Theblue wall of silence
Ina society where personal liberties and freedoms are guaranteed toevery living person, law enforcement agencies are a vital componentas they ensure there is peace and tranquillity in the community. Incarrying out their mandate, police officers are expected to upholdthe rule of law and ensure that their actions are at par withaccepted practices. However, there are those elements within theseagencies that take advantage of their position to commit illegalitiesand attain personal gains. These individuals rely on the blue wall ofsilence police culture to get away with their violation. The paperevaluates the impact of this culture on the efficiency of lawenforcement agencies. It seeks to show that the blue wall of silenceis having an adverse impact on the overall performance of the police.It also shows the possible solution that can be adopted to better thesituation.
Theblue wall of silence
Theblue wall of silence is a term that traces its roots from the stateof New York. The phrase is used to define the culture of policesilence when one of their own is involved in an investigation forwrongdoing. It is an unwritten rule by law enforcement officers torefrain from reporting or testifying against a fellow workmate forcrimes, errors or misconducts that are under an inquiry (Knoll &van Dick, 2013). All around the world, the police are expected toenforce laws that ensure public peace is maintained. However, theyare not allowed to violate civil liberties while carrying out theirmandate. Though the blue shield is not legally recognised, it is aculture that is aimed at symbolising loyalty among members of lawenforcement agencies.
Tomaintain this perceived loyalty, officers who witness policebrutality or engagement in unacceptable behaviour are forced to turna blind eye to such actions and those that come forward are shunnedor labelled as traitors. As a result, members of the public who fallvictim to the acts of these government agents are deniedmuch-deserved justice. In the United States, the culture dates backto as far as the 19thcentury where the Ku Klux Klan police officers continuously infringedon the rights of the people they were meant to protect and ensuredthat no one was charged with misconduct (Lee, Lim, Moore & Kim,2013). Throughout the year, the Supreme Court has made landmarkrulings meant to reiterate the rights of citizens especially thefourth amendments that protect people from an unlawful search andseizure. However, police officers have countered this by engaging indocument falsification and thus getting away with their acts.
Itis not possible to engage in a discussion about the blue wall ofsilence without evaluating the aspect of corruption. This code ofsilence used by members of law enforcement agencies is a form ofcorruption. This is because the culture is meant to protect officerswho apply the law selectively, engage in discriminatory arrests andharassment usually do so with some motivation for personal gains(Knoll & van Dick, 2013). Though these acts are solid ground fordismissal or suspension, officers who follow the law are unable tocome forward and testify as this is considered betrayal in the policefamily.
Foryears, different agencies have investigated the issue of the blueshield and the manner in which it affects the entire justice systems.Reports by accredited institutions like the Mollen commission of 1994showed that officers were willing to go as far as perjury just toprotect their comrades who are guilty of wrongdoing. For fear ofbeing ostracised by their fellow workmates, officers blatantly lie onthe stand or claim ignorance saying that they did not see anything(Cottler, O’Leary, Nickel, Reingle & Isom 2014). Also, theseindividuals falsify documents in order to justify their action.Research has further shown that most prosecutors are aware of thesecases of perjury and still allow it to occur as long as it enablesthem to close a case or save the state from paying fines resultingfrom violations.
Evaluatingthe above matter, one would be forgiven to incline that there are nolaws that are aimed at ensuring police behave in an acceptable way.However, all enforcement agencies are guided by an established codeof conduct that dictates the accepted behaviour of law enforcementofficers. Additionally, there are avenues for civilians to launchcomplaints against violations committed against them by the men inblue. However, all these safeguards are unable to ensure properconduct by police officers due to the lack of willing witnesseswithin the force as has been highlighted above.
Fromthe above discussion, it is evident that whistleblowing is not acommon occurrence in the police force. This is because of thebacklash that such individuals would face for their perceivedbetrayal. Additionally, most officers use the principle of ‘theheat of the moment’ to try and justify the actions of theircolleagues. Fear of consequence is another reason why there are nowilling whistle-blowers within law enforcement agencies (Lee, Lim,Moore & Kim, 2013). It is a police tradition for officers toalways look out for each other and all those that go against thisnorm are regarded as traitors and may have a hard time findingsomeone to work with while on duty. There are various factors thathave enabled this culture to prevail and some have been discussedbelow.
Factorscontributing to the prevalence of the blue wall of silence culture
Thegrowth in cases of police violation and the protectionist approachapplied by most of these agencies have been as a result of thefollowing. Firstly, there is the failure to adequately addressethical violations. When policing agencies are acquiring employees,the applicants are subjected to a very robust background verificationprocedure. However, there is a culture of failing to punish thosethat violate the set code of practice. The resultant effect is thatpeople who were good at the time of their recruitment are placed in asystem that is already tolerant to violations, and this makes thempick up new traits such as the unethical use of their powers as lawenforcement officers (Cottler, O’Leary, Nickel, Reingle & Isom2014). The failure to address all ethical violations that occur inthe course of duty make it more likely for new officers to engage inthe practice of police harassment and violation of civilian rights.
Theother reason for the prevalence of the culture is that there is toomuch rigidity and very little humanity. The current structure of mostpolicing agencies is rigid and based on outdated principles and ahierarchical structure that demonise all those that fail to adhere tothe practice. This limits the opportunities to introduce new ideasthat can be used to advance new methods that can be used to solvesome of the issues that lead to misconduct. Additionally, theseindividuals operate in a system where rules are regarded asprejudicial and unfair. Moreover, these rules do not apply to allemployees and thus give a leeway for senior officers to bend therules to their will with no consequences (Lee, Lim, Moore & Kim,2013). This noted, there is also a culture that uproots humanity frommost of the police officers. As a result, they start viewingcivilians as lesser beings with whom they can do as they please.
Lackof training is another issue contributing to the growth of the wallof silence culture in law enforcement agencies. Research has shownthat training in most of these institutions fails to address matterslike discretionary decision making and opt to focus trainees inmatters of driving, self-defense and gun shooting. As a result, thelaw enforcement agencies employ individuals who apply force more thatthey apply decision-making tactics (Knoll & van Dick, 2013). Whenan officer’s first inclination is to use force as opposed to tryingand evaluating the situation, grave mistakes are bound to happen. Theculture takes root in that it becomes acceptable among officers thatin the heat of the moment, one might make a mistake and it is unfairfor them to pay the price of job loss or suspension for somethingthat was beyond their control.
Theblue shield has also become prevalent because of a culture where theend justifies the means. In a society that is governed by laws, thereis a need for due process in the way these regulations are enforced.However, currently, most law enforcement officers operate under thebanner of everything is permissible as long as it secures the resultof ensuring suspected offenders are brought to justice (Cottler,O’Leary, Nickel, Reingle & Isom 2014). This is also madepossible by making law enforcement a competition with everyone havingtheir targets. In such a scenario, employees may interpret that theyare allowed to engage in all manners of conduct as long as they areable to attain what was set for them. Additionally, the insistenceon performance underscores the core values of the justice system. Thework of the police is to ensure law and order prevails and not tomake arrests or ensure convictions. When the two are interchanged,officers are bound to engage in malpractices and thus necessitatingthe protectionist approach.
Theabsence of leadership focus and calls for ethical behaviour alsocontributes to the growth of this unwanted culture. In most placesaround the world, police officers operate in an environment that doesnot insist on supervision, discipline and employee empowerment. Theanalogy is that these individuals risk their lives to safeguard thelives of other members. Though this is true, they should take this asa responsibility and not a privilege. Thus, they should seek toenforce the law by being good examples and not by acting as if theyare above these rules. This contributes to the culture in that anyaction meant to ask these individual to account for their conduct isviewed with mischief, and thus fellow officers make it a point toprotect their own (Knoll & van Dick, 2013). As a result, thepeople who are supposed to be protecting civilians from violatorsbecome either the perpetrators or those protecting the offenders.
Anotherreason for the prevalence of the blue shield practice is as a resultof having a policing workforce that does not mirror the society.Public management principles dictate that a workforce must be arepresentation of the larger community. Thus, there should becorresponding gender, race and demographics representation in theseservices. Attaining this balance ensures that members of the lawenforcement community are not of the idea that there are those thatwarrant poor treatment. Additionally, having a diverse workforceensures that there is a better understanding of the underlying issuesand thus the authorities are able to offer better services. However,the current structure follows a partial strategy whererecommendations carry a lot of influence (Lee, Lim, Moore & Kim,2013). As a result, the pool of possible employees is limited andallows people to form groups which protect all those that areconsidered as targets of oversight authorities.
Thepractice of us-versus-them mentality also contributes to enabling theculture to take root within policing agencies. Research has shownthat most training entities for law enforcement officers advance apolicy of us-versus-them where recruits are made to believe they area unit and all those who are not part of the force are potentialenemies. The result is that the police act in a manner that mandatesthem to pledge loyalty to their fellow workmates before anyone else.The situation has been worsened by recent decision to highlypublicise cases of police brutality especially against AfricanAmericans in the U.S (Knoll & van Dick, 2013). The resultingdemonization of police practise by almost all sectors of the societycontinuously provide cause for training officers to maintain aculture of protecting each other from the wrath of the public.
Lastly,the blue wall of silence has been enabled by the negative outwardsymbol of the organisational practice. Over the last couple of years,police departments both in the U.S. and around the world have beenmilitarised by availing hardware that should only be used whenfighting an enemy force. Imagery is important and when lawenforcement agents are given military grade equipment and allowed touse them on civilian, they start to believe they are a force and nota service. The result is that they begin to engage in the use offorce as is the practice by most militaries and are unwilling to beheld accountable (Knoll & van Dick, 2013). It is important forpolice officers to know that they are servants of the people and whenthey are armed like they are enforcers, drawing the line betweenright and wrong becomes a challenge.
Breakingthe blue wall of silence
Fromthe above discussion, it is evident that the blue wall of silencepolice culture is a major concern for the society. Currently, thereare hundreds of cases lodged against state authorities for violationswhile the amount used to settle such matter continues to rise by theday. This is something that should not be allowed to continuehappening. There are some policies that can be applied to ensure thatthis wall is broken and there is transparency in police conductacross the board.
Firstly,there is a need to change the police culture from accepting publicopinion only when that are being echoed for their heroism (Cottler,O’Leary, Nickel, Reingle & Isom 2014). There is a need to startaccepting collective responsibility for the growing cases ofcorruption and brutality. They should be made to understand thataccepting the consequences of their actions is a way of showing theirlevel of responsibility.
Thewall can also be broken through ensuring that police officersunderstand the realities of the people they are serving. Having abetter understanding of their subjects will enable to be moreinformed and this will translate to enhanced service delivery. Thereis also need to emphasise on the need for police officers to adhereto due process in carrying out their mandate. Their need to floutestablished procedures is a major cause of misconduct which in turnnecessitates other officers to protect their fellow workmates.
Establishingaccountability standards which seek to identify and reward excellentperformers within these services will go far in changing thementality for the need to be violent (Cottler, O’Leary, Nickel,Reingle & Isom 2014). Law enforcement officers will have themotivation to follow due process as they will be rewarded. Lastly,there is a need to overhaul the training of the police to ensure thatnew officers are equipped with skills that make them servants and notenforcers. This will, in turn, ensure better service delivery to thepublic.
Fromthe above discussion, it is evident that the blue wall of silencepolice culture is negatively impacting the way law enforcementofficers conduct themselves. The culture, which calls upon officersto refrain from reporting or testifying against those who violate therights of civilians, has allowed criminal elements within theseservices to get away with their acts. However, the above discussionshows that this wall can be broken. It is therefore upon stakeholdersfrom the different sectors of the society to come together andenforce the suggestions listed above. Doing this will ensure thatthis wall of silence does not turn into a fortress where policemisconduct is allowed. Additionally, it will lead to attaining asociety where all members are subject to the law and violators arepunished accordingly.
Cottler,L. B., O’Leary, C. C., Nickel, K. B., Reingle, J. M., & Isom,D. (2014). Breaking the blue wall of silence: risk factors forexperiencing police sexual misconduct among female offenders.American journal of public health, 104(2), 338-344.
Lee,H., Lim, H., Moore, D. D., & Kim, J. (2013). How policeorganisational structure correlates with frontline officers`attitudes toward corruption: A multilevel model. Police Practice andResearch, 14(5), 386-401.
Knoll,M., & van Dick, R. (2013). Do I hear the whistle…? A firstattempt to measure four forms of employee silence and theircorrelates. Journal of Business Ethics, 113(2), 349-362.