Why Do Police Abuse Their Power?

Former Seattle Police Chief and LEAP member Norm Stamper has a great new article at Huffington Post discussing police brutality. Chief Stamper is a gentleman and an outspoken advocate for criminal justice reform (he's on the Board of Advisors for Flex Your Rights), but there was a time when he was a tough-guy cop who didn't always play by the rules:

So, why did I abuse the very people I'd been hired to serve?

Not to get too psychological, I did it because the power of my position went straight to my head; because other cops I'd come to admire did it; and because I thought I could get away with it. Which I did -- until a principled prosecutor slapped me upside the head and demanded to know whether the U.S. Constitution meant anything to me.

It comes down to this: real cops, those with a conscience, those who honor the law, must step up and take control of the cop culture.

It's an important point. Bad examples from other officers, bad incentives from the department and, of course, the constant pressure of the job itself all contribute to police misconduct. There's nothing surprising about any of that. What I have a difficult time understanding is the tendency of police officers who obey the law to look the other way when their colleagues do not.

The answer might not be any more complicated than the fact that police literally depend on one another for survival. Not unlike the criminals they pursue, police adhere to a strict code of silence and those who break the code are left wondering if back-up will arrive the next time they put in a distress call.

Nevertheless, the very notion of police covering for one another's misdeeds shocks the conscience and perverts the role of law-enforcement in a free society. Sure, I get it that police have to watch each other's backs, but something is seriously wrong in police culture if officers who expose crimes within the department are treated with contempt by their peers. Police misconduct erodes public trust and serves to undermine the public safety function of law-enforcement on every conceivable level. It's deeply appalling that a climate of hostility could exist within law-enforcement towards those who expose misconduct rather than those who engage in it.

As Chief Stamper argues, it is up to police officers who are serious about protecting the public to step forward and confront those whose actions undermine the profession. If you can drag bad guys off the street every single day, there's no reason on earth you can't take down crooked cops who break the law right in front of your face.