The code of silence must be broken

Self-preservation is a strong motivating force when it comes to the mob, and that’s why those who snitch to the authorities are called rats.

Turns out, on the opposite side of the fence, law enforcement has the same code of loyalty, which means officers are not supposed to rat out the bad guys in the cop shops.

And therein lies part of the solution to the rash of police brutality cases, according to someone who has been there and done that.

Before he was elected Macomb County executive, Mark Hackel watched his daddy, Bill, who ran the county sheriff’s department. When the old man retired, the son won the job — and he learned a lot.

He’s watching all the bad behavior these days and offers this bit of wisdom: “All too often, we get angry, where you want to get physical right away, because somebody is not listening and paying attention, (but) you don’t have the right to punish somebody for their actions and behavior. That’s the courts that decide that punishment.”

And his advice flows out of that notion: “We need more attention to rhetoric and persuasion, using your words and not the physical.”

With all due respect to Olivia Newton John, his mantra is, “Let’s NOT get physical” right out of the chute.

Mr. Hackel argues that, as part of a cultural change to reduce overuse of force, the profession itself has to look inward and examine the aforementioned self-preservation, sometimes referred to as the “code of silence.”

The three officers in Minneapolis who stood by and did not intervene when their partner was doing what he did to George Floyd would be exhibit A. If it weren’t for the video, who knows whether those three would have ratted out the officer leaning on Floyd’s neck?

He had trained the three of them — and had 20 citizen complaints lodged against him.

Mr. Hackel has an example a little closer to home. He alleges that the former Macomb County prosecutor, Eric Smith, refused to investigate cases of suspected police brutality for fear it would upset the sheriff’s department. And Mr. Hackel later on turned Mr. Smith over to the state attorney general to investigate his alleged misuse of office funds. As a result, Mr. Smith stepped down and was charged by the state.

“We need to step up and challenge that type of behavior,” Hackel said. “The system tends to protect itself, and, when it does, some say, ‘I’m not going to act, because I could be ridiculed for that.’ We need to respond and hold our officers accountable for what they are doing … We’re not here to protect our own. We need to weed them out.”

Mr.Hackel concludes that it’s no wonder the citizenry has little confidence in law enforcement, which appears, in some departments, to be more interested in covering their own behind rather than protecting yours.

That’s why he supports the elimination of “qualified immunity,” which basically says that, if an officer violates standards, they can’t be held accountable. If the same notion was applied to the general public, everyone could break the law and no one would be prosecuted.

For himself, he contends, “I would not be afraid of that (removing the immunity) as a peace officer,” but it’s a good bet that others in his former profession might conclude that he just ratted them out for not feeling the same way.


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