Posts Tagged ‘Robert Dziekanski’

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/

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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.