A recent Pew Research survey of police and public attitudes about police – public race relations suggests the deep divide between defenders of the peace and their public.
White and black officers disagree about the need for more societal change to give blacks the equal rights of whites, as does the general public, but at 30% higher level.
Sadly, there is evidence of a bunker mentality in police departments. Officers feel the disciplinary process is unfair. That may, in part, explain officers reluctance to cooperate with internal affairs investigations. But concomitant to that is officers end up continuing to work with (by their own judgment) underperforming officers (see chart below).
The very institution that often claims to uphold the “highest standards” among public servants — because they are the only group in our society authorized to take a US citizen’s life without a jury verdict – is broken, according to the majority of people who work in that institution.
I can image how a “bunker mentality” becomes the police command and line staff’s shared reaction to an environment.
- Bad apple cops do racist, sadistic, or otherwise illegal, and/or incompetent things, deserving censure and punishment.
- Or, a generally good cop does his or her best but a tragedy happens. Sometimes there may be implicit bias (something the officer is not aware of and thus cannot feel guilty about) and sometimes there is just plain bad luck.
- The press is looking for a headline. Some reporters appreciate nuance and complexity and some are more focused on getting headline under deadline. There is enough mediocre and plain bad journalism to warrant the claim of “gotcha” journalism. This created a suspicious and antagonistic attitude between police and press.
- Police officials loath bad press even more than line officers, because of the political nature of their jobs. They exert a downward pressure on station house line officers to help kill any bad publicity for the institution. But when an event gets into the press, police officials’ anxious desire to end the publicity results in rushed and unnuanced judgments on the officer in question.
- Line officers — even the good ones — get the message that the brass will readily sacrifice anyone for the sake of getting the issue off the front pages, resulting in line officers’ distrust of the disciplinary system.
- As a result, good cops put up with bad cops because they don’t trust their superiors to make a distinction if the press is at the door and the panicking major is on the phone.
- Thus the 10% (my guestimate) of bad cops persist until they kill a child or an unarmed man that is captured on video.