Reiman’s colleagues apparently believed his use of force against the 16-year-old was excessive. If they worked as hard to hold a fellow police officer accountable as they might have done against a non-cop with his reputation, could the incident have been prevented? Cops can be most loath to protect and serve the public when it requires ratting out a colleague. And Reiman’s brother was the mayor. Who wants to risk their career?
In short, standing up to Reiman seems to have required more courage than his colleagues possessed. Getting a cop with huge statistical red flags and citizen complaints off the street took a lawsuit, local journalists willing to investigate, a witness, newspaper coverage, and dash-cam video. The failure, however, is not only on the officers who failed to act; it also rests with society at large, which does not much value courage when it manifests as cops blowing the whistle. And policing culture can be especially vicious toward those it dubs “rats.”
The nature of that viciousness is echoed in this case by the telling language that Reiman’s defense attorney chose to attack the cops overheard criticizing his client:
Joseph Reiman’s attorney, Charles Sciarra, said in a statement Friday, referring to the police heard in the videos, that these “officers are known malingerers who slow roll to calls like they did on this one, and are cut from the same cloth as the officer in the Florida school shooting who stayed outside the building while those kids were slaughtered.”
Sciarra also called on NJ Advance Media to name the officers so the attorney could “review their pitiful arrest numbers and lack of law enforcement activity as well as their agenda.”
In this telling, to be courageous as a cop is to deploy force quickly and often; to be a cowardly cop is to use force slowly and seldom, no matter whether the context is declining to stop a mass murderer or not rushing to pummel an unarmed 16-year-old. By the attorney’s explicit account, those two kinds of cops are “cut from the same cloth.”
Like the priesthood and the Boy Scouts of America, police departments will always attract some of the very best and very worst adults in the country: The many who want to protect the vulnerable, even at risk to themselves, and the few who want to brutalize the vulnerable and know that some jobs afford unusually good opportunities. For that reason, every police officer should be as bound—morally, legally, and culturally—to report bad behavior as a teacher who learns of a child molester.
But while legal and departmental requirements and repercussions vary, most Americans are not acculturated to demand that cops zealously police their own, to condemn cops who see something but don’t say anything, or to celebrate cops who flag abusive colleagues. Whistleblowing cops are heroes, for little is more dangerous than a criminal who is armed not only with fists and guns, but with a badge.