Cops Love Lawbreaking Cops

Cops Love Lawbreaking Cops October 31, 2011

The behavior of hundreds of police officers in New York City demonstrates more powerfully than anything else the fact that law enforcement personnel — with some exceptions, I’m sure — really do believe that they should be above the law rather than subject to it. Try not to be appalled while you read this NYT article:

A three-year investigation into the police’s habit of fixing traffic and parking tickets in the Bronx ended in the unsealing of indictments on Friday and a stunning display of vitriol by hundreds of off-duty officers, who converged on the courthouse to applaud their accused colleagues and denounce their prosecution.

As 16 police officers were arraigned at State Supreme Court in the Bronx, incensed colleagues organized by their union cursed and taunted prosecutors and investigators, chanting “Down with the D.A.” and “Ray Kelly, hypocrite.”

As the defendants emerged from their morning court appearance, a swarm of officers formed a cordon in the hallway and clapped as they picked their way to the elevators. Members of the news media were prevented by court officers from walking down the hallway where more than 100 off-duty police officers had gathered outside the courtroom.

The assembled police officers blocked cameras from filming their colleagues, in one instance grabbing lenses and shoving television camera operators backward.

The unsealed indictments contained more than 1,600 criminal counts, the bulk of them misdemeanors having to do with making tickets disappear as favors for friends, relatives and others with clout. But they also outlined more serious crimes, related both to ticket-fixing and drugs, grand larceny and unrelated corruption. Four of the officers were charged with helping a man get away with assault.

Jose R. Ramos, an officer in the 40th Precinct whose suspicious behavior spawned the protracted investigation, was accused of two dozen crimes, including attempted robbery, attempted grand larceny, transporting what he thought was heroin for drug dealers and revealing the identity of a confidential informant.

The case, troubling to many New Yorkers because of its implication that the police officers believed they deserved special treatment, is expected to have long tentacles. Scores of other officers accused of fixing tickets could face departmental charges. Some officers have already retired. Moreover, the indictments may jeopardize thousands of cases in which implicated officers are important witnesses and may be seen as untrustworthy by Bronx juries.

Not only did they applaud the criminal violations by their fellow officers, they committed more crimes themselves and violated the constitutional rights of the press in the process.

The outpouring of angry officers at the courthouse had faint echoes of a 1992 march on City Hall by off-duty officers to protest Mayor David N. Dinkins’s call for more independent review of the police. And it raises unsettling questions about the current mind-set of the police force.

“It is hard to see an upside in the way the anger was expressed, especially in Bronx County, where you already have a hard row to hoe in terms of building rapport with the community,” said Eugene J. O’Donnell, a professor of police studies at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “The Police Department is a very angry work force, and that is something that should concern people, because it translates into hostile interactions with people.”

The behavior could be construed as violating department rules. Even when officers are off duty, the police patrol guide states, “Conduct which brings discredit to the department or conduct in violation of law is unacceptable and will result in appropriate disciplinary measures.”

Who cares about bring discredit to the department. This is about justice and the rule of law, something those officers clearly do not understand. None of them should be police officers.

This case also shows how difficult political alliances can be. It is generally the left that cares about police misconduct while the right doesn’t much care. But the police unions are a huge part of the problem here:

Prosecutors said the bulk of the vanished tickets were arranged by officials of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the city’s largest police union. All the officers charged with fixing tickets are either current or past union delegates or trustees.

As the investigation unfurled, the union played down its significance and consistently referred to ticket-fixing as “professional courtesy” inscribed in the police culture.

Patrick J. Lynch, the union president, said in a news conference that the officers had been arrested on something “accepted at all ranks for decades.”

And it’s generally the right that hates public employees unions and the left that defends them. Yet here the union takes the conservative position rather than the liberal one. And they actually claim that corruption is okay because the police have always been corrupt.

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  • den1s

    holy crap, I tried, I really tried Ed….. but I am appalled! What discredits their image more than this? You’re right, they should also all be fired.

  • anandine

    You just don’t understand. If we punish them for breaking the law this time, then the next time they think about breaking the law, they will hesitate to do it, and that will cause our entire criminal justice system to break down.

  • Didaktylos

    25% pay cut. Cancel all health care. Stop paying pensions.

  • I never understand the position of the unions in these cases. I mean, I understand they have to protect their members, but this just seems so short-sighted. How are they protecting all their other members if the public will no longer trust the police?

  • I really hope that something turns the tide against police corruption. It’s bad enough that the war on drugs is harming innocent victims and addicts who need medical help. This particular brand of corruption is adding to the injustice by letting the guilty go free.

    Besides, at least with me, the protesting cops who are interfering with the journalists are being stupid: Whether you’re part of the corruption or working for justice, that kind of behavior does undermine trust. Things go more smoothly (the corruption or the justice) if the public trusts you.

  • wscott

    law enforcement personnel…really do believe that they should be above the law rather than subject to it.

    I think it’s a little more subtle than that. I have a number of police friends, and hearing them talk about the subject it’s not that they think they’re above the law per se. Rather, I think it’s this extreme us-vs-them mentality, combined with a staggering level of inability to see the other side’s point of view. This is partly natural self-justification, and partly an understandable side effect of the nature of police work and the insular nature of the profession; most cops I know have few friends that aren’t also “on the job” in one capacity or another. So in the same way conservatives who only have conservative friends and get all their news from Fox/Rush/Drudge wind up with a distorted view of reality, this leads (many) cops to have a distorted view of the world where all “decent people” support them and any public opposition is really just a handful of people (either criminals or bleeding hearts) that the media blows out of proportion. Combined with that, the nature of police work – spending the bulk of your time dealing with the worst our society has to offer – understandably tends to breed cynicism.

    The result of all this looks something like:

    1. I’m going to believe my fellow officer’s version of events no matter what.

    2. Even if my fellow officer is wrong, I’m still going to stand by him because I know he’s got my back and vice versa, and there’s no way to survive the streets otherwise.

    3. Plus, anyone who hasn’t worked the streets has no authority to judge us.

    4. Don’t you understand we are all that stands between civilization & chaos? Cut us a little slack.

    5. Everyone knows the system is just a big game anyway, so it’s more important to maintain the illusion of fairness and justice than to, you know, actually work to improve things.

    [And before the flames start: I’m not defending any of these attitudes, just describing them as I see them.]

    But the police unions are a huge part of the problem here

    Absolutely right. Our police union here is even called the Police Protective Association, and that describes how they see their role exactly.

    Things go more smoothly…if the public trusts you.

    Every cop I know would agree with that statement. Unfortunately, too many of them see the public’s lack of trust as the *public’s* fault. And the media’s fault, of course – our outgoing police chief recently blamed the press for all the Department’s problems, basically saying the media “owed” the police better coverage.

  • wilsim

    The public invariably foots the legal bill for all the police misconduct, including unnecessary violence committed by police.

    What needs to change is this – settlements against police because of misconduct or illegal activities should be paid from the police pension system and not the city/county/state funds.

    Police brutality and misconduct would disappear nearly overnight because they would be paying for their misdeeds out of their own pockets.

    Just a half formed thought…

  • bigjohn756

    I especially enjoyed the placards carried by the protesters.

    “Just following orders” sounds familiar. Didn’t we hear a lot of that used as a defense in the mid-forties in Bavaria? The Nazi war crime trials in Nuremberg wasn’t it?

    “It’s being going on since the days of the Egyptians.” is also a poor excuse for crime. Crimes of all kinds have been committed long before that. They were not justified then either.

  • dizzlski

    wscott’s comment is similar to my experiences as well. Conversations with police or former police are usually genial, right up until you question their authority. The conversations have turned on a dime.

  • michaelcrichton

    bigjohn756: I read the “Just Following Orders” signs as directed towards the prosecutors. The cops are trying to compare the DA enforcing the laws against police corruption as morally equivalent to Nazi war crimes.

  • @wscott #6

    Every cop I know would agree with that statement. Unfortunately, too many of them see the public’s lack of trust as the *public’s* fault. And the media’s fault, of course

    I’d love to be able to trust the police. But the fact is, the local police have actively given me reason not to trust them.

    My ex was abusive in, well… every way imaginable. One night I ended up calling the cops, and the cops pretty much talked down at me, treating me like I was “just an hysterical woman”. They basically just told me to stop being hysterical, and blah blah blah. Another time I called them (again because of The Jackass), I was told that I couldn’t press charges. WTF? 4’11”, wheelchair-bound me, versus a 6′-something 200+ pound man who is twice my size… and the fucking cops are basically telling me that I’m “overreacting”?! Not to mention, it’s somehow “not assault” to grab a person’s wheelchair and forcibly move them — dude, that’s like someone grabbing your fucking legs and dragging you!

    On top of that pile of bullshit lies the cherry: I was once stopped and searched because OMG, little white girl hangin’ out with Natives!

    Now, none of that is my fault — it’s the fault of the incompetent douchebags and bullies that serve as our local police force.

  • Ugh, that first paragraph was supposed to be italicized. Or something. I can’t remember which tag I used.

    So, uh “Dispatches” mod(s), would you please correct that for me?