Over the last several years, there has been a huge surge in hatred and distrust directed at law enforcement. That sentiment has recently culminated in protests across the country, and in recent months, a huge increase in unprovoked assaults on officers around the country.
One of the cries I often see repeated by those denigrating my profession is that cops protect their own, no matter what. I can’t count how many times I have read “why don’t good cops turn in bad cops” on social media and in reader comments on “news” sites lately. To anyone who knows better, that mantra is not worth the digital paper it was typed on.
As most cops will tell you, we (cops) dislike dirty cops more than the public. Dirty cops not only besmirch our profession, they destroy the trust that the public has in law enforcement as a whole. The old marketing axiom holds true in public service just as it does in retail, an unhappy customer tells everyone about their experience, a happy customer tells almost no one. The people who are either wronged, or unjustly think they were wronged, are always much louder than those happy with their service. That is just a fact of life.
I have been doing this job a long time, and from personal experience, I know the “cops don’t rat on other cops” line is nothing but hogwash, but what can I do to try and convince the average person who does not have my knowledge base. Well, in an effort to spread the truth, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to my own department regarding internal affairs complaints. What I specifically requested was the number of complaints over the last five (5) years, and whether or not they were substantiated. But beyond those simple numbers, I asked to have the numbers split between public complaints filed and those filed internally, you know, the cops who cover for dirty cops.
If you were to look at just the statistics from public complaints, it would most certainly look like we were protecting our own due to the massive percentage of unsubstantiated complaints. It would still somewhat have that appearance if you were to just look at the total number of complaints as a whole. But what I find most interesting is not only the number of internal complaints, but the significantly higher percentage of those complaints being substantiated. Internal affairs complaints, filed by other deputies occurred an average of one third as often as complaints filed by the public, yet they have a 2,500 percent better chance of being substantiated (50 percent substantiated for internal complaints vs. 2 percent for public complaints).
When looking at the complaints filed by the public, you must consider that anyone can file a complaint about anything they want. In all seriousness, most of the complaints filed by the public are because people feel they were disrespected by an officer. They are angry with how an officer spoke to them or looked at them, and so they file a complaint, and not surprisingly, most of those complaints are not substantiated because they don’t violate any laws or policies. Cops are not out here to be touchy feely, or to make you feel better about screwing up. If we are in your life, it is usually because you did something wrong and some people, no matter how politely you tell them, do not like being told they screwed up.
On the other hand, look at the outcomes of the internally filed complaints. Not only is the number of complaints as a whole a fairly large number when compared to publicly filed complaints, but the substantiated percentage is much higher. What that tells me is that 1) “good cops” are in fact NOT “covering for bad cops” and 2) when a cop files a complaint, they do so more often because of a legitimate reason and not because their feelings or sensitivities were hurt.
Now, here is the kicker. The information I provided above should actually be common knowledge, yet the public has no clue about it. Let me explain why I say that. When I submitted my request for this information, I was informed it would be no problem to gather the information I was looking for because the department already compiles these exact statistics. I was told that the local news sources, both print and television, request this information every year, yet for some reason, the information that I listed above never seems to make it out to the public, which leaves me wondering just what the “real news” folks are doing with it.