Mark Draughn over at the Windy Pundit blog just pointed out something that was remarkably insightful.
If the “Broken Windows” concept works on society to reduce a culture of lawlessness, then why don’t the police use it in their disciplinary process? Why do we tolerate petty misconduct from police, where it inures our senses to gross misconduct?
This is not a revolutionary concept. The late Jack Maples, part of NY Police Commissioner Bill Bratton’s staff during his first tour had the right ideas about this issue. Maples wrote that:
The [police] leader must back the cops when they’re right, train them when they make mistakes despite good intentions, and hang them when they betray the public’s trust.
Jack Maples & Chris Mitchell, The Crime Fighter: How You Can Make Your Community Crime Free 244 (2000).
Maples was a firm believer that you had to take corrective action against the police, as well as criminals if you wanted to make an impact. He also understood that while officer safety was important, it was not the most important part of police work. He said:
At the end of the day, the public’s safety is paramount. Strike that. At any time of the day, the public’s safety is paramount.
Id., at 239.
Mark, at the end of his self-named rant (I would disagree that it is a rant), says:
If “broken windows” works, they should try it on cops. Maybe if they prosecuted the crap out of these cops and hit them with truly pants-shitting prison sentences, it would discourage the NYPD’s culture of lawlessness.
This post was picked up by Scott Greenfield (Simple Justice), who expanded on the theme. Scott correctly notes that it is Bratton’s job to make sure that the police treat the public with respect, not to lecture the public on what they need to do in order to make things better for the police. Scott points out that if Bratton really believes in the Broken Windows theory, then he should apply it first to his own department, not to the public.
Scott is completely right on this, but I sincerely doubt that Bratton will see it this way. He’ll look at it just like the San Antonio Police Chief, William McManus, looks at it. It’s OK to beat an innocent man because he fell on his hands. He’s firmly bought into the first rule of policing and has completely disregarded that the safety of the public should come first.
I suppose I’m lucky that I wasn’t the one taking pictures, as I probably would have been killed in the encounter. Let me explain. A plainclothes officer comes charging at me with an angry look on his face and something in his hand? I’m drawing my Kimber. It’s what I’ve been conditioned to do after twenty years as a police officer, and what many others are likely to do in the same situation. The two SWAT officers show up shortly behind the plainclothes officer, and I would probably be shot. But for the sake of argument, lets say that did not happen, but that I shot the first officer and surrendered to the uniformed officers.
Would McManus have the same viewpoint, that he did not see anything wrong here? It’s still a case of mistaken identity, it is just that his officer suffered the brunt of the encounter.
Fortunately, McManus is leaving the job, to take a retirement security director gig and to take care of his new kittens.
The problem is that police administrators do not see the disconnect, can not see it. It takes an innovator, someone like Jack Maples, someone who is willing to shake up the system, to address this issue. It means teaching new officers that yes, it is vitally important for them to go home at the end of the shift, but it is even more important to protect the public, to make sure that that they go home safely.