Although this sounds like a great setup for a punchline, this represents a legitimate question, and an interesting thought exercise.
In the early 1990s, the Boy Scout movement reeled over the revelation of Scoutmasters physically, emotionally, and sexually abusing the boys to whom they were supposed to be providing leadership and guidance. Although we can generally accept that any time we have a large group of people in whom we entrust such great responsibility there will be a couple bad apples; the Scouting movement lost much of its credibility due to the manner in which they handled the incidents. As the story went on, the public discovered these problems existed for years, and perhaps most damning was that the scouting organization totally lacked an effective method of weeding out the bad apples initially, as well as a robust mechanism for reporting problems for avoiding additional abuse.
The reputation of the scouting movement as a whole took a huge hit through the process. “Scoutmaster” became a running joke. Membership and money going into the program plummeted. A once beloved American institution became the butt of jokes on late night talk shows. Before sending their children to scouting events, parents legitimately began to question the safety of their sons.
The actions of a few bad people tarnished the reputation of literally millions of people who volunteered through the years, truly believing in scouting values. Even with new rules and regulations in place, and two decades after the crises exploded into the mainstream, the scouting movement still feels the sting from their loss of trust.
Lucky for the Scouting Movement, a new scandal broke a few years later, taking away the public focus. This one dealing with Catholic Priests abusing the young men and boys in their churches. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church initially followed a similar path to the Boy Scouts, in that they too did not effectively screen their Priests ahead of time, nor have a robust system of following up on allegations of abuse. The leadership of the church simply shifted those who were accused between assignments, with an apparent disinterest in confronting the matter directly. And the Catholic Church saw the same results that Scouting did. A significant loss of confidence. Whereas a church should represent a sacred and trusted place, parents began to wonder how safe their children would really be.
Much likes Scoutmasters, most Priests are good honest people who make a life-long commitment to God and their fellow man. And these men again paid the price for the actions of a few.
Today, our law enforcement professionals travel down the same path. I know several police officers personally. They are good, honest, and hard working people. They put their lives on the line daily (although statistically, their job isn’t nearly as dangerous as they believe), do it for low pay, and treat the public with respect. These types people represent the vast majority of police officers: law enforcement professionals, and true public servants. Unfortunately, as most readers of this site know, some police officers choose to abuse their authority. These officers harass, intimidate, and threaten the public. They introduce violence into non-violent situations. Frequently, this results in property damage, injury, and death. Although these bad officers are problematic, the real problem is the systems in place that tolerate these abuses. Most police departments have internal investigation units, but police officers investigating their colleagues leaves room to question the objectivity of these investigations. Prosecutors rarely bring charges against officers for assaulting members of the public. Courts generally accept an officer’s word as the truth. These broken systems allow the bad officers to flourish in a climate in which they behave unprofessionally, or even violently, with little risk of consequence.
Police fill a vital role in our society. Our communities are filled with people who pose a danger to themselves, and their neighbors. Communities rely on their police to remove those individuals from society for everyone’s safety. In a jury trial, the word of a police officer proves instrumental in removing violent criminals from our streets and putting them in prison. If the actions of a few bad police officers tarnishes the reputation of their colleagues everywhere, will juries begin to doubt police testimony? How many murders, thieves, and vandals will be allowed back into society; simply because the actions of a few calls into question the integrity of the whole?
Both the Boy Scouts, and the Catholic Church learned from their lessons. Their lack of systems to prevent, or report abuse led to their loss of credibility in the eyes of the American public. Unfortunately, law enforcement heads further down the same path with every camera they confiscate, every innocent man they assault, and every lie they tell. Once they lose the trust of the American people, it may take generations to regain. Governments must act now to put in place appropriate measures to screen out and discipline the bad police officers, in order to keep our trust, and ensure our safety.
This post was sent to us via email and the author wanted to remain anonymous. I don’t exactly agree that ‘bad’ police give the rest a bad name, it’s more that the institution of policing forces police officers to do bad things, like enforcing drug prohibition. What do you think?