Police Have an Obligation to Report Their Colleagues

A video recording caught a Chicago officer harassing a Chinese-American while on duty—and her co-workers are responsible for speaking up.
Swanksalot/Flickr

Police officers are being recorded as never before. As a result, there has been an increasing number of documented cases of misconduct. YouTube is filled with instances of abuse that never could've been corroborated without video and audio footage. Watching those videos, it quickly becomes clear that misbehaving police officers often openly perpetrate their misdeeds with colleagues standing right there. Other officers present at the scene may not participate. But neither do they report the misconduct when they get back to the station.

In those cases, keepers of the "Blue Code" should also be punished. For an example, in Chicago, police raided a massage parlor owned by a naturalized immigrant of Chinese origin. She's an American citizen, though the behavior of the officer would be just as inexcusable if she weren't.

A transcript:

Police Officer: You’re not fucking American! I’ll put you in a UPS box and send you back to wherever the fuck you came from!

Owner: I’m a citizen, OK?

Police officer: No you’re not! No, you’re not a citizen! No, you’re not! No, you’re not! You’re here on our borrowed time. So mind your fucking business before I shut this whole fucking place down. And I’ll take this place and then whoever owns it will fucking kill you because they don’t care about you, OK?

I’ll take this building.

You’ll be dead and your family will be dead.

As a spokesperson for the Chicago police department would later acknowledge, "The alleged conduct and comments are reprehensible and completely intolerable." If you look at the video, you'll see that several officers witnessed the comments:

Did those present report their colleague's behavior? Or would the department never have known about it, but for the recorded footage and the victim's lawsuit? The answer is still unclear. But this is exactly the sort of case where a failure to report misconduct could be verified, and where it ought to be punished. When an officer's bad behavior is unambiguous, letting it go should itself be a serious infraction. The punishment should be severe enough to end the Blue Code going forward.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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