Monday, June 19, 2006

Good Cop/Bad Cop: Says Who?

Except for gnashing of teeth, rending of garments and ritual prophecies of doom for the populace, instituting external oversight on police runs smoothly. Hardy har.

Personal Note: I grew up in a Red Cross family. That meant working fires and other disasters, being the victim in or teaching first-aid and water safety and on and on. Many of my relatives were or are state troopers and we had cops around all the time. I am predisposed both to like police officers and to expect high ethics and performance from them.

Before getting to civilian review boards, auditors and the like, let's consider professional oversight generally. The cry is, "We are essential. We are professional. We can monitor and correct our own." We hear that from physicians, accountants, the armed forces, even pharmaceutical, chemical and food industries.

We also know that this is almost never true. Left to their own, each group will make excuses for its members, cover up breaches and even crimes, and close ranks against outsiders. This has led to the reaction of a nation of governmental and quasi-governmental boards, committees and auditors.

It's true that cops carry guns and badges. They are a bit of judge and jury too -- deciding which laws to enforce and who gets a blind eye, a warning or handcuffs. Yet the principles are the same. Except that because they come to work capable of wounding or killing citizens, they have an extra responsibility.

We'll run a few posts here on the topic. It is warm now and will become increasingly hot as Boston looks for a new police chief, as Mayor Tom Menino tries to leave a legacy from what is surely his last term, and as Team Unity (the City Councilors of color) raises this target up from where it's buried. Bang! Sizzle!

Link note: The following hyperlinks may require a Boston Globe account or purchase. The Globe coverage was in June 7, 2006, editions. Also, the Boston People's Voice is redoing its Website. Nothing has been online.
  • Felix the Bold: Councilor Felix Arroyo re-proposed a civilian review board (CRB), which the vast majority of U.S. cities have and use to great effect.
  • Tom the Timid: I like Menino, but he needs some 'nads on this one. He seems afraid of the police union. He responded to Arroyo with his fingers in his ears and his tongue blubbering. He wants some wishy-washy police review board. He also won't release a CRB-positive report he has on other cities' implementations.
  • Light from the Golden Dome: Over a dozen legislators want a say in the next police-chief selection. Key among their requests is a willingness to bring in and work with a CRB.
Speaking to the Boston People's Voice newspaper, Counilor Jerry McDermott was typical of the regressive forces. He called it a "feel-good measure," adding in George Bush style that we all need to support the police. It was a typical if-you're-not-100%-blindly-for-them-you're-against-them routine. There will likely be much of that coming up, as there has been in other cities that have implimented such CRBs.

Arroyo represents many black and other minority residents. He wants recourse -- one that citizens trust -- to track racial profiling and to respond to claims of police abuse of authority. Likewise Councilor Charles Yancey said, "For as long as I can remember, the public has been crying out for a system of accountability."

Of course, these demands don't materialize out of long evenings drinking and figuring how to devil the cops. There are too many low profile and a few high visibility cases (typically involving young, white citizens) in which seemingly abusive cops have walked away from beating or murdering civilians.

Internal Affairs has a powerful image -- on TV and in the movies -- but has not satisfied the public for a century or more here. Arroyo is saying what a city leader of courage has to say. He'll hear about this and bear the scars. He's used to that.

We'll deal a bit in CRBs and the options in a few future posts. Meanwhile, let it be known, Felix is right in that we need to do something and have for many decades. Expect to hear the bruxism of the victimized officers and the tearing of their threadbare fabric.

See Also: Crime Fighters and Punishment, or Not and Who Polices Our Cops?

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