
something she caused, not us.” She pauses.
“I am only doing this for you because you are a good kid and I know you want to do a
good job. This is not the academy, this is the street. This is how it works. We haven‟t
done anything wrong, and you know it! The bottom line is you don‟t have to do anything.
If it goes to court I‟ll testify and you won‟t have to do shit. I am doing you a huge favor
She pauses again and waits for her words to sink in. “Do you want me to tell the truth?
Do you want me to say „my rookie partner overreacted and without consulting me on
options threw the prisoner into broken glass as he took her to the ground?‟ Is that what
She sits back and slowly finishes her coffee letting you consider the options. “Have you
got your next job interview lines memorized: „Welcome to Burger World, may I take
your order?‟ Is that what you want to do next? Well, it wouldn‟t really matter if that was
what you wanted. Cops don‟t do that to other cops. We all make mistakes out here. It‟s
that kind of job. Shit, you weren‟t even angry, and you told her she was under arrest
when you took her down. Just wait till you lose your temper and some one gets hurt.
What are you going to do then? Run to IA and confess that you lost control and just beat
them up cause you were angry? It doesn‟t work like that, and you know it. Now let‟s get
back to work and arrest some real bad guys for a change. And remember this - we are the
only ones out here in the real world who will be there for you; and we take care of our
And so it begins: they covered for you, and now you are expected to cover for them. If
you keep your mouth shut you will pass your first “test”; acceptance of the Code over the
The bottom line is this; sometimes cops cover for each other. For most of us there is the
realization that what happened was wrong. We see our behavior as a setback, not a
victory. We analyze what went wrong and try to fix it before it happens again. But no
matter how we feel or what we believe we are judged by our actions, not our intentions,
and the costs can be horrendous. When confronted with physical evidence to the contrary,
video camera footage, or audio recordings, the Code becomes a trap and the fact that you
weren‟t completely honest calls into question everything you say from that point forward.
Thankfully, the vast majority of our cops are good cops, but no cop is all good or
all bad. I know cops who can only be described as racist and brutal, but are the most
compassionate and tender hearted people you can imagine around children, of all races.
And, can there be any greater example of police bravery and commitment to the public
they serve than the demonstrated acts of heroism on 9/11. No one had to ask if those cops
would go into the towers – we all knew they would. That‟s what they do. Cops, like most
people, are often at their best when things are at their worst.
In the recent movie Crash, Matt Dillon plays a racist cop who abuses his authority
and sexually assaults a woman during an unjustified search just because he can. When I
watched that scene I wanted to reach into the screen and rip his lungs out for what he was
doing. But later in the movie this same cop risks his own life in order to save this same
woman from a fiery death. I thought to myself, I know that cop. In fact I know a lot of
cops like that; men and women that drive you crazy with their racism, homophobia, or
brutal ways. Yet, they willingly risk their lives to protect the very people they treat so
badly on a daily basis.
So, when I am critical of bad cops it is a criticism born out of my anger over the
shame some cops bring upon all the ethical cops who put their lives on the line everyday
in service to their communities.
In a wonderful article titled Of Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs, Lt. Col. Dave
Grossman likens the police community relationship to that of sheepdogs and sheep. I like
the analogy. The sheepdog is responsible for protecting the flock from predators. That
doesn‟t mean the sheep like the sheepdog or that the sheepdogs like the sheep either. In
fact, I think we have to assume that the sheep fear the sheepdog, especially when they
witness the sheepdog unleash its violence on a predator. That violence is a reminder to
the sheep that even sheepdogs have something of the wolf in them.
Col. Grossman says that cops are the human version of sheepdogs. They do the
many things citizens cannot, or will not do, and they are always ready to unleash their
own form of violence on those who would prey upon their sheep. Cops know what it is to
feel the wolf inside them. And they know what a struggle it can be to control that wolf.
The good news is that we‟re not wolves, we‟re human beings, and with that comes the
responsibility to use reason and control in our use of force.
Machiavelli would have loved modern day police officers. Listen to his argument
for the Code of Silence from The Prince: “And many have imagined republics and
principalities for themselves which have never been seen or known to exist in reality, for
the distance is so great between how we live and how we ought to live that he who
abandons what is done for what ought to be done learns his ruin rather his preservation.”
There is a huge gulf between how we live and how we ought to live. And most
departments operate on the principle of “Protect the public by doing what works!” That‟s
the Machiavellian way. Don‟t struggle with trying to meet pure ethical standards,
especially since that‟s a standard that has never been met. Besides, if citizens had a
choice, would they choose more ethics or more protection? And yet, ethical conduct is
exactly what we ask of our cops. We ask them to do the impossible, to take that leap of
faith across the gulf of reality and be ethical even when those around them are not. This is
the dilemma and the challenge faced by everyone in the criminal justice system.
But as hard as a cop may struggle to be ethical, the truth is that the job of policing will
never be a completely moral profession. The learning curve when you start this job is just
too steep, no matter what kind of education you have. If cops were held strictly
accountable for every mistake they made no one would ever pass probation. Cops make
mistakes and other cops cover for them.
But cops need to recognize that the code is a moral parasite. It is present, waiting to be
fed, in every one of us. It feeds on the honor and integrity of the cops that use it and the
more we feed it the more it wants. And, when it becomes big enough it the code begins to
decide for itself what‟s right and what‟s wrong. In the name of the war on drugs and war
on crime the Code meets out justice by its own harsh, the ends-justify-the-means, sort of
But communities that allow their cops to create their own rules and marginalize any part
of the community are only trading one form of violence for another – and it is a bad
trade. You cannot separate individual justice from community justice. It is a symbiotic
relationship. Community Justice is created from individual acts of justice.
About 10 years ago I was doing some police training at a Community College. I was on a
short break and had the time to watch a law enforcement student going through a skills
test where he had to deal with two role players, both of whom were full time street cops.
While the instructor watched, the female role player walked up to the student and told
him she could not remember where she parked her car and wanted help finding it. As she
was talking the male role player approached the student and became very foul mouthed
about ignorant women who shouldn‟t be allowed to drive and told the female role player
in very vulgar terms to get lost so he could talk to this cop, the student, about a real police
problem. When she politely protested he became even more vulgar and committed
several misdemeanor offenses including obscenities in public and disorderly conduct.
The student was calm and appeared to be in complete control. He talked to the obscene
male role player with a maturity and sense of control that was above and beyond his years
leaving this veteran street cop stunned and obedient. Very few people, of any age, have
this skill. I can count on one hand the number of veteran cops I know that could perform
as well as this student. I was truly impressed.
The test was over and as the instructor walked over to the student and I could not wait to
hear him praise this student‟s work, but he did nothing of the kind. He told the student
“You failed. You will have to retake this portion of the exam.” I don‟t have to tell you
how astonished I was and how disappointed the student looked. After the student left the
room I asked the instructor why he failed that student. He told me “The role player was
breaking the law. He should have arrested him, not talked to him.”
I talked to the assistant director of the program about what I had witnessed and even
though the AD agreed with me the instructor was given the final say. I did talk to the
student the next day. I told him “You did a great job and you do what you need to do to
get through the course but always remember that we are in the people business, not just
the arresting business and keep doing what you did with that role player when you hit the
street.” The instructor in this case was a street sergeant with a great reputation for
creative problem solving. I know he did not intend to send the wrong message, but I don‟t
think he could see that what he taught that student was that “convict and incarcerate” was
more important than “protect and serve,” and it is a dangerous lesson. Power is addicting
and there is a real sense of power and control if we think our most important role as cops
is to “convict and incarcerate.” And nobody gives up power easily once it is given.
“Protect and Serve” on the other hand is about developing sense of moral and legal
justice in concert with, not opposed to, the community. It is about doing for the
community, not to the community. And it takes a much greater commitment.
In his book The Myth of Moral Justice Thane Rosenbaum writes:
“Judges and lawyers have a very narrow view of what the law can and should
accomplish. What seemingly matters most is that final judgments comport with
constitutional procedures, prior legal precedents, or statutory mandates. A rule gets
applied to the facts. The result is justice. It may be morally wrong, but the focus on doing
what‟s legal rather than on what‟s right overrides all other considerations and concerns.”
Rosenbaum‟s position on justice seems right. It‟s certainly what was being taught at that
community college. You see it in the courtroom. Juries acquit a guilty man and convict
an innocent one; but justice is served if the defendant‟s rights were not abridged in the
process. Legal justice is not concerned with moral justice. But moral justice, the kind of
justice we are talking about with the Code of Silence, is the fabric from which we weave
our system of legal justice. We must not disregard one in favor of the other. One without
regard for the other is meaningless. If we concern ourselves with only the “ends” then it
would make no difference in how we apply the “means.” It would mean Machiavelli was
right and ethics would have no place in policing, and I can‟t believe that.
There are many cops out there right now that when faced with witnessing another officer
about to commit an illegal act they stand up and say “Not here, Not Now and Not in front
of me!” They are out there every day doing the job the way it is supposed to be done and
they need our support to stop the unethical and illegal behavior they witness, but we have
to teach them how to do that and we have to change the way we think about police
training, the investigation of police misconduct, and how we measure police
If police training was like any other technical training you would expect, in fact you
would demand, the students take what they have learned and improve upon it, develop
themselves, increase their level of knowledge and reach new skill levels on the job. In
any successful company HR would probably have a plan to help them do that. That kind
of support and training is good for the employee and good for the company. And if
employees were unwilling to maintain their skills, learn new skills and improve their
work product many companies would fire them.
There is no similar expectation in policing. For example, for most cops the defensive
tactics skills they learned in training actually deteriorate because there is no requirement
to improve upon them much less retain what they have learned. We excuse them with
“Do what works for you.”
And what about communication skills? Communications makes up 99% of a cops job.
Where do we spend the least amount of time in academy training? Communications. An
in-depth examination of mental health issues and crisis communications with emotionally
disturbed people should be a large part of every academy and every criminal justice
curriculum. People who call us are in crisis. It only makes sense that we develop skills in
But even with the best training some cops will still break the rules. How do departments
deal with that? Internal Affairs, Civilian Review, and in a worst case scenario in the US,
the FBI. Every cop draws an occasional complaint. And I don‟t know what the average is
for cops now but you should not be surprised if cops get 5 or 6 complaints in their first
five years. Ideally, the resolution of a police complaint is a learning process. If it works
that way you seldom see the same cop back in IA for the same complaint. But, if they are
not learning, if they continue to get complaints of the same nature, that is a warning sign
you cannot ignore. In my book I talk about cops that get many complaints for the same
type of misconduct. If they are constantly being accused of excessive force, they are
using excessive force, whether the Chief finds them guilty or not. If they are constantly
being charged with being rude or offensive, they are being rude or offensive.
On the other hand … Cops are human. We have good days and bad days. The public
expects our cops to go from comforting an injured child at 4 pm to fighting for their own
life with a cracked up, just out of prison, gang member at 4:04 and not make mistakes.
Can‟t happen. Mistakes and sometimes deliberate violations are all part of the deal when
you take this job seriously. I am not asking for amnesty for cops who break the rules. If
you break the rules then discipline should follow. The secret is that it needs to be fair and
it needs to be consistent, from the top on down to the lowest level in the department.
So let me share some rather radical ideas I have for investigating police misconduct
complaints. First let‟s talk about Internal Affairs Units.
The IA unit‟s integrity is shaped by three things: the individual integrity and training of
the investigators, the cooperation and support of the Chief of Police, and the cooperation
of the police officers on the street.
The IA investigator is faced with a number of difficult dilemmas. First, unless it is one of
those “in-your-face-firing-offenses” the investigator‟s loyalty to his fellow officers will
be questioned if he aggressively pursues the truth.
Second, the investigator is looking into the conduct of former or future partners or
supervisors. These are people that may have saved her life or his career in the past or
maybe they are people you will be depending upon for promotions in the future. Either
way, how hard are you going to pursue a complaint against them?
Third, some cops lie. I know that‟s hard to believe. Years after I was transferred out of
IA, I had officers come to me and apologize, or brag, about lying to me in an internal
affairs case. I even had one “expert” tell me he knew which cop fired a shot from a
particular gun, but he wasn‟t going to say it in his report. Instead he was going to say it
was “undetermined.” It was hard not to feel some sympathy for the ones that apologized.
It was hard not to punch the ones that bragged about lying and getting away with it.
Fourth, cops make mistakes. Like everyone else they have bad days; they sometimes lose
their temper, and sometimes they use too much force. The use of too much force often
translates into a complaint, but it is also very hard to prove. Even if you have cops
testifying against other cops you can‟t always prove the use of excessive force. The
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Police Department just went through a big trial where two
uniformed cops testified against some off-duty, and drunken Milwaukee cops. No one
denied that the victim had been badly beaten. They just all pointed their fingers at each
other and said “It wasn‟t me, it must have been him” and the jury found the defendants
not guilty. The cops that told the truth and testified against the off-duty cops are now
pariahs on their own department. For telling the truth their careers are now in question.
This is not an unusual case. This is what happens when cops testify against other cops.
But let‟s say that we have internal affairs investigators that value strength, honor, and
integrity and they pursue a case until they have solid evidence to support a finding of
improper or even criminal conduct. Now it goes to the Chief of Police and it is upon the
Chief to carefully evaluate the quality of the investigation and the findings of the
investigator. How the Chief decides a case determines how the Internal Affairs
investigators will proceed on all future cases. And that is often the biggest stumbling
block to justice. A Chief that holds the cops accountable and disciplines acts of
misconduct fairly and quickly will have the respect of the community and the respect of
the cops. A Chief that doesn‟t hold the cops accountable will be seen as either gutless or
mindless for not seeing the truth and doing something about it, because good cops want
bad cops held accountable. For internal affairs investigators, a chief that doesn‟t hold
cops accountable on good investigations or lets a sloppy or incomplete investigation go
through unchallenged the message is clear. “Don‟t work too hard and don‟t rat on another
What you are also likely to see is that the verbal cops and the Police Union, who are
constantly looking to justify acts of incompetence or unethical conduct, will throw a lot
of support to a Chief that fails to hold bad cops accountable. It‟s a free ride for them. The
good cops, unfortunately, will usually be silent on the issue. But so far all I‟ve talked
about is Internal Affairs, and lots of you already know that a complaint brought to the
police department doesn‟t necessarily mean justice for anyone. In all fairness to the
Internal Affairs investigators across North America, I know that there are professional
and ethical IA investigators that are working very hard to get our bad cops off the street.
That takes real guts, and I applaud them for their effort.
Civilian Review, on the other hand, should mean something different; and it does
if it is given the respect and authority it needs to get the job done. Citizens should be able
to air their complaints to the CR and get some answers in return. The Chief of Police who
turns her back on this valuable source of information about what is happening between
the cops and the community makes a huge mistake. The Civilian Review is a window
into the police-community relationship and when a department chooses to close that
window they are turning their back on the community.
Many cops would have the public believe that Civilian Review is not capable of doing a
decent police misconduct investigation. We know that‟s not true. And even if it were
true, as soon as the Chief of Police sees that as a possibility he should institute training or
make recommendations on how to fix the problem. The number and types of complaints
brought to Civilian Review are a clear message about how cops are interacting with the
community whether the complaints are found to be justified or not. Ignoring them is
ignoring the community. At worst it is ignoring and condoning police misconduct. At
best it is marginalizing the perception the community has of its police officers. Both lead
Lastly, I want to talk about police supervision. Supervisors have the authority and the
responsibility to give direction to the men and women who work for them, and for the
most part they don‟t. When supervisors give orders without direction, the officers
working for them have two ways of interpreting their action. They will believe that either
the supervisors 1) doesn‟t care how they get it done as long as it doesn‟t come back to
bite them or 2) that the supervisor is clueless or he would have given better directions. It
will seem like the supervisor is getting along better with the troops because he is leaving
it up to their discretion. If they think of the supervisor as mindless they will keep him in
the dark, and he will never know what is happening on the street. It will seem like
everything is going along just fine, which should be an immediate red flag. This is police
work; if it can go wrong it will.
If they think of the supervisor as gutless they will never come to him with the tough
decisions they are contemplating. Which one do you prefer? Supervisors owe it to the
street cops to tell them what they want done, how they want it done, and when they want
it done or they should take off their stripes.
Cops will make mistakes and there‟s no better way to set up a cop for a big fall than
giving them a tough problem without direction, and it happens all the time. If the cops on
a shift are failing to produce or are drawing more complaints than they should it is the
supervisor‟s problem as much as theirs. Supervisors should want to know how the cops
are getting the job done. They should be able to take pride in how they are doing it. And a
supervisor should never tell a subordinate to “just get it done and I don‟t want to know
how you do it.” That‟s a coward‟s way out. I‟m pretty sure that if you make it to a
supervisory level you are not a coward.
The third way I think we could really influence police behavior is to help the department
change their method of doing police performance evaluations. I want to talk about one
very specific part of the process – the reward system for making felony and misdemeanor
In Minneapolis, and most other cities, cops are rewarded for the NUMBER of felony and
misdemeanor arrests they make. The higher the number the better. Some of you would
say SO WHAT.
The problem is this: there is no follow-up to see what happens to those arrests. In other
words you could make 20 felony arrests and maybe only one gets charged but you get
credit for 20 felonies.
1 out of 20 is probably an extreme example but I know of one smaller department in the
twin cities where two particular officers never had a single case charged in a whole year
yet they were given good performance marks for their total numbers. Does that make any
sense to you?
We don‟t pay the machinist on the line at the Ford plant for just the total number of cars
he makes in a day, they have to run. Why are we rewarding cops for the total number of
arrests and not paying attention to the total number being charged?
When I supervised the Repeat Offender Program and the Robbery Decoy Unit I held the
officers and myself to very high standard. That was: we do it right or we don‟t do it at all.
Our charging and conviction rate for both groups was nearly 100% and there were over
140 felony arrests over a 36 month period. It can be done right and it can be effective.
When my book first came out I got lots of angry comments from Minneapolis cops. Some
had been friends for years and now they won‟t even talk to me. There is a funny side to
that. A cop came up to me and said in a very angry voice: “Why did you write about me
in your book, I should sue you?” I looked at this guy and said “Write about you? I don‟t
have a clue who the hell you are.” He just stared at me. I was curious at that point about
what part he identified with but he just walked away, quickly.
I want conclude with a just a short read from the end of the book and then I‟ll take
February 25 2003, a Minneapolis Police officer mistakenly shot multiple times an
undercover Minneapolis Police Officer who had already been shot by a suspect who
escaped. The officer doing the shooting was responding to the injured officer‟s call for
help. It doesn‟t get any worse than that. The cops who are spared that kind of horrendous
experience all know it could just as easily be them in the future.
Yet, we go to work everyday and face that risk and others just as great. Statistically we
can show that policing is a relatively safe job, but it is one of the few jobs, outside of the
President and the Armed Forces, where you know people will deliberately try to kill you.
I know cops who could be described as racist and brutal but are the most compassionate
and tender hearted people you can imagine around children, of all races. And, can there
be any greater example of police bravery and commitment to the public we serve than the
demonstrated acts of heroism on 9/11. No one had to ask if these cops would go into the
towers – we all knew they would.
We will never be completely free of the Code of Silence. It is as much a part of policing
as illness is a part of living. It is a necessary infection of our spirit that makes us more
resistant to future corruption – when we choose to see it for what it really is. But this is a
choice each of us must make on our own. No one else will make it for us, and the Code
will fight back. The choice of being a “Peace Officer” means there will be many battles
in solitary combat with other cops and with yourself. You will not win them all – you
cannot – the cards are stacked against you. There will be no medals, awards ceremonies
or cheering crowds for the battles you do win. But there will be honor and integrity – in
your life and in your work.