The term ‘one percent’ is frequently associated with discussions about income inequality—those in the top one percent are rich beyond measure while the 99% are struggling to make ends meet. Economic inequality is an important topic that will be heavily debated during general elections, but today I want to talk about a different one percent—the one percent of bad cops that is causing us to distrust all law enforcement officers. Statisticians have been collecting data across the nation and the results are the same – a very small percentage of violent-prone officers are responsible for the majority of police misconduct cases. For example, in Chicago, 124 of the city’s 12,000 police officers are responsible for nearly a third of police misconduct settlements since 2009.
If I was part of the 99%, I would be very angry. I would ask for accountability. Why should my reputation be tarnished because of another officer’s behavior? I would demand that every officer honor the badge. Of course, it’s easy for me to make these demands because I’m not a cop. I don’t have the pressure of the Code of Silence– explained by the Chicago Mayor as “the tendency to ignore, deny or in some cases cover up the bad actions of a colleague or colleagues”. Officers that report police misconduct are retaliated against and have a target on their back. That is an enormous weight to carry for an already dangerous job and they shouldn’t have to carry that burden on their own. They should have the support of their supervisors.
The demand for change and reform has to come from department heads. They are the ones in position to make a difference. They need to communicate to their officers that they are serious about accountability and that police misconduct will not be tolerated. Yes, I recognize that even those in supervisory capacities face the pressures of police culture. But if they are true leaders, they have to do what’s best for law enforcement and what’s best for the community.
Delrish Moss, the new chief of police for Ferguson, MO is taking a stand. Shortly after being sworn into his new position, he warned officers that police abuse is unacceptable. “If you work hard, if you stay honest and committed, if you maintain respect for the community and do your job well, we will get along just fine. If you fall short of that, and it’s through a mistake of the head, we will work to correct that. But if you do it with malice, if you do the job in a way that disrespects the badge that you hold, I will see to it that you are either removed from police service, or further prosecuted.”
Moss has been chief for less than a month. It’s too early to tell how serious he is about his stance against police abuse. I’m a ‘glass half full’ gal and hoping that he will stop the police misconduct in Ferguson and be a strong role model for all the other police department heads in this country.