By Tim Dees
Every law enforcement agency with more than a few sworn seems to have a few of these. Teflon cops are the ones that can do no wrong. Personnel complaints filed against them mysteriously disappear, or the internal investigation requires so much time that the complainants and witnesses become eligible for AARP membership before there is any disposition. Off-duty misconduct incidents are immediately found to be unrelated to their professional status.
Despite reputations that cause ordinary officers to experience radio failures when assigned calls with them, they receive one preferential assignment and promotion after another, and their personnel jackets contain nothing but glowing praise, frankincense, and myrrh.
Where I worked, we had a kind of club they belonged to. It was called FONG: the Fraternal Order of Neat Guys. Believe it or not, some of them actually had membership cards. The elite inner circle, kind of the way that Masons become Shriners, made up MOSS. That was the Mystic Order of Secret Stuff (okay, we didn't use the word "stuff"). I never saw a MOSS card, but I suspect that anyone who owned up to belonging would have had to kill me immediately after confessing.
How do these merry, mischievous lads come to be? Most of the time, they attain their status by one of three methods. Sometimes they are the relatives or associates of powerful people that have the capacity to end, or at least limit, the career of an executive of the officers' employer. They can also be people who had the rare fortune to catch one of those same executives in a compromising situation sometime early in their career. Thus, if the executive allows something unfortunate to happen to the favored officer, a police brand of Mutually Assured Destruction (a nuclear weapons doctrine that came to be during the Cold War) would go into effect. And occasionally, the golden boy or girl is a member of an ethnic faction or other perceived underclass who will immediately attribute any disciplinary action to racism or another contentious and reviled motive.
Lord Acton, a historian who lived around the turn of the century (not this one, but the one we finished using a few years back), said "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely." Cops who are not subject to discipline when they act badly are, in essence, absolutely powerful. People depend on cops to bring wrongdoers to justice, and protect them from harm. When the cops are the wrongdoers, and can't or won't police themselves, they're no longer public servants, but rather public masters. That kind of thing goes against everything this country is and was supposed to be about.
More often than not, the non-favored cops are the ones that are most offended by these people. Assignments and promotions that would go to them are instead given to officers that are less qualified and often incompetent. They also resent being slammed for misconduct incidents that are far less grave than those committed by the chosen few. (VERY TRUE!)
This practice is allowed to endure in part because of political pressures, but also because of weakness of character. Cops know, or learn very quickly, that they have to make difficult decisions.
Along with the joys associated with doing things that private folks don't get to do comes the burden of having to do what's right and just, rather than what is convenient and self-serving. It's an element of the public trust. That trust and burden increases as one rises in the organization, despite the attitude of many that think the opposite is true. When the trusted abandon their commission, they should be removed -- quickly. Too often, we get intimidated by what they might do, and go along with the program. Cops are supposed to be courageous, but it's clear that there are different kinds of courage. People who show no fear in taking down a heavily armed felon will quake at the thought of signing a termination letter.
How do we fix this brand of problem? Mostly, it comes from standing up and demonstrating the kind of courage that seems to be lacking. The tradition can't endure without the secrecy. But it has to be based on a value system that everyone buys into. A zealot that takes on the system himself will be identified as a renegade and be dealt with swiftly. The public is less likely to believe that the entire department, except for a chosen few, consists of renegades. Do what's right, get rid of the ones that don't, and everyone -- cops and otherwise -- will be better for it.
Tim Dees is the editor-in-chief of Officer.com. Dees was a law enforcement officer for 15 years
Yes, every Department has these. In my Department, they were known in the old days as "A Golden Boy", or a "Fair-Haired Guy" .
Later that population increased due the Federal Government, especially the office of EEOC, rules (backed up by Court Decrees and decisions) that every Department had to have X number of minority officers, and Y number of Females. At one time, LAPD had no men coming on for almost a year because the Feds had said they had to have 15% women before they could accept another man.
This latter day population is almost bullet-proof from discipline. An action brings a retaliatory accusation, and probably a law suit, alleging A. Racism or B. Sexual Discrimination. Either is a career killer.
Golden Boys almost always went over the line. A great example was Craig Peyer, a California Highway Patrol officer who strangled a female he had stopped.
Craig got to take Media on ride-alongs. Craig got to go to "Ships-at-Sea". (You flew to Hawaii, spent two days at taxpayer expense, then boarded a Navy ship coming back from WESPAC.) You gave traffic Safety lectures on at least two ships per day.
Craig got to pick his days off.
Craig wrote a lot of tickets, producing desired numbers. At that time, Supervisors demanded NUMBERS.[Tickets, Arrests, recovered stolen cars] Each government where a citation is written receives a portion of the fine, so they put pressure on the Governor, who puts pressure on the Commissioner.
You see, since Craig Peyer, the Highway Patrol can not dispose of complaints. All Inquiries ( Complaints, requests for explanations of actions) MUST BE LOGGED Failure to do so, and discovery of that failure results in: A. Your promotion outlook is ZERO. B. You may be subject to Department discipline, probably termination. C. All actions by the "protected " Officer, when people hear the news, against persons, will result in lawsuits. All of those lawsuits will have the Supervisor's name--your name, and everyone in the Chain of Command-- on them.
The result is that EVERY allegation must now be investigated, no matter how trivial or false.
Most Departments will not look at the number of verified complaints, just the total number.
In the Highway Patrol, if you get four complaints in a year, you are sent for two weeks to
"Charm School" at the Academy. That is the first step to firing you, if you continue. If you get four more in a year, you WILL be terminated.