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Police culture is often described by terms such as macho, elitist, distrustful, social isolation, authoritarian, cynical, pessimistic, and monolithic (Workman-Stark, 2017). Through socialization, police officers gain a unique perspective of themselves pertaining to what is expected of them by the society as well as how best to deal with constant factors inherent in their job such as the aspect of danger. While police work requires one to be authoritative, many members of the public expect leniency and this set law enforcement officers against the persons they are supposed to serve.
On the other hand, the Blue Wall of Silence is described using a variety of phrases such as the act of protecting colleagues, a subculture attitude that dictates how one must behave in order to be accepted by peers, and the tendency by police officers to be reluctant towards being disloyal to their co-workers (Dubois, 2014). As such, the Blue Wall of Silence enhances the police culture since it encourages law enforcement to stand up for each other against entities such as members of the public and politicians.
Nunes (2015) describes the Blue Wall of Silence as the unwritten code that reduces the likelihood of a police officer testifying against his/her colleague who he/she is sure has engaged in perjury or any other misconduct. In essence, the Blue Wall of Silence works against the various deterrence mechanisms aimed at reducing the prevalence of police misconduct, such as punishment. For instance, a police officer is likely to refrain from engaging in any misconduct if he/she knows that there is a high likelihood of his/her colleague reporting on him/her.
As will be described in this paper, the Blue Wall of Silence is responsible for a wide variety of misconduct and unethical behavior perpetrated by police officers such as sexual assaults, use of excessive force against suspects, and corruption. This paper explores the literature pertaining to police culture and the Blue Wall of Silence and how the two concepts interact with and shape police ethics.
To begin with, Reiner (2016) argues that studies in police culture date back to the second half of the 20th century since this is period in which the field of criminal justice started to be viewed as a discipline of concern. Similarly, Workman-Stark (2017) confirms that the concept of police culture has been a subject of study since 1960. This is after it was discovered that there was something ingrained in the police work that affected the behavior and operation of individuals in the law enforcement field. One study by Jerome Skolnick conducted in 1966 revealed that police culture was associated with features inherent in a job as a police officer which include the high potential of danger that law enforcement officers face as they go about their daily chores as well as the pressure from the public for them to be efficient (Workman-Stark, 2017). Thus, the desire to cultivate a sense of personal security increases the bond between police officers. On the other hand, Reiner (2016) argues that the perspectives and attitudes of police officers, their dominant and subcultures only helps in understanding policing if they are analyzed together with an avalanche of other factors. This means that police culture is subject to influence by factors such as the police-community relations and the prevalence of crime. In areas where law enforcement officers feel unappreciated by members of the community, they are more likely to turn to their colleagues for comfort and security.
In his article, Workman-Stark (2017) explores the various types of cultures in policing. According to this article, police culture exists based on differences by rank, individual styles, organization, and socialization process. This means that the management/top leaders, patrol-level officers, and each individual law enforcement personnel exhibit distinct qualities that differ slightly from the established features of the police culture. For instance, Elizabeth Reuss-Ianni conducted research within the New York Police Department that revealed that there exist two distinct culture based on rank which are the management cop culture and street cop culture. The top management culture results from the increased need to enhance the credibility and effectiveness of the police department. On the other hand, street cop culture serves to protect patrol-level officers from their managers and members of the public who they think have unrealistic demands and expectations towards them. There also exists a difference in police culture based on individual style. On this note, the article under review argues that there are different working styles adopted by police officers, and they include the order maintenance style, the traditional crime fighter, and professional style. The existence of these different working styles demonstrates that police officers do not deal with the tension and threat inherent in their work in the same manner. Additionally, the police culture is heavily influenced by the culture of the law enforcement agency in question. Ordinarily, front-line officers are responsible for the development and maintenance of the police culture. However, the senior leaders have the role of influencing the change in the behavior of individual officers (Workman-Stark, 2017).
On the other hand, Dubois (2014) conducted a study about how the Blue Wall of Silence encourages the prevalence of corruption within police work. The researcher distributed survey questionnaires through online platforms to police officers in order to encourage honest responses. After analyzing the results of 94 responses, the researcher concluded that the Blue Wall of Silence encourages police misconduct since not all unethical behavior perpetrated by law enforcement officers are reported. At the same time, the researcher found out that police officers tend to frequently cite their own degree of integrity when deciding whether or not to report the harmful and repeated unethical behavior exhibited by their colleagues. This shows the extent to which police officers’ individual styles affect their propensity to report the misconduct of their colleagues to relevant authorities. On this note, a police officer who often engages in misconducts is less likely to report unethical or criminal behavior exhibited by his/her colleagues. In the course of executing their mandates, police officers end up engaging in unethical behaviors such as violating the rights of suspects or accepting all manner of favors. In order to be shielded against the public judgment, individual police officers choose to remain silent when they witness their colleagues engage in unethical or illegal behavior (Dubois, 2014)
Huq and McAdams (2016) conducted a literature review of the Blue Wall of Silence in action. One of the examples explored by this researcher was the case of the shooting that occurred at the University of Cincinnati, and which involved an officer attached to the institution known as Ray Tensing. On July 19, 2015, Officer Tensing shot and killed Samuel Dubose an armed black motorist. Tensing argued that he shot Dubose after the latter dragged him with his vehicle prompting him to use dreadful force on the deceased. The sad thing about this case is that Tensing’s account was corroborated by his colleague but a camera in the University discredited the statements made by the two officers since it revealed that Dubose did not threat or harm his killer. This case demonstrates the extent to which police officers go in order to protect their colleagues who engage in unethical behavior. After the incident, Tensing’s colleague must have felt obligated to cover up for his rogue fellow officer even when the death of an innocent citizen was involved. Most importantly, Tensing’s colleague was not indicted and continued executing his duties even after it was confirmed that he had corroborated a false account of his colleague. This means that in the eyes of his bosses, Tensing’s colleague did nothing wrong by covering up the heinous acts of his co-worker (Huq & McAdams, 2016).
Additionally, Huq and McAdams (2016) explored the implications of police officer going against the requirements of the Blue Wall of Silence. One of these cases involves a police officer named Joe Crystal from Baltimore who became a whistleblower to two of his colleagues when the former witnessed the latter using excessive force against a drug suspect. Joe Crystal was encouraged by his supervisor not to report the incident to relevant authorities. However, Joe went against the advice of his sergeant and reported the unethical behavior of his colleagues. Officer Crystal was heralded for his action and was quickly promoted. However, his action was not welcomed by his fellow officers in that he received numerous threats from his colleagues. For instance, one day he found a dead rat in his patrol vehicle. After experiencing two years of retaliation from his colleagues, Joe Crystal resigned from the police department. The case of Joe is a perfect example of the Blue Wall of Silence in action. The case demonstrates the extent to which the police culture is influenced by the culture of the organization in question. For instance, Joe’s supervisor felt obligated to stand up with the rogue officers although he is mandated to do everything possible to fight against police misconduct. At the same time, the case is a perfect portrayal of how protecting one another come is a priority for police officers while the service to the public comes second. Thus, Joes’ action of telling on his colleagues set him against the entire police department, and this explains his lack of peace after the incident and his eventual act of quitting his job (Huq & McAdams, 2016).
Cottler, O’leary, Nickel, Reingle, and Isom (2014) explored the prevalence of sexual harassment against women facing drug courts perpetrated by police officers. The researchers also explored the risk factors of police sexual misconduct (PSM). An analysis of responses from 318 participants revealed that 25% of the participants reported being victims of sexual assault perpetrated by police officers. Additionally, the study revealed that 96% of the victims of PSM reported having sex with an on-duty police officer and 77% had repeated sexual encounters with law enforcement personnel. 31% of the victims of PSM reported having being sexually assaulted by an on-duty police officer while 54% agreed to sleep with law enforcement officers in exchange for a variety of favors. Sexual assaults and rape are illegal while asking for favors while on-duty is against police code of conduct. Thus, the results of the study not only revealed the extent of sexual assault perpetrated by police officers but also demonstrated the negative effects of the Blue Wall of Silence. From this study, it is evident that on-duty police officers sexually assaulted the majority of the victims. Ordinarily, police officers work in pairs which means that there is no possibility of one cop sexually assaulting another person without his/her colleague learning about it. Besides, the study under review revealed that most of the incidents of PSM occurred more than once. It is even harder for such misconduct to go unnoticed by other officers. The study in question did not reveal the proportion of the PSMs that were reported to the relevant authorities. However, it is evident that the deterrence measures aimed at curbing police misconduct rarely works as a result of the negative effects of the Blue Wall of Silence. Because of the low likelihood of their acts of sexually abusing women being reported to relevant authorities, perpetrators of PSM feel encouraged to continue victimizing the persons they are supposed to protect (Cottler et al., 2014).
In his article, Nunes (2015) discusses how the adoption of police body worn cameras can be used to counter the effects of the Blue Wall of Silence by increasing accountability among law enforcement officers. The article explores some of the prominent cases of police misconduct such as the shootings of Michael Brown and Rodney King. To demonstrate the extent in which the Blue Wall of Silence interferes with the integrity of police work, an early 1990s survey conducted in Chicago revealed that judges and attorneys believe that police perjury was present in 20 to 50% of all cases involving suppression hearings. Perjury occurs when a person lies to the court while on oath. Despite police officers having an understanding of the implications of committing perjury, they are more willing to take the risk even if this may have severe effects on their careers provided it is done to fulfill the unwritten obligations towards their colleagues. The results of this study leave a person with one question, if a police officer can lie while under oath what else can he/her do in order to appear loyal to his/her colleagues? (Nunes, 2015).
In conclusion, the subject of police culture and the Blue Wall of Silence has attracted the attention of social science researchers since the second half of the 20th century. The two concepts are somewhat related in that the Blue Wall of Silence is a direct product of the police culture. As explored in this research paper, the two concepts are responsible for most of the cases of misconduct by police officers. This paper has demonstrated that police officers feel obligated to protect each other even in situations in which one can lose his/her job or in incidents in which the death of an innocent person is concerned.
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