As a Law Enforcement Officer for 25 years and 13 years as a Union Delegate, I have assisted in the passing of state legislation for rights and benefits of Correction Officers. As I stated in earlier writings, law enforcement unions play a distinct role in the protection of labor rights and benefits for families of union’s members against the interests of those that employ those members.
However, when labor rights are used, as a cover for blatant criminal acts of violations of civil and constitutional rights of citizens by law enforcement, there can be problems with the inherent conflict of interests. Some will argue it’s still in the union’s interest to act in ways that help the employee succeed. Others will say that covering for possible crimes and constitutional violations are ultimately more detrimental to their members in the long run with lost of integrity, respect and cooperation with those they have sworn to protect.
In the highly publicized New York City Mayoral race, Democratic candidates are being criticized by Police Unions for proposing legislation for an Inspector General. Inspector General perform investigations to help ensure that agencies are following the law; to identify waste, fraud, and abuse; to find deficiencies in agencies’ programs that limit the ability to achieve their mission; to recommend corrective action; and to ensure appropriate transparency and oversight.
According to the Amsterdam News, there have been, “224 people killed by police in New York since the killing of Amadou Diallo”, who was killed by 41-bullets, fired by four undercover NYPD officers in 1999. In 2012 alone, NYPD killed 21 people, averaging nearly two killings a month. The same stats show that nearly 90 percent of those killed were Black or Hispanic. New York has a history, dating back to the 1940’s, that Black officers in plain clothes or off-duty have been shot at, shot, or killed by their white counterparts. There have been 27 incidences in New York like this that have accrued and it has NEVER happen in the reverse.
Westchester County has not been immune to these types of incidences. The killing of Detective Christopher Ridley put the spotlight on the need for better police training, oversight and embedded racial issues within many police departments and communities of color in Westchester County. After the Ridley incident, there was questionable police shooting and conduct in the cases with victims like; DJ Henry, NYPD Sgt. Kisseidu, and retired Correction Officer Kenneth Chamberlain Sr.
In the DJ Henry case, the federal deposition of Mount Pleasant Police Chief Louis Alagno and Lt. Fanelli has exposed the “Modus Oporandi” of the police departments in covering up deaths of black men. According to the Federal Depositions, theses two law enforcement officials not only generated false reports but Police Chief Alagno made false statements to the press concerning the actual incidents that led to the shooting of DJ Henry. As in many cases before and After DJ Henry, nobody has been charged criminally and nobody has gone to jail for a death of a Black man.
Cases like these constantly remind me of the Dred Scott v. Sandford case, an African-American slave named Dred Scott had appealed to the Supreme Court in hopes of being granted his freedom based on his having been brought by his masters to live in free territories. Supreme Court Chief Justice, Robert B. Taney famously wrote, believed that blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. With the constant government sanctioned killings of Black men by police, there is no law to protect or stop this holocaust.
Families of law enforcement, like regular civilian families whose loved ones are shot, shot at, or killed are subjected to the Police Union rhetoric of blaming the victim. Weeks after the killing of DJ Henry, Pleasantville Police Department and its Police Benevolent Association gave the shooter, Officer Aron Hess, the “Officer of the Year Award”.
What acts of kindness and goodness was committed other than he killed a young black man in whom the circumstances are still in dispute? What message does this send to the wider community, the black community and to the family that is grieving? After millions of dollars of legal fees, judgments and settlements, not one law enforcement union has yet to offer any proactive solution on how we can stop this epidemic, even when one of their own have been killed.
In the case of Eric Garner— Black man killed by NYPD. The NYPD PBA President, Pat Lynch responded harshly to the accusations of his officer violating policy that lead to the death of Eric Garner. Black Law Enforcement Professionals throughout the state of New York was outraged. According to the group of active and retired officers, PBA President Pat Lynch inflammatory remarks has been nothing less than professional when dealing with the death of Eric Garner, the family and supporters call for oversight and accountability of those who claim to protect and serve. What message did PBA President Pat Lynch send to family and friends of victims of possible police crimes and what is most important, what message does PBA President Pat Lynch send to dues paying Black Officers of the NYPD that any given day, a friend, family member or they themselves could be a victim of a possible police crime?
In examining Christopher Doners infamous “Manifesto” brings back chilling memories of what many good officers have witnessed but are too afraid to report. A good officer reporting police crimes and abuse becomes a target and outcast. In many cases, police management and elected officials cover many dirty deeds of a few bad apples by going after the officer that reported the dirty secret or what they call the “leak”. In many cases some are outcast or fired. Many black officers have faced the “Doner Scenario” for just standing up for what’s right in their department and in their communities. It’s a shame that even an officer standing up for justice is labeled “Anti- Cop” and this is why many officers, both black and white stay silent today.
In his 2005 book “Breaking Rank: A Top Cop’s Exposé of the Dark Side of American Policing”, former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper explains the implicit threats that make the Blue Wall so successful: “You have to rely on your fellow officers to back you. A cop with a reputation as a snitch is one vulnerable police officer, likely to find his peers slow to respond to requests for backup—if they show up at all. A snitch is subject to social snubbing or malicious mischief, or sabotage. The peer pressure is childish and churlish, but it’s real. Few cops can stand up to it.”
The Mollen Commission reported in 1994, that NYPD department’s leadership and Internal Affairs Bureau were found to be looking the other way while the police trafficked weapons and sold protection to drug dealers. The commission’s central recommendation was that the city create a strong independent body to monitor the police remains, as relevant today, as it was during that scandal nearly 20 years ago.
The Mollen Commission Report also noted, “Police unions and fraternal organizations can do much to increase professionalism of our police officers. Unfortunately, based on their observations and on information received from prosecutors, corruption investigators, and high-ranking police officials, police unions sometimes fuel the insularity that characterizes police culture.” The conclusion of the Mollen Commission was that the report identified a conflict of interest for the unions, which protect the interests of individual officers and promote the larger interests of their members, finding that. Ironically, “the PBA does a great disservice to the vast majority of its members who would be happy to see corrupt cops prosecuted for their crimes and removed from their jobs.”
Many officers believe in integrity of the law and the protection of the community as a whole, according to their oath. It must be a revolutionary change in the mindset of the individual officer to change the embedded blue wall culture that has disintegrated the respect of transparency and integrity with the law enforcement officers as well as the community that they claim to serve.