It may be an extreme example, but picture this. A young co-pilot sees the fuel gauge is nearing a dangerously low level, but he doesn’t want to interrupt the veteran pilot who’s in the middle of telling a war story he’s told maybe a hundred times before. Fearful of angering him, the young pilot does nothing and the plane crashes just shy of the runway. Or, an intern in the middle of an emergency surgery notes that the gruff formidable old surgeon has left a forceps in a patient’s abdomen and stitched him up…and out of fear, intimidation or worse being, banished from his internship if he says a word. Three days later, the patient doesn’t wake up. Or, how about the veteran officer who smells alcohol on a fellow cops breath day after day after day and chooses the route of monkey no see, monkey no hear, monkey no smell. One day, the alcoholically-challenged officer doesn’t report back at the end of his shift because not only he, but also the mother pushing the baby carriage are dead, courtesy of a drunken cops vehicular negligence. Oh, and did I add…the baby in the carriage is dead, also.
It’s all the vicious and ongoing cycle of fear based lack of reporting, the critical subject of our new training program produced following the death of George Floyd. When three younger officers did precious little to get veteran officer and trainer Derek Chauvin off Floyd’s neck. Is it fear of intimidation, fear of being branded a rat fear of angering, or perhaps alienating a veteran officer who is breaking the rules? It could absolutely be all of that. Even fear of suddenly losing backup on an emergency call because you’ve been branded permanently as a cop not to be trusted. Or even being branded such a pariah, you may well find yourself ultimately out of a job. Line of Duty Technical Advisor Sergeant Mark DiBona says it could be all of the above, but times they are forever changing. And if a fellow officer has broken the rules, has committed an unpardonable breach of training of ethics, integrity. You are absolutely just as culpable if you do not report it.
“If you see an officer verbally abusing or physical abusing a arrestee, a member of the public, a coworker or whoever, you’re just as liable as that person by not reporting it. And you’re going to be subject to punishment also. Or do you use the word punishment or discipline. You’re going to be, you’re going to be subject to discipline also. Now again, I go back to my old school beliefs. You know, we take care of each other. You don’t see things going on, but we gotta be held accountable. You are going to be held accountable. If you see employee misconduct, if you see somebody slapping somebody around, if you see somebody MF’in somebody, if you just stand there and don’t do anything about it, then you’re just as guilty as the person that’s doing it. And some people may say, that’s wrong. Some people may say that’s right. But I think if you read that in your general order, is that you say I don’t want to get in trouble. I don’t want this in my file. I don’t want to be disciplined. I don’t want to be suspended. I don’t want to lose my job. I don’t want to be arrested. So I think it’s, it’s not a scare tactic by any means. It’s just black and white and that’s, that’s the world that we live in right now. So I think that needs to be in bold letters that you are accountable for other people’s actions if you know, intervene, when you see something’s wrong or something that you perceive as wrong.”
“When we read our general orders, we used to have to electronically sign them and say we read them and we will abide by them. So here’s the officer’s back. I just read this general order. It’s a, it’s a general order that I said I will abide by. And I signed and said, I will do it. What else can I do? I have to do what I’m paid to do. Every profession has rules, you know, every, uh, you know, there’s a certain amount of French fries that go into the McDonald’s box. You just have to follow the rules. That’s it. You can’t, you can’t bend the rules. You can’t throw a curve ball or something like that. Now I’ve heard this before. Well, rules are made to be broken. Well, I don’t necessarily agree with that. No, not at all. But you have to understand that when you sign up, when you raise your right hand to say, I solemnly swear, I want to be a police officer. I want to do this. I want to do that. Well, there’s ethics that go with that. There’s morals that go with that. And just general orders that go with that. And if you can’t follow those, especially in this day and age, if you can’t follow those, this is probably not the right job for you.”
As for you sergeants, you are in charge of the troops under you. You are also guilty of vicarious liability. If you don’t deal with problems and problem officers, and it is you who will quite likely have to answer to the bosses and occupy a potentially very hot seat.
“Now I’m going to say something to the sergeants and supervisors. There’s a thing called vicarious liability. You know that this officer is not up to par. Whether it’s shooting, they’re not up to par, driving, they’re not up to par with the illegal updates or the bottom line, they’re just not a good cop. That liability falls back on you, that you have noticed a deficiency in that officer, such as the alcohol, like I said earlier, okay. You chose to ignore that because you don’t want to have that difficult conversation or you just don’t want to look like the bad guy. Well, when you sign up to say, I want to be a Sergeant, that comes with it. I used to tell new sergeants this all the time, whether you supervise two people or you supervise 30 people, every person that you supervise, you’re responsible for them, you are responsible for their actions 100%. And that is tough. That really, really is tough. So when you see it, somebody that’s out of control, that’s not that good of a cop. That probably shouldn’t be a cop cause this job, not for everybody, then it’s time to have that talk. And it’s tough. It truly is. I’ve had that talk with people. It’s tough. I’ve had talked with officers. I’ve said, honestly, you may want to think about another career. This, I don’t think this is for you. I truly don’t. When I was a training officer, when I train brand new officers out of the Academy, there was plenty of times that we were parked in a parking lot, going over things. And I said, you might want to reconsider your career. Most times it would piss them off. They would cry. They would be upset. But I said, I am not going to sign my name on this piece of paper saying you are, you are responding to training. We have to think about liability. There’s a lot of things that we had. There’s a lot of these things that go on behind the scenes that we don’t know about such as vicarious liability, liability, ethics, morals, and this job law enforcement, as you know, I did it for 33 years. It’s not an easy job. You’re in the business. You know. You’ve seen things that you, you probably went, Oh goodness, are you kidding me? Yeah. You know, it’s a tough job. It, in my opinion is probably one of the toughest jobs in the world. And like you said about Dr. Dennis, if he left a scalpel in somebody’s belly and the guy standing next to him, the doctor, nurse, or tech, whoever chose not to say nothing cause he was intimidated. That’s that’s not good. That’s that’s that’s not, not good at all. ”
“It’s like, um, I don’t know if you watch Bar Rescue on tv. There was an episode a couple of weeks ago with a guy goes in, the cook, goes into the freezer and he takes out this frozen meat that had mold and is getting ready to cook it. And the host, Jon Taffer went out of his mind and ran into the restaurant, started yelling and screaming. You can’t serve to somebody. You’re going to kill somebody with this mold on their food. Kudos to Jon Taffer for saying, Oh no, no way. I don’t don’t serve that food. And I use this line all the time. You have to have that difficult conversation because I know I’ll say one more thing, Ron, if you don’t mind, if something goes bad. I mean, use me as an example, me as a Sergeant, okay. Something goes bad on scene or I signed off on the response to resistance and I don’t agree with it, but I signed off. Cause I don’t wanna look like the bad guy, all of a sudden, now there’s a lawsuit. There’s an internal investigation. And I’m standing in front of the chief or the sheriff. He’s going to say to me, why’d you sign off on that? And guess what? I’ll probably be looking for a new job also. Or at least the minimum was lose my Sergeant stripes or lose or lose my job or whatever. So it comes up, there comes a time and a place.”
It’s Special Issue 52 from In the Line of Duty ‘Fear-based Lack of Reporting/ What Every Cop Needs to Know’ available now for our Line of Duty subscribers, simply log in or for others, the full length program, including a trainer’s guide lesson plan tests and certificate of completion is available as a video download or DVD from our online firstname.lastname@example.org. Are you prepared to do the right thing if duty calls? Thanks very much for listening. I’m Ron barber and that’s Stuff You Never Ever Learned at the Academy.