The Blue Wall Of Silence | Research and Analysis

Posted: November 8, 2011 by dhaliwal23 in The Blue Wall / Police Secrecy

In my first post, I touched on the term “Blue Wall of Silence“, also known as the “Blue Shield”, first coined in New York, USA. This concept relates to an unwritten code of conduct among police officers in that they don’t blow the whistle on misconduct conducted by a fellow police officer.

In this post, I will examine the reality of “The Blue Wall of Silence”. Does it exist? If so, to what extent?… and what generates it?

A good place to start is the book review written by Henry Holt in In his review of “Behind the NYPD’s Blue Wall of Silence” by James Lardner and Thomas Reppetto, Holt writes that nothing excites the public more than the police misdeeds, actual or alleged. Holt provides several examples on incidents which outline this view. He writes, that Lardner and Reppetto argue that often police history is pendular, “swinging between scandal and reform, villains and heroes.”

Louise Westmarland in “Police Ethics and Integrity: Breaking the Blue Code of Silence”, analysis evidence from a survey of police officers which suggests what police officers believe that illegal brutality or bending the rules in order to protect colleagues from criminal proceedings is not as bad as being bribed with or stealing goods or money. Officers who also responded to the survey were unwilling to report on unethical behaviour by colleagues unless there is some sort of acquisitive motive or outcome predicted.

In her article Westmarland cites Neyround’s work which indicates although there has a great deal of interest shown in what police do, but how they do it has not always been considered of equal concern. For those interested in checking out the methodology used by Westmarland check out “Police Ethics and Integrity: Breaking the Blue Code of Silence

The findings of Westmarland’s survey, though done with a small sample, suggest that police officers view taking money or property as very serious, and would report this type of crime if done by fellow officers. However, they would be less likely to report other behaviours such as excessive force and bending the law to protect a drunken colleague for these though regarded as serious as well may not be reported due to the internal and external pressures of police culture, or perhaps due to concern over the level of punishment which may be meted to their colleagues.

Maurice Punch in his text, “Police Corruption, Deviance, Accountability, and Reform in Policing” (Punch, 2009), writes about inclusion and the crucial concepts of moral career. Punch’s view is that “bent” cops are not born but are predominately made by the culture, the work, and the institutional context. He writes, that police organizations is to blame for much of the corruption that it has failed to see, to prevent, to control, and to stop segments of the institution entering recidivism.

Thomas Nolan in his essay, “Behind the Blue Wall of Silence” in Men and Masculinities, Volume 12 Number 2, December 2009, Sage Publications, writes that this construct is characterized “by regimentation and ritualistic hegemony and a hidebound tradition of heterosexist and homophobia.”  Meaning that the undercurrent in police culture is infused with homosocial and homoerotic cast that sexualizes the construct in a way which is unique to policing. The police culture is mired in a form of masculinity that privileges tradition, ritual, hegemony and secrecy. Nolan suggests that the so-called “Blue Wall of Silence” is a component of a coherent and compelling construction of a sexual identity that is grounded in “a phallogocentric, masculinist form of domination and that is mired in a faux-heterosexual masquerade.” Simply meant, the police re-enact the 20th Century perception of the Warrior and the Battlefield on the streets of North American cities in the hyper masculinized versions of war: war on drugs, war on gangs, and now in the 21st Century war on terrorism where “urban police have been designated as frontline shock troops”.  This means that the “Thin Blue Line” exists as a form of loyalty among police officers who see themselves battling the “forces of darkness”, in that anarchy is only a short step away. Therefore, they are the defending force on one side of the drawn battle line, the Blue line, while all others, in other words the anarchy, is on the “Other”.

Gary Rothwell and J. Norman Baldwin take a different tack in their article, “Whistle-Blowing and the Code of Silence in Police Agencies: Policy and Structural Predictors”. Their article covers the findings from a study that investigates predictors of police willingness to blow the whistle. They cite the frequency of the blowing of the whistle on seven forms of misconduct. Their investigation has also revealed the capacity of nine policy and structural variables to predict whistle-blowing. Police whistle blowing is predicted on the following nine contextual variables:

  1. Capacity of the organization size;
  2. Number of police officers;
  3. Supervisory status;
  4. Agency tenure;
  5. Work group assignment;
  6. Existence of a policy manual;
  7. A policy mandating the reporting of misconduct;
  8. Presence of internal affairs unit; and
  9. Use of polygraphs.

The Rothwell and Baldwin study is the first to investigate the attitudes and behaviors of law enforcement officers, and this research has revealed two things.  One is that a mandatory reporting policy in place enables the willingness of police officers to blow the whistle, and the second is that a supervisory status allows for the willingness of blowing the whistle on a frequent basis.  For complete data analyses of these variables see “Whistle-Blowing and The Code of Silence in Police Agencies

When looking at the nine variables which lead to accountability whereby police officers will blow the whistle on wrong doing by their colleagues leads me to contemplate as to why Robert Dziekanski’s death was something that the Vancouver Police Department thought needed to be covered up.  The cover up involved RCMP’s release of inaccurate information to the public about the Dziekanski incident.  This was done by the RCMP’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, conducting the investigation, and it was done to caste a favorable light on the four officers being investigated. The cover up of the incident led to an Inquiry “The Braidwood Inquiry” that looked into Robert Dzienkanski’s death. Looking at the list of nine policy and structural variables which predict whistle-blowing from police officers i can’t help thinking that perhaps the Vancouver Police Department lacks majority of these contextual variables and that is why they found it easy to try to cover up what happened regarding Robert Dziekanski’s death. Good thing that there was a “Video of Robert Dzianski” which showed what actually took place, and that in Canada, we have a system in place that can lead to a demand for an inquiry when the public feels that police officers used excessive force, as with Robert Dziekanski, or were they negligent in their duty as the media report states, “Families of missing women say police ignored the disappearances“.


Gary, R., Norman, B, (2007). Whistle-Blowing and the Code of Silence in Police Agencies: Policy and Structural Predictors, Retrieved from

James, L., Thomas, R. (2000). Behind the NYPD’s Blue Wall of Silence, Retrieved from

Louise, W. (2005). Police Ethics and Integrity: Breaking the Blue Code of Silence, Vol 15, No. 2, P. 145-165

Maurice, P. (2009). Police Corruption Deviance, accountability and reform in policing. Portland, Oregon: Willan Publishing, P. 44-45

Nolan, T. (2009). “Behind the Blue Wall of Silence: Essay”, Men and Masculinities 12: 250-257.

Thomas, B, QC, Commissions of Inquiry. (2008). Braidwood Inquiry, Retrieved from

  1. Mike Larsen says:

    Sociologist Max Weber conducted pioneering research on government and bureaucracy. Weber argues that “Every bureaucracy strives to increase the superiority of its position by keeping its knowledge and intentions secret. Bureaucratic administration always seeks to evade the light of the public as best it can, because in so doing it shields its knowledge and conduct from criticism”. You may want to do some follow-up research on this. As you know, my own research deals with secrecy. Regarding the relationship between the police blue wall of silence and secrecy in other organizations, I would say this:

    Secrecy is an endemic feature of government, and particularly of bureaucratic forms of social organization. This has always been the case, but the rise of the knowledge, risk, and information societies has intensified the cultures of secrecy in government. Additionally, as more and more agencies start to treat their knowledge as ‘intelligence’ (in the ‘security intelligence’ sense), we are seeing routine bureaucratic secrecy merge with systems of official secrecy, ‘need to know’, and access restriction and classification. This applies across the governmental field. For a quick glimpse at this, see .

    However, pervasive secrecy within and across governments is different from the blue wall of silence in policing – though it certainly interacts with and overlaps with it.

    The blue wall of silence is a product of the police organization and its culture. As you noted, it is tied to concepts of inclusion, membership in a unique organization or brotherhood, and loyalty. Consider policing as a unique role that must be played or performed. Some theorists talk about ‘doing policing’ – meaning, structuring one’s actions, attitudes, and worldview in a way that conforms to and understanding of what ‘policing’ is and what it demands. I would suggest to you that maintaining and practicing the blue code of silence is part of ‘doing policing’. This performative secrecy is layered on top of the bureaucratic secrecy of policing organizations, resulting in a remarkably opaque institution.

    Food for thought!

  2. truthbetold says:

    Having spoke up against the wrongdoings if my dept left me without backup and shunned. Co workers lying on stand, illegally obtaining info, sexual harassment, etc… It’s bs that you can’t go to work and do the RIGHT THING without consequence.

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