In a recent case I had as an expert witness a good, proactive, cop working an undercover anti-robbery detail had a suspect point a pistol at him and his partner. The officers reacted as they are trained and evidence showed they used the appropriate level of force to apprehend the offender (Objectively Reasonable to the letter). As a matter of fact the officers could have used far more force, up to and including lethal force. It was surmised by the victim officer and his union representative that the immediate supervisor and a detective sergeant created an excessive use of force incident, when there was none, so that the self-serving supervisors could then be hailed as heroes by the administration for getting rid of what they construed, in their own minds, as a problem officer. The victim officer lost his job for nearly a year and is currently living off credit cards to feed his family while the union fights the charge in the last stage of this battle.
This episode highlights very important issues faced by all officers. I've listed them below for simplicity sake:
- Get real. Understand that the psychological desire of self-preservation far exceeds any brother-in-blue, thin blue line, I am my brothers keeper garbage that has become embedded in our police culture. Good Internal Affairs investigators know that when investigating a case where the Code of Silence is stone walling them they look at that crack in the wall which is usually the one officer who is smart enough to recognize they have the most to loose. Exploit that crack and the investigators are in. They now have a cooperating witness who wears a badge.
- If you are fortunate enough to have a union, take an active part in constructing your contract. My experience has shown that very few officers work on the contract during contract season. That means a few are making legally binding decisions that affect all. Once the contract is ratified most officers only want to know only what their pay raise is. They throw the contact in some file cabinet and rarely look at it. By the time they need it, in terms of a grievance procedure, it's too late. Deadlines have been missed, procedures not followed, etc., the case that could have been won has been lost due to a technicality.
- If your union representatives loose focus of whom they are supposed to protect then get them out. Smart administrators will identify tough union reps as the first persons they want to promote. By promoting them, they now become part of the command staff, essentially switching sides. Too cozy of a relationship between a union representative and the command staff is not good for the union body. I'm not saying they have to be adversarial everyday, but they should not be spending a whole lot of quality time together. You know what I mean.
- Enhance your own knowledge by collecting professionally published policing articles, criminal justice white papers, court rulings, newspaper stories or anything that you can use to go on the offensive if needed. Theoretically our justice system provides for the accused to be assumed innocent until proven guilty, but behind the closed door of the commanders office the officer venturing in there will be met by members of the command staff who have already formulated their opinion that the officer is guilty as yet charged. They are now simply seeking a confession or admission. If you have your ducks lined up in a row it will be an uphill battle for them instead of you. Trust me, you want to be on top of that hill when attacked instead of trying to climb it.
- If you do not have a union, or even if you do but it's a weak one, start slowly building your defense fund. Most good labor attorneys charge around $250 to $350 an hour. Sometimes it will take your personal attorney to get the union officials to do their job protecting you. Why? Politics. Slowly build up your cash reserve in the event you need additional funds. Use the tithing system. Whatever you make on an extra job or overtime take 10% of those earnings and place them into a separate account. Overtime you will have immediate cash in the event you need it to protect yourself legally. If not, and over the course of your career not needing that fund, then when you retire go take those funds and buy that piece of retirement property you always dreamed about.
My point here is simple. Be prepared. You know times are getting worse. Police officers have to contend today, almost daily, with what decades ago you would only have seen in horror films. The media, greedy politicians and those with a whacked out agenda are targeting the police for more reasons than we can identify. If you decide to stay in this profession, as I have, become a realist, which starts with coming to terms with the fact that those closest to you on the job are not necessarily good for your health. Compile information to protect yourself and establish a funding mechanism as a back-up plan if needed. I believe that in no other time in the history of American Law Enforcement have police officers needed to defend their very existence than now.