Archive for the ‘The Blue Wall / Police Secrecy’ Category

“To protect the sheep you gotta catch the wolf, and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf.” (Berman, Guggenheim, & Silver, 2001) *See Video Link 1* One of the many memorable quotes from Training Day (2001) the police thriller that has captivated popular culture and has cemented the cast and crew in Hollywood. The movie follows a typical narrative story line involving police work and corruption. Starring Denzel Washington as Detective Alonzo Harris of the Los Angeles narcotics unit and Jake Hoyt, a rookie cop fresh out of training joining the narcotics unit, played by Ethan Hawke.

As the title suggests this is literally Jake Hoyts (Ethan Hawke) first day – training day – in the narcotics unit. The progression of the Jakes training day reveals the culture within the narcotics unit in Los Angeles as Detective Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) presents it to his new recruit (and us). The legal norms are illustrated through Jakes actions throughout the movie – the consensus perspective – the rules of policing that are clearly defined and yet we get a glimpse of the group norms of the narcotics unit depicted through the actions and words of Detective Alonzo.

In the first scene of the movie, in the diner, the nervousness seeps through Jakes body language and tone as he speaks. We also meet Detective Alonzo and right away we are shown his blatant demeanor; his excessive use of profanities does not uphold the universal CORE value of professionalism. But perhaps this is the culture in the plain clothes division of the L.A. narcotics unit. When Jake enters the 1979 Chevy Monte Carol ‘Office’ of Det. Alonzo, he gets the spiel from Detective Alonzo of what is required of him and what it takes – which is to forget the academy training “because that shit will get you killed… you gotta hear the street, you gotta smell it, you gotta taste that shit – feel it”, according to Detective Alonzo (Berman, Guggenheim, & Silver, 2001). “Informal norms and rules that govern everyday decisions and practices,” (Loftus 2010) are mandatory to survive in the streets as we learn right off the bat.

ear grab training day

(more…)

Oversight and complaints mechanisms are an integral part of any policing organization.  Oversight is defined as an independent committee tasked with overseeing certain aspects of police actives that are considered deviant in nature.  These committees typically lack power to enforce their recommendations.  Complaint mechanism include a electronic submitted form, but is not limited too.  This form seems to focus more on identifying the complainant rather then the perceived deviant act of the officer[s].  The Commission is the main avenue for complaints against the RCMP.  A main theme with oversights and complaints commission is that they are divided into two intersecting faction: the police and the public.  The police are hesitant and often resistance to change brought upon by the oversight because they believe that they do not have the understanding nor the training to analysis the situation in question.  Many feel that they are the subject of undue discrimination brought upon by a community out for blood.

Oversights where born of a need to control the ‘bad apples’ of the police force.  Believing to have providence over them, the public tried to enforce sanctions and other restrictions.  But the police do not give these ‘suggestions’ any credence [unless followed by unrelenting public opinion, even then the public is told they are implement but in reality they are not enforced].  Essentially these services are a forum where the public can voice their opinions, call for alarm and other perceived idiosyncrasies.  These forums are believed to be the emissary of change and a bridge between the public and the police.

There is a cyclical ‘so what?’ question that permeates the discussion of oversight and complaints mechanisms.  The committees hold no real power, so what?  So what if there is no feeling of progress? There is no real forum for the police to voice their concern, so what?  So what if both sides are lost in egos and bureaucratic red-tape, so what?

Without power to enforce their recommendations the oversight is effectively lip-service.  This relates to no feeling of progress, spreading into sideways mobility.  This refers to the continued opening of inquires or committees to look into the problem and their only address of the systems and not the cause of the deviance.  The police also negotiate the offense down to a policy violation rather than a criminal offense.  The police cannot voice their concerns to any outside identity or even their superiors without fear of reprisal and breaking the blue wall of silence.  In the police line of work who they can trust is very important.  Even when not involved in deviance, those who go against the code [of conduct] whether block out in a handbook or verbally inscribed into new recruits, are viewed with suspicion and disdain.  Mainly untreatable.  This problem causes ripples within the unit and then the ranks and then the organization. At any point they can be on the receiving end of taunts, pranks and unaided calls for help.  Serpico, a prime example, went to the newspapers to report on his fellow brothers in blue for their involvement in deviant activities.  Their response?  To ignore his cries for back-up when raiding a drug house, he was shot in the face.  And because each side is trying to limit the power each has over the other, there is feelings of isolation and inadequacy.  This may lead in to blame-dodging in order to cover for this.

While on paper the oversight committees are worthwhile, they lack an important factor.  Power.  Power to implement change and power for the police to stem the tide of public blame.  As mentioned countless times they cannot implement any recommendations made by said committees.  The police feel that the public cannot properly understand what the job entails and thus are under-qualified to preside over their affairs.  This, in-part, is correct.  The general public has no understanding of the daily struggles of having to balance public interest, their own policies and the criminal code.  Not to mention various public appearances meant to stimulate the RCMP’s public image: musical ride and holding as a symbol of Canada to meet visiting dignitaries and diplomats.

There are three ways in which to make oversight mechanisms ‘work’.

First, giving them power to force change.  Once positive of this could be rising public confidence.  but this may also lead to an inflated self-ego and specialization through bureaucratization.  What I mean by this, because of their high specialization they would be the only ones with the resources to review police deviance and through this their reputation as the only ones with power to deal with the deviance with grow.  Dealing with an increased workload leads to growth thus hiring more people.  And through this not everyone will either be of the caliber the organization requires or susceptible to the invitation of a bribe.  Those wanting to implicate someone may bribe someone within the organization.  Specialization through bureaucratization means that through policies and other legalities they gain both power and a narrowed vision of what they encompass, leading to increased public and police isolation and distrust.  In short, are we not creating an environment in which we needed the oversight for the police?

The second, keeping the oversight the same.  It has already been established that the oversight cannot fully contextualize what they were originally created for.  Meaning they were meant as a vehicle of change, to oversee the police and deal with deviance, along with producing recommendations, policies and new legislation to prevent further deviance and to facilitate a more harmonious relationship with the public.  The police and the public both feel victimized and inadequate.  The advent of social media adds to this through repeated visualization of the event, sometimes edited to produce a particular result geared towards a certain side.

Third, is to tear down the existing structure and build anew.  To create a committee that is equal between the public, police and more importantly within the community.  I have some ideas about its creation.

For instance, its membership.  It should be temporary as to not become desensitize to the action it is investing and should be based off of voter registration and telephone directory to get a better cross-section of the community.  There should be an equal number of community members and the police.  Within the police, there will be a propionate number of upper, middle management and ‘beat’ cops.  As well as with the community should be reflective of all of its aspects.  This is so each side can explain their position on the issue and each can address concerns from their level of expertise.  Chairs will be in name only as there must be someone to control the meetings.  There will be open sharing of information between the both sides.  It will also be easier to compel the police.  Though sensitive information must remain within the committee.  As Chris Beach, who is an outreach and complaints analyst for the Commission, mentioned a shared data-base to make sure each side is sharing completely with one another.  Meetings of the oversight will not be public at first, to bolster the relationship between them and the police.Though later on, they may observe the happenings.  And like the Canadian court system, they will not be televised.  Andy discussion will be handed down through third parties like a public relations person, media or another organization.  As to waylay the force of questions directed towards them.  They would still be answerable to the public but this is to ensure that they can continue their proceedings without constant interruption.

As to whether these options ‘work’ is subjective.  Several people believe that the current oversight is workable while others have a variety of opinions.  Without major reorganization of the mechanisms implemented and a true cohesive/ collaborative relationship between these committees and the RCMP, there can be no progress.

Main themes include complaint form, RCMP security level, power and mistrust.

The formal complaints form found on the RCMP website allots more space to help identify the complainant rather than the incident.

Even though the RCMP lost the ability to investigate national security through the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, in 1985, but sixteen years later the Anti-Terrorism Act allowed for their greater involvement.

Power because both sides lack it.  Power to enforce and to develop an open relationship with the public because of their sanctioned use of deadly force.

This helps to spread mistrust because both sides cannot understand the others position and through the blue wall of silence there cannot be clear communication between them.

In my previous posts, I have provided informative information as well an analysis on the term “Blue Wall of Silence”, also known as the “Blue Shield”, first coined in New York, USA.

This unwritten code can generally be defined as “A rule among police officers not to report on another officer’s errors, misconducts, and or crimes when questioned about an incident of misconduct involving another colleague, during a course of an inquiry”.

In my second post, I had examined the reality of “The Blue Wall of Silence” and brought some questions to light such as: does it exist? If so, to what extent; and what generates it?

In this post, I will discuss the idea proposed as far back as Max Weber, in the chapter “Bureaucracy,” in his work Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (Economy and Society), published after his death in 1920 where he writes:

Every bureaucracy seeks to increase the superiority of the professionally informed by keeping their knowledge and intentions secret. Bureaucratic administration always tends to be an administration of ‘secret sessions’ in so far as it can, it hides its knowledge and action from criticism.

Weber describes an “ideal type” that in real life will vary from place to place and time to time. But nearly a century later, it can be agreed that the generalization holds, especially in a setting in which government chooses or is forced to be concerned about the loyalty of some portion of the citizenry.

For the concept of loyalty implied that there was much information within a bureaucracy which could be used to injure the Government or the national interest if revealed by disloyal persons to hostile nations or, for that matter, to internal elements hostile to our “way of life.”

In her article for the Max Weber Lecture Series, Deirdre M. Curtin, in “Keeping Government Secrecy Safe: Beyond Whack-A-Mole”, writes that scholars have struggled with the general concept of secrecy for centuries.  Secrecy presupposes a separation, setting a part of the secret of the secret from the non-secret, and of keepers of a secret from the excluded targets.  It establishes insiders and outsiders, groups of “us” and “them”.  Having control over secrecy and openness gives power for influences what others know and plus what they choose to do. “Secrecy is a universal form which as such has nothing to do with moral valuations of its contents. On the one hand secrecy may embrace the highest values. On the other hand, secrecy is not in immediate interdependence with evil, but evil with secrecy”. This means, wrong doing, illegality, unethical behavior will in all likelihood be hidden from public gaze.

As G. Simmel in “The Sociology of Secrecy and of Secret Societies” argues that secret keeping actually endows secrets with value. This value is based not on the content of the secrets, but rather on the fact that others are excluded from knowing about them. This is an ancient principal which transferred the aura of sacredness from the church and religious officials to secular leaders and was never more strongly invoked than in defense of seventeenth century absolutist monarchies. Kings and governments therefore, at certain times abused their subjects and citizens with the power they gained through the possession of information, and they used secrecy to cover up any wrong doing. Even the American President, Woodrow Wilson though speaking against secrecy in his 1912 election campaign, concluded “Government ought to be all outside and no inside”. But once elected to the US presidency adopted and applied the Espionage Act which was highly restrictive of free speech.

Secrecy by governments is enacted in the name of “National Security” which is a key justification traditionally given for classifying documents as secret and top secret. Where the “Blue Wall of Silence” comes in is that justification usually given for police actions or why investigations are kept secret is that it protects the investigation. This tendency for administration secrecy is one of the main reasons why freedoms of information laws are adopted in the first place. Such laws do not do away with administrative or government secrecy but they do provide access to documents or information in some cases that would otherwise have remained out of reach. Moreover, they give statutory and judicial support to the principle of openness.

However, the recent opening of Pandora’s box by Wikileaks brought, according to some, possible calamity to the US government, and international relations more generally, because of the unauthorized disclosure of classified military secrets. Leaking always had a symbiotic relationship with secrecy and is the classic way of outing possible abuse of power. Without secrecy, there would be no need to leak information. Wikileaks can in this context be understood as an example of a new way of challenging government power in information age by getting previous hidden information with possible evidence of power of abuse out into the open in a largely unstoppable and global fashion.

It could be said, that the information age on the one hand demands that secrecy is no longer a viable way to deal with the public, while at the same time emphasizing that public order organizations such as the police force feel a constraint to be secret in order to genuinely protect the work they do.

A key characteristic of the Blue Wall is the solidarity shown within the police force. Fellow officers are expected to back each other up in all circumstances.  Aid one another when in trouble. An important feature in solidarity is inclusion. Everyone wants to be part of a group or a clique. This need to belong can result in officers remaining silent to other officer’s misconduct in order to protect their colleagues. This can lead them to feel included and cement their relationship with their fellow officers.

The second characteristic of the Rule of Silence, and which ties in with loyalty, is staying silent and even lying for another police officer. A consequence of this is that “by maintaining this loyalty an officer promotes presence of police deviance whether for a noble cause or not”.

We all are familiar with Robert Dzienkanski’s incident at the Vancouver International Airport. Where four Vancouver Police Officers tasered and killed Mr. Dzienkanski. This incident became publicised, and led to an investigation.  The RCMP found it easy to cover up the incident at first by casting a favourable light on the four police officers involved for police officers share an understanding of what it takes to make decisions in the field of action. It is hard for the public to understand the decisions police officers make because they are not in a role of authority and do not have to make decisions objectively. RCMP officers in this case supported their fellow officers precisely because the decisions they made were done in the heat of the moment, and the same thing could have happened to any of them.

Another more insidious example of the Blue Wall of Silence at play is the experience of sexual harassment that Constable Catherine Gallagher had with the RCMP for number of years. Gallagher states that her senior officer in the Air India Task Force would use the pretext of telling the Air India families new information to lead her out of town so that he could try to have sexual relations with her. Although there was no new information no one came forward or said anything to the contrary. Other officers stayed quite therefore demonstrating deviance as they did not report these activities in trade for acceptance and to retain membership within the organization. Before Gallagher even became a police officer she had intercourse with a RCMP officer who claimed that if she didn’t he would ensure that she never made it to the RCMP. The powerful pull of officers wanting to belong to a group is the force that causes officers to remain silent in order to get that feeling of acceptance. Gallagher accepted and normalized this behaviour for 16 years. Her need to stay in the force and be a part of the RCMP is the cause of her remaining silent up to now.  However, her coming out to the media and her 114 page report to the RCMP outlining how she was treated is a tremendous breakthrough.

The characteristics of the Blue Wall have become embedded and a part of the police sub-culture. It has become integrated into the actual backbone of the police organization in such a way that it has become an unofficial understanding on how justice is delivered. How can we change something that is instituted so deep?

The police may still be embedded with Weber’s idea that secrecy is part of a bureaucratic organization, but the society at large has changed with the age of information.  As the media has proven again and again, it is perfectly capable of exposing the inner workings of organizations that work on the presumption of secrecy and modern laws, such as the Access to Information Act, aid the media in this quest. This is a game changer.

Added to this is the available technology of cell phones equipped with photo and video cameras which the general public now carries around with them. What use to be secret can no longer be secret because whatever takes place with witnesses around can easily be recorded and submitted as evidence for the public’s consumption.

The idea that organizations can keep their inner workings secret in order to maintain their superiority is dying a slow, but inevitable death given modern technology. The future as Gary Rothwell and J. Norman Baldwin’s research has unearthed is that the predictors of police willingness to blow the whistle are going to come into play more and more.  The public demand for accountability, fueled by the media, is going to force the police force to implement the nine policy and structural variables which predict whistle-blowing. Again, these variables are:

  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.

Another unforeseen consequence, but as depicted by Constable Gallagher’s experience within the RCMP, is that the introduction of female police officers in the midst of what Thomas Nolan calls in his essay, “Behind the Blue Wall of Silence” in Men and Masculinities, a regimentated and ritualistic hegemony and a hidebound tradition of heterosexism and homophobia.  Nolan means that the undercurrent in police culture is infused with a 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 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”.  According to this understanding female police officers would be required to play the role of sexual objectification to titillate their male superiors.  However, as the breakdown acknowledged by Constable Gallagher indicates, such pressure placed on a police officer’s psyche can only go so far.  The Blue Wall of Silence worked as long as the officers participating in it saw themselves as a part of a brotherhood defending themselves against the outsiders, “the other”.  The Wall, however, is going to crumble when those in power decide to victimize the institution’s own members. It is like feasting on the inside of your skin.  All you are going to be left with is exposure to the elements.

In today’s world the elements are the information age; people’s expectation that those who are in position of power, or carry the ability to exercise power, need to be accountable for this exercise of power; and finally the attitudes which were prevalent within a male dominated work force now are undermined, for the better, by a greater representation of female participation in jobs traditionally held mostly by men.  The world has changed, and continues to change, and institutions which could uphold secrecy in their inner workings before, are now increasing pressured to disclose in this age of information accessibility and record ability.  When a person walking down the street can video police conduct on his/her cell phone and upload it to You Tube for the whole world to watch, how can secrecy be maintained, except by extreme prejudice.

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 Businessweek.com. 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“.

References:

Gary, R., Norman, B, (2007). Whistle-Blowing and the Code of Silence in Police Agencies: Policy and Structural Predictors, Retrieved from http://cad.sagepub.com/content/53/4/605.full.pdf+html

James, L., Thomas, R. (2000). Behind the NYPD’s Blue Wall of Silence, Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/2000/00_36/b3697036.htm

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 http://www.braidwoodinquiry.ca/report/

The Blue Wall of Silence refers to the rule of silence police officers share with one another. It is an integrated piece of police culture which shows solidarity, loyalty and silence throughout the police force. There is a strong pull for police officers to behave this way because of the need and want to belong to a group, especially seen how police officers treat the force as a sort of brotherhood. This can also mean that new officers are forced to join and comply with this wall of silence to prevent being ostracised from members of the police force. This sense of loyalty can cause officers to lie for one another or look the other way when they see other police officers participating in deviant behaviour. Not staying loyal to your fellow police officers can cause them to see you as a ‘rat’ and someone not to be trusted. For this reason ‘whistle-blowing’ is not commonly seen. Whistle-blowing is the act of police officers reporting the misconduct of other police officers. Many officers do not come forward to report misconduct for the reasons that the consequences can include being shunned by fellow police officers, loss of friends and the chance that other officers will not give you the backup in times of trouble. The Blue Wall of Silence comprises of police officers sticking together by showing solidarity for fellow police officers followed by their loyalty and silence. These factors in the right situational environment promote police deviance and deviant behaviour. Many police officers do not report crimes or misconducts by other police officers because it challenges the traditions and brotherhood of the force. No one wants to be known as a rat or someone who cannot be trusted. For this reason many police officers look away which in itself is deviant behaviour.

Searching for the term ‘The Blue Wall of Silence’ on Google yielded close to four million results. The very first web page listed was a Wikipedia article. There were four web sites out of the ten dedicated to explaining what was meant by the Blue Wall of Silence. This included dictionary and reference type links. Surprisingly there were only two sites that originated from news media outlets and they were older articles from 2009 and 2000.  It was surprising because there has been a lot of news coverage lately regarding police brutality linked to police officers showing solidarity and their loyalty to one another by not telling the public what really happens. Specifically regarding the incident with Robert Dziekanski. Another interesting website that emerged from this search is a collaborative written site that targets police for their accountability, which is updated regularly. This website focuses on police deviance and shares stories and incidents of police misconduct. The overall themes from all these websites share a similar ideal on the wall of silence. The dictionary and reference sites are quite short, they simply term the blue wall of silence as a rule in the police force that police officers look out for one another and don’t ‘rat out’ one another. The Wikipedia page is quite detailed and discusses a lot of the history behind the term but bases all of its information around incidents occurring in the United States. As well there are only two newspaper articles on the first page of hits, which are extremely outdated. They do discuss police brutality and how it was covered up.

Most of the information on the first page of hits are websites written by regular people, including the Wikipedia page, the dictionary and reference pages and the collaborative anti-police page. There is not a lot of information written by legitimate news and media outlets. The ones that are present are seriously outdated and not up to date. As well there are no government reports or official commentaries by the police force themselves. This is not surprising considering police agencies do not admit that there is a problem in their police forces.

The Blue Wall Of Silence

Posted: October 4, 2011 by dhaliwal23 in The Blue Wall / Police Secrecy
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What is “The Blue Wall of Silence”? | Preliminary Overview and Web Audit

The term “Blue Wall of Silence” also known as the “Blue Shield” first triggered in New York, United States. This unwritten code can generally be defined as: “A rule among police officers not to report on another officer’s errors, misconducts, and or crimes when questioned about an incident of misconduct involving another colleague, during a course of an inquiry”.

Every country has a police force to enforce its laws and ensure that public peace is maintained overall. In a democratic system of government, the police are expected to maintain public order without violating a citizen’s civil or human rights. The idea that in a democratic country the police do uphold civil liberties and do not violate human rights is not necessarily accurate. The Blue Wall of Silence can be one of many contributing factors that help police officers uphold the deviance involved in their department.

The Blue Wall of Silence symbolizes the loyalty among police officers within the force. To maintain this loyalty an officer may be forced to neglect the presence of police brutality which can hurt the victims by preventing them from getting justice. Moreover, the Blue Wall of Silence and police brutality have been and continue to be, protected and facilitated by the police culture.  A mutual link then can be made between police culture and police corruption, which makes this topic significantly interesting.

According to Maurice Punch (2009), corruption in policing generally refers to: an officer perceptively doing or not doing something that is contrary to his/her duty for some form of financial or material gain. In most cases, it is geared largely in the direction of bribery and individual gain in return for favors.

Research has been collected through previous cases involving police misconduct that caught the media’s attention and went global, for example the New York Police Department. In New York City, some police officers have been associated with the Blue Wall of Silence that led to the Mollen Commission in 1994. Mollen’s mandate was to examine and investigate “the nature and extent of corruption in the Department; evaluate the departments procedures for preventing and detecting that corruption; and recommend changes and improvements to those procedures”.  The Commission found that officers falsified documents such as arrest reports, warrants and evidence for an illegal arrest or search and they justified themselves by believing that this was not corruption but yet another way to “get the job done”. The Mollen Commission concluded by saying “The pervasiveness of the code of silence is itself alarming”.

During the course of my web audit, using the Google search engine, I entered the term “Blue Wall of Silence” and received approximately 3,950,000 hits with content extending from dated to more recent incidents. The first page consisted of information from the Wikipedia , News Media ArticlesMultimedia, and from former NYPD Police Officers that went against the code.  I found the Wikipedia – the free encyclopaedia provided a good definition on the term and provided a direct link to the Mollen Commission, which made it easier to understand the whole phenomenon that took place in New York City.

Additionally, I found the first page is restricted by a lack of academic articles. However, found it interesting how there are a range of perspectives with respect to this topic. For example, the first page consisted of a link where a police officer spoke out regarding the issues associated with the unwritten code, within his department. Furthermore, this topic can be controversial towards the public’s eye and we can start to ask questions, Can this Unwritten Code The Blue Wall of Silence be broken?

References:

Punch, Maurice. (2009). Police Corruption Deviance, accountability and reform in policing. Willan Publishing. Devon, UK.