So I was reading this article on a libertarian blog on incompetence in the NY crime lab. Necessary background: this particular author is very concerned with (and points out a LOT of cases of) police misconduct, especially when said misconduct is punished with denials of wrongdoing by superiors, slaps on the wrist, and/or promotions.
Some quotes (all modded up) by commentators:
These are not isolated examples. Commenters to this blog do NOT like the police as a rule. As far as they’re concerned, since the bad cops are never punished (and are even defended from wrongdoing by their superiors and peers), with a steady drumbeat of horror stories, each more outrageous and horrible than the last, the entire profession is tainted in their eyes. It reminded me how this can happen to groups in general, like Christians, to the atheists on this very board, people of an opposing political viewpoint, and so on.
Which brings the question: at one point do all members of a group become suspect based on the actions of a subset? When does the reputation become “deserved”? Is it “right” that it happens at all?
I think this supplies one answer to the title question. It’s inevitable that any sizable group will include bad apples. When these become evident and little to nothing is done about it, the group becomes complicit.
It comes down to an understanding of human nature. With so many corrupt police forces, we are left with only two plausible explanations of how they manage to prosper when *any * halfway moral recruit would report the shit that’s happening and then take a job in another, cleaner force.
One is that people who join the police force really are all mentally impaired in some way. Whether that mental impairment is due to only psychopaths joining up or due to the training process making a person psychopath is is irrelevant. So when a new person joins a force and sees what is happening, he stays quiet because he either enjoys it or sees nothing wrong with it.
The other explanation is that all police know that there is no cleaner workplace. If you report the crimes you see cops committing you will never be able to work as a cop ever again.
The problem with both of those explanations is that they really are a condemnation of all police everywhere. Either they are all trained to be psychopaths, or they are all part of a system that promotes corruption and criminal activity.
If these were isolated incidents being reported and prosecuted there could be no suggestion that all cops are tainted. But they aren’t. They are widespread, the punishment is usually lacking and all too often there is evidence of systemic cover ups that demonstrates that the problem is worse than what is known, but how much worse we can never know. This isn’t indicative of a few bad apples, or a few bad barrels. It’s as close as we can ever get to evidence that the whole storehouse is filled with rot.
Let me reverse the question for you. If all US police forces really were corrupt and populated by large numbers of psychopaths, what evidence would you expect to see that we are not seeing already?
Because I can tell you what I would expect to see if that weren’t the case: I would expect to see large number so novices collecting evidence of these crimes and then transferring to the non-corrupt forces. I would expect all the bad apples to congregate together, because that is the only way they could act as they do. I would expect that 99% of corruption cases would dealt with swiftly, by the workmates of the officers involved, not by special, semi-clandestine internal affairs departments.
But that’s not what we see. We see very few cases reported by novices. We see corruption and abuse reaching extremes before it is even investigated. We see evidence of prolonged, systemic cover ups in almost all cases, with widespread knowledge of what was happening. We see most cases only being investigated after the evidence can physically no longer be hidden form those outside the force, and even the only investigated by outsiders.
We obviously can;t get hard and fast data on this issue, The best we can do is apply the duck test. If what I see is consistent with corruption of the police system rather than individual forces, and totally inconsistent with “a few bad apples”, then I draw the obvious conclusion.
I don’t even think it is fair to lump all officers together. There’s a big difference between the New Orleans Police Department, the Little Rock Police Department, and the Plano Police Department. If a cop pulled me over in Plano, Texas I wouldn’t be too worried. If a cop pulled me over in New Orleans I’d be a bit nervous because they have a bad reputation as being particularly corrupt (Pre-Katrina at least).
I think Blake gave an excellent answer. In fact, it’s exactly what I was going to say.
I think your question, and Blake’s reasoning, can also be applied to the Catholic church. Why shouldn’t we assume that every priest/bishop/etc. is a child molester?
We know that many are, and we know that many more covered it up for decades (if not centuries). In fact, it’s pretty easy (and accurate) to substitute “church” for “police force” and “priest” for “officer” in this:
To be fair, I’m not arguing that every cop is personally corrupt, or that very priest is personally sticking his dick in 6 year olds. I am saying that they are all well aware that it is happening and doing absolutely nothing about it. It may be that only 10% of cops and priests are criminals, but the other 90% are clearly providing at least tacit support for them.
The idea that the Sean Connery character in “Untouchables” wans;t as corupt as hell is bullshit. Those types of people know that the crimes are being committed and do nothing. They don’t report it, they don’t investigate, they don’t even have the balls to resign. They just take their paychecks and keep their noses clean. At best such officers are as bad as the people they protect. In my view they are far worse.
I’d guess it’s when rookies, who naturally emulate more experienced cops as they learn the job, learn that corrupt behaviour is not only tolerated but necessary for acceptance. At that point, the ‘barrel’ is pretty much spoiled.
Libertarian nutbags who hate cops by default should go pound sand.
The problem here is we are trying to find out how to judge the proportion of a logical fallacy.
IE, how many people does it take to get morons to judge the entire cohort based on their behavior?
Most cops are not dirty, most cops are not jerks, and there are indeed methods internally for taking down asshole cops. Talk to a cop about the force and they’ll tell you about laziness and apathy causing their peers to keep their heads down. This is really where the ‘police tyranny’ comes from. Add that to the occasional police brutality and people will judge the mean by the outliers.
I think these officers (and their equivalents in the Catholic Church) justify their inaction by telling themselves the institution as a whole is doing good work and that exposing the problems in the institution would weaken it in the face of a fight against a greater evil. A Chicago cop or a Catholic priest would tell themselves “The police department/church may have some problems but we’re still a better alternative than allowing Al Capone/Satan free reign and that’s what would happen if we weren’t able to fight them. So I have to keep quiet in order to keep us strong for the greater good.”
I’d like to see cites for why people believe in this, ‘inaction’. Sure we have some evidence with Catholic Priests who merely get moved to positions where they are not dealing with young kids, but do we have evidence that this is actually rampant with cops? There are internal mechanisms to deal with these things. Sure, people look the other way when a cop turns on their lights to blow through a red light, but that doesn’t mean a cop is gonna look the other way when a boy in blue murders someone.
The problem here is that we are accepting that the core assumptions are de facto ‘true’ when that’s not so obvious.
I doubt that most people think the police are bad or even mostly bad. On this board, yes. But I suspect that this is more an indication that the people on this board were rousted as youths for participating in illegal activities. Being treated like a totally unspectacular idiot, worthy of no particular admiration or even decent treatment has left a taint in their minds.
This isn’t to say that the police don’t have bad apples and aren’t often complicit in bad things. But 99% of the time, they’re just doing their job, and it’s a thankless one at that. Overall, I can’t complain terribly. Everyone who’s not going around committing crimes is never bothered by the police at all. So long as that’s true, saying that they are bad is factually incorrect. They may screw people over, but the people getting screwed are people who probably deserve it, or the officers wouldn’t be able to get away with it.
Almost certainly, otherwise, they would have gotten in trouble for it. A person who is innocent has nothing to fear in pursuing the case. It’s a simple evolutionary process. Obviously it won’t achieve a 100% rate, but evolutionary processes work by testing the boundaries and adapting to it. Cops who mess with people who don’t deserve it don’t last as cops.
It’s pretty much a given that in any discussion like this, comments like “Most ___ are good/honest/dedicated/law-abiding people, and it’s unfair to them to criticize ___”).
The first part is almost certainly true (excepting Ponzi schemers, child molesters, car salesmen, lawyers and the like :dubious:) What sets apart truly good and responsible groups is that they are candid and aggressive about disciplining and if necessary tossing out the bad apples (assuming members of said groups realistically can be expected to have such self-policing powers) and do not hide behind excuses, evasions and a “them vs. us” mentality.