What Awaits Conscientious Police Officers when They Try to Protect the Public from Loose Cannons in Their Midst

Another day, another news story about police brutality. Except this time, it is cop-on-cop violence. The headline reads: “New York Cop Was Fired and Denied Pension for Trying to Stop Fellow Officer from Choking Suspect.” The title left out “punched in the face” which is not only the description of what actually took place physically but a fitting metaphor for the way the police department treated an honest and courageous officer who was only doing her job.

Officer Carol Horne of the  NY Buffalo Police Department was responding to a call for backup when she discovered Officer Gregory Kwiatkowski punching and choking the already handcuffed and subdued suspect. When he refused to heed her request to stop suffocating the suspect, she attempted to physically unpeel his arms from around the suspect’s throat. Officer Kwiatkowski responded by punching her in the face, breaking her nose. Shortly after, Officer Horne was let go of her job and is currently involved in legal dispute over her pension being blocked.

This is the reward good cops have to look forward to, when outing or interfering with their criminally violent colleagues! All the while, their criminally violent colleagues continue to thrive and enjoy social benefits with little to no repercussions. In case you were wondering what was the penance paid by Officer Kwiatkowski for this incident – he was quietly ushered into early retirement, but not until he lost his temper and attacked two more police officers on two separate occasions.

A thorough inquiry into the incident conducted by a local journalist, suggests that entrenched favoritism and deep and wide running family ties seem to contribute much to the unshakability of the web of corruption running through some police departments such as that of Buffalo PD. When everyone in the department is everyone’s cousin or son-in-law, one can imagine, it becomes very easy to succumb to the slippery slope of tribalism-over-public-interest mentality.

In large cities where tight-knit blood relations are not as insular, politics are still the name of the game, only on a larger scale. Tribalism takes the form of the fraternal order of the police and the unspoken conspiracy of silence about the numerous skeletons in the closet of its oldest and most “connected” members. The internal hierarchies in such organizations can be very powerful, far-reaching and intimidating. Police officers learn, sooner or later, that pointing fingers at one’s “own kind”, even with good reason and to uphold the law, can lead to very negative consequences.

Not only direct interference or whistle-blowing but the simple refusal to participate in questionable activities performed by the group can land an officer in hot water with his / her own department. This was the case with a California State University officer who was fired for refusing to use his stun gun on a mentally distressed, potentially suicidal student, after he determined that such force was wholly unnecessary. Three other officers at the scene used two stun guns on the victim and, subsequently, got the officer fired for allegedly “freezing” on the job. This, after an unblemished record of a 20-year service.

This brave officer’s refusal to be complicit in the brutality of his colleagues cast the shadow of doubt on the “rightness” and acceptability of their actions and this must have made them very uncomfortable and angry. Some authoritarian types see themselves as above the law and are wholly unprepared to “look bad” or to be held accountable for their behavior. 

The Justice statue adorning every courthouse in this country has its eyes bound for a reason: if you are emotionally or financially invested in something or someone – because you “owe” them or because you care about them deeply or because you want them to like you or because they know something about you that you don’t want exposed – you cannot be trusted to make a fair judgment call in a case involving this thing or person. The term “conflict of interest” comes to mind but how do you avoid such things in organizations built around blind loyalty and the stigmatization of dissent?

Unfortunately, some officers of the law do it all the time, some by acting out of line, others by protecting those acts by shrouding them in silence or lies. So do some prosecutors. And so do some judges. And so did the CIA: by turning the blind eye to the rampant, sadistic torture taking place in counter-terrorism detention centers, the agency demonstrated the same unspoken condition of “I cover your ass on the contingency that you cover mine – or else!” operating behind so many police departments.

What is it going to take to put an end to this authoritarianism? How can we effectively affect the overturn of these quasi-feudal, dynasty-driven syndicates at the core of the organization charged with protecting all of us but, in the end, serving the interests of very few? But they are not just self-serving, they are criminally abusive against the very populace they are supposed to take care of – and anyone who gets in their way.

Sad but true: our police system is overrun with thuggery. Some of its members have the egos of small-time warlords. They do not only infringe upon the rights of civilians. They exert their power to choke out any attempt by other honest, law-abiding-and-upholding police officers to hold them accountable for their illegal dealings and violent (in the case of Officer Kwiatkowski – psychopathic) behaviors.

In this climate of fear and intolerance, being a “good cop” takes more than just doing the job – it requires innate courage and willingness to submit oneself to very negative attention from “the brotherhood” and the very real threat of losing one’s job (and pension!) and having one’s career derailed for good.

Thank goodness for those good officers who stick their necks out for their principles and the oaths they took to uphold the law and to protect the public. They deserve our utmost gratitude and support because it is hard enough to fight crime “out there” in the streets but it gets damn near impossible to do the job when the enemy dwells within one’s own camp.