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Breaking the Blue Code of Silence

Original post made by Police Ethics, another community, on Feb 3, 2010

REQUIRED READING FOR THE TOWN COUNCIL AND TOWN MANAGER. From the Wikipedia article on the "Blue Code of Silence" quoted by Michael Stogner.

Breaking the blue code
A cop-turned-ethicist says it's possible to do away with the "blue code of silence."

Doing away with the "blue code of silence" may seem impossible. But it can done, according to Neal Trautman, executive director of the National Institute of Ethics, a nonprofit organization that conducts training to combat employee misconduct and improve integrity.

The Orlando-based institute recently released a national study — the first of its kind — that not only examines the blue code, but makes practical suggestions on how to abolish it.

"The key," says Trautman, "is to encourage officers to have loyalty to principles, not to each other."

He cites the Idaho State Police Department as one that has successfully extinguished the blue code of silence.

"Officers told me how they would attack new officers with peer pressure if they thought the new officers were committing minor infractions of policy," says Trautman, who taught several ethics courses to the Idaho department. "In other words, it is the reverse of the code of silence. You are the bad guy if you commit an offense in their organization."

Trautman says that over the years he has studied hundreds of departments — their scandals and corrupt officers included — and taught thousands of officers. A 16-year police veteran from Florida, he founded the institute in 1991.

For his report "Police Code of Silence: Startling Truth Revealed," he surveyed about 2,000 participants in ethics training programs.

"About a thousand officers chose not to participate though the survey was absolutely confidential, which says something about the code," says Trautman

About 530 officers said they had witnessed misconduct by another officer and did not report it .

According to the study, excessive use of force was the most frequent act of misconduct shielded by the code of silence; about half of the 530 officers stated that they witnessed this and did not report it. "The reason excessive use of force frequently prompts the code," says Trautman, "is officers have experienced the same thing that caused another officer to lose their temper; they felt sympathy or empathy."

He recalls being spit on by someone he arrested and how his temper flared.

"You take so much grief as an officer, you can understand why someone loses their temper," he says.

Successfully abolishing the code, Trautman says, requires starting with the top brass. When an officer sees that his chief, sergeant — or anyone in a position of authority — condones misconduct that officer will be more likely to tolerate it.

According to the survey, 73 percent of those pressuring officers to keep quiet about misconduct were those with a higher rank, says Trautman.

"That statistic is the most disheartening for me of all the facts we gathered," he says. As long as those in positions of power encourage the blue code, it won’t go away, he adds.

After securing a commitment from top brass to break the code, Trautman lists four additional necessary steps.

• Top brass have to look within their department and determine what created the code. That could be such things as a lowering of hiring and promotion standards, lack of accountability or supervisors who treat officers disrespectfully.

• There has to be positive role modeling: Officers need to see leaders who are ethical;

• Supervisors must look at why officers don’t communicate with them or report misconduct and must create honest, open communication.

• The department must gauge integrity by tracking citizen complaints, abuse of overtime, internal grievances and allegations within civil suits. Tracking these will help determine whether integrity in the department is increasing or not.

Trautman says that many officers across the country made similar suggestions to his surveys when asked how they would do away with the blue code.

"They said they need better communication in their departments; they need to be able to report misconduct without being labeled a rat for the rest of their careers," he says. Officers also said they need "better role models and ethics training," according to Trautman. "They are right on target."

Trautman says that of the 17,000 police officers he has taught, only one has reported feeling far more stress from department leaders than from doing police work.

Trautman is optimistic about law enforcement despite the problems he sees in his training — not to mention racial profiling, the Los Angeles Police Department scandals, the New York Police shooting of Amadou Diallo and other bad publicity for police.

"Law enforcement is ahead of every other profession in America in enhancing integrity," he says. "Our organization began by studying what other professions are doing. And no profession in America has created the training tools, conducted the number of leadership seminars to show leaders how to prevent misconduct and none have future plans to prevent it like law enforcement has."

Trautman says when he founded the institute, he "literally could not give ethics training away." But in the last nine years the organization has created an ethics chapter in every state, hired 22 instructors and still can’t keep up with the demand for ethics training in police departments; it is the largest provider of police ethics training in the country, he said.

"The good news is that serious corruption is totally predictable and absolutely preventable," says Trautman.

Comments (5)

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Posted by road kill
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 3, 2010 at 8:31 am

I have seen with my own eyes Atherton Police behaving badly. I know from personal experience what the Atherton Police Department is capable of. It is not a pretty sight. I am not Jonathan Buckheit.

I believe the Atherton Police Department, perhaps like many law enforcement agencies has adopted a bunker mentality. Something akin to "you are with us or you are against us".

Mr. Stogner's article reinforces this impression.

I find this bunker mentality out of place in a community where a typical 911 call is as trivial as a solicitor from a local charitiy appearing on one's doorstep uninvited.

It also appears from the comment of True Blue in another Town Square discussion thread that the Atherton Police Department doesn't think much of the people whom they sworn to protect and serve. Rather the Atherton Police Department feels empowered to arrest anybody at any time for any reason, valid or not, with the belief that their actions will ultimately be justified.

Each member of the City Council should realize that it is dealing with a very dangerous animal in the form of the Police Department. It is a police department drunk with power.

Each member of the City Council should be aware of the fact that if they ever witness misconduct on the part of a police officer, they will have to choose between speaking up or becomming road kill.

As the saying goes, power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Like this comment
Posted by e.grimley
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Feb 3, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Although what is posted above by 'Police Ethics' (with a little help from Mr. Stogner) is enlightening, one should read the "Truth about Police Code of Silence Revealed - By Neal Trautman, Ph.D., February 2001, in its entirety. At the end of this article, he writes:

"Organizational Culture
The most powerful means for transforming the organizational culture of a law enforcement agency into an atmosphere that is consistent with employees embracing loyalty to principle above all else is a
combination of leadership, role modeling and training.

Role modeling by the chief administrator must come first, for what a chief or sheriff actually does is what informal and formal leaders use to decide whether they will support any attempts to improve the culture.

In addition to the fact that a chief administrator must regularly state and demonstrate expectations of the highest level of integrity from all employees, they must hold other leaders accountable to do the same."

In defense of the officers who have served the Atherton residents with the utmost professionalism over the years, you should ask yourselves if this 'study' only pertains to those wearing the uniform. Is it possible that the term 'Chief Administrator' could be synonomous with 'City Manager?' Could Trautman's phrase "...they must hold other leaders..." possibly refer to Council Members, Committe members, Crime Task Force members, as well?

Go back to the mid 90's when the Town Council (et al) closed its eyes and ears to the unethical practices of its Chief and City Manager, which led to the embarassing newspaper articles, personnel issues, allegations of misuse of the law enforcement computer system, voter fraud, misappropriation of funds and the subsequent lawsuits, settlements, etc. that resulted. That's when the corrective action needed to take place. But it didn't. Enter another outside (interim) Chief and (interim) City Manager (who basically hired himself), with neither one having any long-term allegience or loyalty to the Town.

Any wonder why these blogs continue to roll on and on and on......even into 2010. Although the police department may need some 'remodeling,' the 'foundation' could certainly use some retrofitting as well.

Good Luck!

Like this comment
Posted by scholar
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 3, 2010 at 5:16 pm

E. Grimley is right.

The concept he is referring to is what some call the tone at the top.

The sad truth of the matter is that Mr. Gruber's predecessor Mr. Robinson lacked the assertiveness to take the bull by the horns.

Mr. Robinson turned a blind eye to what was happening in the PD because Mr. Robinson lacked the support of the City Council.

As was the case with Mr. Robinson, Mr. Gruber appears to lack the support of the Council to take on the PD.

Unfortunately the history of Atherton is a web of inappropriate personal relationships between City Council members and Atherton Police Officers of both senior and junior ranks.

Until such time as the City Council expresses support for reforms in the Police Department it would be unreasonable to expect that any city manager with a family to support would defy the wishes of his master and take control.

For decades Atherton city managers have been emasculated and that seems to be just fine with the Council.

Like this comment
Posted by black and blue
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 3, 2010 at 5:34 pm

The council does not emasculate it's managers.
It hires eunuchs to begin with. This is the one thing they can all agree on--and allows them to continue as usual

Like this comment
Posted by Sheriff Ray Nash
a resident of another community
on Feb 14, 2010 at 2:49 am

[Post removed; unoriginal statement from another Web site]

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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