The police code of silence continues to protect police officers

Police misconduct often goes undisciplined because of the “code of silence,” an unwritten rule that officers do not report misconduct or testify against their fellow officers. While police officers routinely deny that a code of silence exists, their actions show us that it is real. Two stories in the news recently demonstrate the code of silence in action.

Earlier this week, the Chicago Independent Review Authority—the agency charged with investigating police misconduct complaints for the Chicago Police Department—fired an investigator who concluded that several police shootings had been unjustified. Supervisors accused the investigator of having “a clear bias against the police” (he is a former Chicago police commander) and ordered him to change his findings in order to exonerate the officers. He was fired after refusing to change his findings.  

Here in Massachusetts, the Boston Globe reported that the Methuen Police Department gave preferential treatment to job candidates who said they would not arrest fellow officers. Candidates who said they would arrest family members and fellow officers were docked points on their job applications. By contrast, members of the interview panel praised candidates who said they would not arrest fellow officers, noting their understanding of “discretion.” Methuen showed they actively seek police officers who will give favorable treatment to fellow officers.

These articles show the code of silence exists in police departments today.  The public is endangered by the code of silence. When police officers are unwilling to hold fellow officers accountable, and know that their supervisors will cover for them, police officers know they can illegally hit a prisoner, arrest someone without cause or in other ways mistreat civilians without fear a fellow officer will report them. This is one reason why recordings of police officers have been so important in documenting police abuse. It also explains why police officers here in Massachusetts continue to try to stop citizens from recording police conduct.  

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