The following article is an opinion piece and reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of AllOnGeorgia.
I recently released a 20-part series on the City Brooklet in rural southeast Georgia. Over the last 6 months, I’ve investigated the town’s police department from top to bottom, watched five employees – including a chief – leave law enforcement all together, and more recently, I’ve been scanning the seemingly endless lawsuits that have been rolling in. One of my friends in law enforcement actually called it a “takedown of a criminal regime.”
The series has highlighted a handful of problems I already knew existed in other departments, except that the once shining city on the hill of Brooklet is the glowing example of what’s been happening in the shade of the sewer. It’s been interesting to discuss and the commentary from readers has been enlightening and humorous, but two questions seem to be recurring as I’ve received them more than any other:
- Why does this happen?
- Do you have a distrust for law enforcement now?
The truth is – I get complaints about law enforcement all of the time. As a writer, I have a policy that I won’t write about one exclusive incident but I instead focus on patterns. Brooklet was an identifiable pattern that included a number of bad actors in the agency – probably among the worst I have ever seen and the worst I hope I’ll ever see-…but all of the ‘bad cops’ are gone now, and many of the problems still keep exposing themselves, so what gives?
There are a number of directions I could point fingers, but I want to keep the discussion broad because there’s a lot of lacking leadership in police departments, an issue that should be of concern for the public.
The problems always start at the top – which is why my default blame will consistently shifts to elected officials.
Elected officials, especially at the local level, are so focused on control that they often forget to lead the departments they’re supposed to govern. This desire for power clouds judgment and leads to favors for political expediency which in turn jeopardizes the integrity of the chief and top-level administrative personnel if you don’t have a rock solid, no BS kind of guy (or gal).
When you have administrative leadership in the police department that is willing to play stupid political games, you’re only going to win stupid political prizes. This internal leadership, which governs by example, can foster an environment that breeds transparency, accountability, and community-oriented policing or it can breed an environment that leaves officers misguided, without a navigational beacon, and of the belief that they answer to no one.
We’ll call the leadership that breeds the negative environment “gutless governors”
These gutless governors fail good law enforcement officers and the public by doing a few of these things:
- Meddling and micromanaging. Instead of respecting the hierarchy put in to place to limit political favors, backstabbing, and stepping on toes, these meddlers don’t leave room to learn by experience.
- Refusing to fire bad officers. At some point, it became “a thing” to allow officers who make mega mistakes to “resign in lieu of termination” or simply resign without explanation instead of being terminated. Instead of flagging their permanent record, the leadership just decides to make the officer someone else’s problem and they move on to new departments
- The most egregious failure – the failure by these gutless governors to distinguish to the public the difference between good actors and bad actors. Not only is it important for leadership to condemn officers who violate departmental policy or the law, it’s even more important for them to back the good officers…but they don’t. They leave the good ones out there to fend for themselves, come hell or high water.
These three things seem to be rampant in departments with problems and 9 times out of ten, the officers are unhappy in these environments too. And unhappy officers aren’t good for anyone.
So while law enforcement should be held to the highest of standards in every situation, chastising, stoning in the public square, and running bad officers out of town will never be enough to foster good community-oriented law enforcement agencies. Because failure starts at the top…and that’s the failure that should be criticized.
Many, not all, but many of those frequent ‘police accountability experts’ are the same ones who advocate for every other aspect of policy by which we are governed to be rooted in “the individual” but when it comes to the police, they suddenly forget about “the individual” and want to generalize. I don’t believe in doing that.
So no, I don’t distrust the police and I won’t until an individual gives me a good reason not to.
But I will continue my skepticism of those who lead them…because bad cops can’t function in air tight, politically-balanced, transparent environments.