The Blue Wall of Silence stands between corrupt officers and the public
By: Dee Wampler
The “blue wall of silence”, known as the “blue code” or “blue shield”, denotes an unwritten rule that exists among a tiny minority of law officers not to report a colleague’s errors, misconduct, or crimes. If questioned about an incident of misconduct involving another officer, the officer being questioned would claim ignorance, sometimes known as police perjury or “testifying“, if the officer gives false sworn testimony.
An extremely small percentage of officers may engage in discriminatory arrest, physical or verbal harassment, or selective enforcement of laws in order to protect or support fellow officers. Although their actions are grounds for suspension or immediate dismissal, they believe in an unwritten law of “police family”.
Federal laws strictly prohibit officer misconduct, although U.S. Supreme Court decisions assert the general rule that officers must be given the benefit of the doubt that they acted lawfully in carrying out their day-to-day duties.
“Cop culture” has resulted in a barrier against stopping corrupt officers. The unique demands placed on officers such as threat of danger as well as scrutiny by the public, generates a tightly woven environment conducive to the development of feelings of loyalty. Whistle blowing is rare with a low number of officers coming forward.
The “objective reasonableness standard” is used bringing attention to the facts and circumstances of each particular case including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight. Regarding the amount of force that is legal, such mistake must be apparent to a reasonable officer if he is going to be entitled to an immunity defense. This doctrine of “qualified immunity” reflects a balance that has been struck.
A primary goal of law enforcement is to instill public trust. But some police scandals keep the public wondering if police can be trusted which calls for more civilian review boards and other external oversight mechanisms.
The Federal Civil Rights Division of the DOJ is given authority to investigate and initiate civil litigation to eliminate a “pattern or practice” of misconduct by officers. This conduct includes excessive force and racially discriminatory practices especially when officers’ misconduct is outside the “standard operating procedures”.
Although ultimate responsibility for proper and ethical behavior lies with the individual officer, police supervisors may share some of the ultimate responsibility.
Officers can be sued civilly especially when they engage in “deliberate indifference” from inadequate training or supervision. Officers are always subject to civil lawsuits who act “under color” of law and deprive a person of their rights, privileges, and immunities under the Constitution and federal and state laws. This subjects officers liable to the injured party for civil deprivation of rights.
Along with the police misconduct, any programs or activities in whole or in part with federal funds shall be discontinued if the Attorney General determines by civil action that discrimination or non-compliance occurred.
Saucier v. Katz, 533 US 194 (2001).
Jerome H. Skolinick, “Corruption and the Blue Code of Silence,” Police Practice and Research, Page 7-19 (September 2001).
Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 102 S.Ct. 2727 (1982).
42 USC 14141; 42 USC 3789d(c)(3).
International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. U.S., 431 US 324 (1977).
Monell v. Department of Social Services of New York, 436 US 658 (1978).
City of Canton v. Harris, 489 US 378 (1989).
The Police Chief, Volume 70 No. 11, November 2003; 42 USC 1983, commonly known as a “1983 Action”.
42 USC 3789(d).
Dee Wampler – learn more
At the Law Offices of Dee Wampler & Joseph Passanise, Dee Wampler draws from more than four decades of legal experience in defending clients accused of an array of crimes throughout southwestern Missouri, including Springfield, St. Louis and Kansas City. As a Springfield native, Mr. Wampler understands the nuances of the Missouri court system, but he is an equally formidable criminal trial attorney in high-profile federal cases involving serious charges. His work has earned him recognition across the country and even internationally. Several nationally syndicated television shows, including “Saturday Night with Connie Chung,” “Inside Edition” and ABC’s “Primetime” have featured his cases, and Missouri Lawyers Weekly has showcased his work approximately 20 times.