The old adage of good cop/bad cop normally refers to interviewing techniques of two police officers.
According to the MacMillan dictionary, if two people play good cop/bad cop with someone, one is friendly while the other behaves in a threatening way in order to make the person trust the “good cop” and tell them the information they want to know.
While this approach is not recognized with formal training it is an accepted style of policing. When police officers are dispatched to a call many times their individual personalities take on the roles of good cop/bad cop. However, that technique is not what this article is about. This article discusses the current climate of the policing profession in the US and the impact that police violence has on good police officers.
The Impact on Good Police Officers
In every police officer’s life, a relatively quiet peaceful night can turn into a tragic event within minutes. Police officers are confronted with sudden confrontations that require them to respond to by using all of their formal training and experience.
There is no blueprint for, no immediate directions or simple manner to handle contact with the public that require split-second decisions. They must be ready to provide guidance and resolution to these incidents as a public safety officer. All full well knowing that the citizens involved are expecting the officers to keep them safe and out of harm’s way.
This is not an easy job.
Police violence is currently considered a public health concern. The University of Michigan conducted a study and a few of the outcomes included.
- Power inequities in state-sanctioned violence. Police agencies have been empowered to apply force to maintain social and political order.
- Police culture deters internal accountability. The “code of silence” has been a predominant theme in the culture of the law enforcement profession. It is particularly evident when officers of lower ranks do not report the abuse of power to their supervising officers. The authority over civilians can result in exacerbated mental health consequences especially for good police officers who witness inappropriate conduct by a bad cop partner.
- Perceived racial and class bias. This study reported that while white respondents are at some risk of exposure to police violence, the racial disparities are significantly higher among African Americans, Latinos, and other marginalized groups.
- Use of/access to weapons. Police officers have a great deal of legal latitude in determining when to use force including deadly force.
The study further explained why police violence is a matter of public health that requires policy solutions to get at the root causes.
Police officer ranks are dwindling at a rapid rate in the United States. There are a host of reasons why but considering that between the decades of 1980 thru and beyond the 2000s, the law enforcement profession was a highly sought-after career, it is quite surprising. Many college graduates would complete their studies and seek out a police officer position whether at a local, state, or federal level. It was the belief then that a law enforcement profession was an honorable way to serve the community while earning a decent wage.
In the past decade, these opinions have changed greatly. No longer are there lengthy waitlists for hiring on police departments. At all levels, there is extensive recruitment happening. Culturally speaking, this is a new norm and most police departments do not have previous experience with having to ‘sell the job’.
So why is this happening? Many feel that the long-held belief that police officers are there to provide community support and protection is no longer accurate. The familiarity of local police officers has become a thing of the past even in the smallest of rural communities.
Good Cop vs. Bad Cop
With each tragedy that occurs involving a police officer, the more that the high esteem opinion police officers are reducing. It becomes a question of why and most people cannot process the thought that there are bad cops out there.
This is not a new phenomenon but with media and specifically social media, these individual bad cops cannot be hidden as in the past. Nearly every event is videotaped with witnesses’ phones and shared all over the world in a matter of minutes.
Police Code of Silence
The police code of silence would have previously hidden or kept secret the bad behavior of police officers. There are too many cases to recount, however, there is one currently in the Boston news media.
The former President of the Boston Patrolmen’s Association was investigated by the department in 1995 for alleged child molestation. He was initially charged with the crime, but later charges were dropped. Patrick Rose was allowed to remain on the force, and it has been reported that as a police officer he investigated a number of child assault cases following the investigation of his conduct. He continued to be a Boston Police Officer until his retirement in 2018 without any further investigation.
In August 2020, a father and his teenage daughter reported that the girl was molested between the ages of 7 and 12. As a result of this information being made public, five more people came forward to make molestation claims against Rose. To date, he has been charged with 33 counts of child molestation involving six alleged victims and is currently being held on $200,000 cash bail.
There are many questions regarding this case but few answers. It is safe to assume that if the Rose allegations had been resolved in court back in the mid-1990s, it may have saved additional victims from the heartache that they have and are suffering. To compound the matter, the Boston police have refused to release records pertaining to the 1995 case and it remains unclear what, if any, disciplinary action was taken against Rose at that time.
The new interim Mayor of Boston, Kim Janey has authorized the release of the records and has committed one million dollars to fund the new office of the Office of Police Accountability and Transparency (OPAT). Mayor Janey has hired a director to manage the office in anticipation of a July 2021 start.
Crime Covered Up
The example of the Rose case is only one horrific example of a bad cop. It also provides a snapshot of a police department that ‘covered up’ for their bad cops, perpetuating the secrecy of not holding their own accountable. The code of silence promotes an informal ban of reporting misconduct by fellow police officers and has placed a serious impediment to controlling police misconduct and the ability to establish and maintain police accountability.
Mayor Janey has made it clear that she will not tolerate this type of mismanagement and criminal behavior on ‘her watch’ and it is taking steps to have the City of Boston be totally transparent.
The George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Walter Wallace deaths all occurred in 2020 and are glaring examples of what can occur when bad cops are not held accountable. No matter how much training or reconditioning a bad cop is provided, it becomes evident that the officer will continue to behave as they see fit.
We’ve discussed the bad cops and we know that they represent the smallest number of police officers, however, they also received all of the media’s attention.
99% of Police Are Good Police Officers
What happens to the 99% of the police force who are good police officers? Are they ignored because their position is one of public trust and it is expected that they are conducting themselves in an honorable manner on a daily basis? How can they balance working in the community with a partner who is not holding themselves to a high standard? How do communities and police department leadership teams work to reassure the citizens that they can be trusted?
All of these questions create a multitude of additional questions, but the answers are few and far between. Throughout the US, all law enforcement agencies are grappling with this dilemma.
It is a common belief that a large portion of the burnout of good police officers comes from what they witness in the community. While the majority of calls that police report to are negative in nature there is ample evidence that disillusionment with departmental administration presents a larger issue. The leadership of a police agency is a powerful predictor of burnout and low morale among cops. It is the day-to-day negative culture within the department that causes the low morale and in fact the cause of voluntary resignations.
So, if leadership impacts the morale of a department, how does a positive leadership team recruit and retain good police officers?
Effective leaders focus on developing a culture of rewards versus a culture of punishment. Here is how they do it.
- Live their values
- Realize position does not define leadership
- Set goals for interpersonal skill development
- Say “Thank You” often
- Admit their mistakes
- Strive to be mentors and coaches
- Accept influence
- Hold people accountable
- Delegate to the expert in the room
- Vision cast goals
- Are solution-oriented
Police agencies need to encourage good police officers by stressing and training them on the importance of reporting the incident to higher-ranking officers and always tell the truth. These police officers should not face additional scrutiny by their peers for being honest. They are heroes and should not be portrayed as traitors by their fellow officers.
If a police whistleblower is punished rather than protected, the reform movement will continue to push a ‘defund the police’ movement. Police should embrace the reasonably recommended reforms now rather than continuing to hide their dirty laundry thus undermining the political and moral support.
Police Officers who are able to share their professional opinions in a constructive manner will provide support to other officers. Professional opinions may be shared in a formal setting such as training programs testifying in court or even in day-to-day experiences. One thing is certain, it will not be an easy task to overcome the cultural issues that have plagued the law enforcement profession for the majority of its history.
Training is as important a feature of police departments as is policies and procedures. Expectations and consistency of application are what will build rapport both up and down the chain of command. While every incident in the community is different there are basic procedural components that need to be followed so that everyone involved is kept safe and free from injuries.
As discussed previously, CIT and de-escalation techniques have become viewed as vitally important training.
Another method of positive team building for those good police officers is peer education. It would be beneficial to provide this training in the orientation stage for new officers and continue it on an annual basis. The goal is to develop competencies and interpersonal skills with the officers as well as the community they serve. One of the peer education training formats that are followed frequently is known by the acronym LAAF.
- Listen: Creating a safe space emotionally and physically with the person you’re treating to get them to open up.
- Assess: Assess a trauma sufferer’s state of mind by picking up on things such as verbal/non-verbal cues or analyzing a victim’s thought process.
- Address: Working with the affected officer and recognizing when the treatment requires a referral.
- Follow-up: Techniques that can be used to continue your connection to the person in crisis (such as taking them out to eat or offering to drive them home).
As hiring practices have loosened through active recruitment, so have the desire to bring in a diverse police workforce. It is not a new trend that the law enforcement community is an educated one but what is becoming the norm is the different educational and experience-related backgrounds they come from. It has been standard practice for veterans to complete their service and seek a position in a law enforcement career. Police recruiters are working at college job fairs and other unique venues to establish a pattern for hiring the ‘right’ candidate.
Applaud Good Police Officers
A cultural shift in the law enforcement profession will take time. It is clear that the number of good police officers far outweigh the small number of bad cops. However, it is the bad cops that create the media attention and minimize the good police officers who go to work every day without incident and provide safety and security to the community they serve. It is these officers who should be applauded on a daily basis for the work they do.