Is there any hope for public trust of those who are sworn to protect?
We’re just learning now, officially, of the evidence of racial bias within the Ferguson police department.
Last year, a white police officer killed an unarmed black 18-year-old, sparking protests in Ferguson and throughout the nation. Now there are reports that the US Justice Department has found evidence of racial bias at Ferguson police in Missouri. The investigation has found reports of the department conducting traffic stops without reasonable suspicion and making arrests without probable cause. Investigators have also found that officials used money from fines to help balance the city’s budget.
These incidents aren’t localized to Ferguson – they just happen to be in the media spotlight right now – but happen in police departments the world over. It’s nothing new… which begs the question, when will it become old? When will it stop?
In Los Angeles, CA earlier this week, a homeless man, who stole a French identity, was killed by police after a struggle on the sidewalk. This man was expected to provide reports to his probation officer, after being released from prison for serving time for a bank robbery. He didn’t report in as instructed, so police later confronted him on the street – a confrontation that ended in the man’s death after officers arrived. Police said the homeless man refused to obey their commands and became combative. A struggle was recorded on a bystander’s cellphone [viewed millions of times online already], and police said the man tried to grab a rookie officer’s gun before three other officers shot him. Five times!
So the subject of police corruption is in the spotlight, yet again, of questionable culture within police departments and what’s going to be done about it.
But I believe the issue is bigger than just inside the police departments. I believe it extends outside the departments into the controlling governing bodies – local, municipal, state. I believe there’s a certain pressure that stems from the governments, controlling budgets and expectations, that trickles down to the departments that have to meet those budgets and expectation. However, seemingly this trickle is now a raging torrent!
Those working inside the [police] departments need certain tools in order to do their jobs better. They won’t get those tools with regular funding so they need to figure out creative ways to bring in that funding themselves. Ticketing, fines, violations, routine traffic stops – these bring in money to fund programs and materials ‘needed right now’ that the government won’t, or can’t, pay for at the moment. This then escalates into situations of excessive force in meeting these targets (department conducting traffic stops without reasonable suspicion and making arrests without probable cause, as mentioned above). Over time, pressure mounts, ‘bad behaviour’ gets swept under the rug (money is coming in after all). The ‘power trip’ that doesn’t get disciplined becomes ‘excessive authority’ over the unlucky person who happens to step into an officer’s field of vision at that moment.
Pressure to meet targets and goals coupled with ‘excessive’ effort to meet those targets and goals – we’ll also add in decades of ignoring nurturing this culture of corruption and force – equals one big hot mess! And we’re seeing this hot mess playing day in and day out in the media with officers killing unarmed civilians, people getting ticketed just because they happen to be a certain race, and officers pocketing drug money (Frank Serpico) because they can.
The difference now is social media. What was just ‘a story’ a decade ago, is now ‘more real’ because the whole world can see it seconds after it’s uploaded. And that means even more people demanding change.
Police departments need ethics reporting. It’s that simple!
To change a culture that has been accepted and ‘bred’ over time isn’t going to happen overnight. But what is noticeable is that over the past few years, there are more officers willing to come forward to report on wrongs they see, despite the repercussions. Good employees are just as fed up as the public.
Not all police officers are rogue, and not all departments have corruption. But it seems that ‘police culture’ in North America has hit a wall with a huge splat! There’s bit of work needing done in order to build up reputations and earn more public trust. Starting by listening to those ‘good cops’ who do come forward with information to report, and responding and rectifying those reported allegations, over time will help in the strengthening of reputations and trust.
Police departments are like any organization. Tone at the top from the leaders determines how employees will behave. Employees take their cues from the top. What leaders do reflects the creation of the company culture within an organization. If management does not lead with integrity, employees are not likely to report on any unethical conduct.
It’s also important that organizations implement or create a place where employees can come forward and report any wrongdoing they see. Employees need to know that when they see wrongdoing, those unethical actions affect everyone negatively in the organization. And for those who do uphold integrity when going about their daily business in the organization, it’s important to reward that positive behaviour.