John Oliver Takes On Police Accountability And The Colossally-Stupid 'Bad Apple' Defense

from the 'good-apples'-pretty-much-unicorns dept

John Oliver has now taken on police accountability — the second word of which should always be enclosed in scare quotes.

The whole thing is worth watching (of course) but the key bit is his skewering of the constant, incoherent twisting of an old adage by police officials and supporters when attempting to portray police misconduct as an outlier, rather than the everyday output of an insular, overly-powerful culture.

“It’s just a few bad apples…”

But the original adage isn’t an excuse. It’s a warning.

“A few bad apples spoil the barrel.”

And that’s exactly what has happened. Officers — sheltered by extra rights, less-than-strenuous internal investigations, policies that allow for the destruction of discipline records, civil immunity, revolving door policies that allow “bad apples” to infect new law enforcement agencies — basically answer to no one.

In rare, rare cases, police officers have been convicted and jailed. But this is usually the end result of outside pressure or behavior so repulsive and toxic the agency housing the officer can’t bring itself to defend them.

As Oliver points out, when officers are caught committing criminal acts, they’re often given the option to resign rather than face an investigation. In other cases, they’re swiftly cleared of serious charges and allowed to desk job their way back into their old positions.

Until recently, the DOJ and FBI expressed zero interest in compiling data on police use of force — to say nothing about regular, non-deadly police misconduct. Years of neglect have resulted in a data gap, with private citizens picking up the government’s slack to produce more credible numbers about civilians killed by law enforcement officers.

Slight movements toward better accountability have been spotted, but in general, most policies meant to add accountability have met stiff resistance from police unions, police departments, and legislators who seem to believe good, non-abusive policing is less effective than cracking skulls, seizing cash, and ensuring every officer makes it home for dinner — no matter how many people they have to kill or injure to achieve that goal.

It’s gotten to the point where it’s absurd to hedge remarks about bad cops by saying “most police officers are good” because there’s simply no data out there to confirm that foregone conclusion. At best, most officers are indifferent: not evil, but unwilling to make any effort to rein in those that are. The culture of law enforcement encourages the ousting of good cops, as any officer that would step up to stop misconduct or deployment of excessive force is viewed as untrustworthy.

True accountability is still a long ways off. Small steps are being made but even these tentative movements are being heavily contested. A full overhaul is what’s needed to fix this in the next several years. Unfortunately, that’s an impossibility, so we’ll have to work with what we’re given. The first step in any major change is admitting there’s a problem. And, as John Oliver points out with his “bad apple” commentary, most law enforcement agencies haven’t even reached that point yet.

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Comments on “John Oliver Takes On Police Accountability And The Colossally-Stupid 'Bad Apple' Defense”

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52 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Only a few... at first

Another problem with the ‘only a few bad apples’ argument is what happens, or doesn’t happen next. If you get a few (literal) bad apples you remove them to avoid spoiling the the rest, you don’t just shrug and say ‘well, there’s only a few of them, no big deal’.

Likewise, while there may have only been ‘a few bad cops’ at first by not only leaving them in but protecting them the rest become rotten as well, such that while only a handful may be obviously ‘bad’ on the surface they are all rotten, with the ‘good’ in the minority before they get ‘tossed out’.

I.T. Guy says:

Sorry but it appears that the “bad apples” here are the leaders of the bunch. Bad apple, no problem. Just let them resign and move to the next basket. This isn’t a few bad apples rising from the bottom. I don’t believe that recent police academy grads go into the job with this attitude. Like all green cops they want to do good for the community. It’s once they get in the brotherhood where they realize the rules. My Wife’s cousin… a PA state cop. I was thrilled when he announced he was going to be a state cop. FINALLY… finally one of my peers is actually going to do some good. Well fast forward 10 years and my conversations with him now are with a different person. Last time he talked about how he would have thrown the book at a kid that took a joy ride in his parents car. I had to remind him how much trouble he got in when caught joyriding his parents car. Not by the police mind you. The cops brought him home in a cruiser and told his parents where to find the car. They also explained the amount of trouble he could have gotten in had they… well had they been assholes. Luckily for him they weren’t and decided it was not worth ruining a kids life when the parents should handle it.

He got all puffy and said “That’s different.” I said How? Of course he couldn’t answer, and I really wanted to say it’s because you are an asshole now. But I walked off to get a drink and let it go. There is no reasoning with someone that thinks no matter what they do it’s ok but when others do the same it’s wrong.

Cops may want to change the system from within, but once in, it’s them that gets changed.

There are no good apples left. They all protect and lie for each other.

It's so if you say so says:

We’re in a completely data-free environment here. Is police misconduct going up or down? Do the police do a better or worse job of protecting people? Is racism getting worse or better? Media is paying lots of attention to police brutality/misconduct and from where I sit that’s a good thing. We have many more anecdotes of bad acts by police — though much of this is still overlooked, and also, not infrequently the reports don’t give the whole picture and even sometimes are unfair to the cops. Here, someone’s taking a cliched metaphor and first using it on the police side to try to say that there are only a few “bad apples” in the police force, and then so say, if you leave “bad apples” the whole thing will get rotten. It’s not a basket of apples. It’s an important question that really deserves much more attention and study than superficial opinions based on strained metaphors.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: "The whole thing is worth watching (of course)"

Well, only one thing to do then: Move to a different country. It’s the only sensible response to a perfectly reasonable act such as geo-restricting, and surely being able to watch something that those in the ‘acceptable’ countries can see for free is worth the minor costs of moving countries and all that entails.

David says:

Remember this at the Jury Box.

They are right, the cops do get a presumed greater weight of their testimony. Maybe it’s time that stopped. Next time a cops video camera stops, we should give his testimony possibly less weight than the defendant (who is still presumed innocent). Next time a cops testimony doesn’t match up with other facts, the doubt goes to the defendant.

Trust is earned. Make them earn it back again.

Plod (user link) says:

More cameras

Use of body-worn cameras sees complaints against police ‘virtually vanish’, study finds

Year-long study of almost 2,000 officers across UK and US forces shows introduction of wearable cameras led to a 93% drop in complaints made against police by the public – suggesting the cameras result in behavioural changes that ‘cool down’ potentially volatile encounters.

Justbeinghonest says:

Re: Re: More cameras

Yes the cameras do work to deter police from acting up. I cannot tell you how many times we did a Copwatch action and once the cops knew they were being watched their whole demeanor changed to a more cordial respectable encounter. Hopefully there will be some real accountability coming

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m not against police accountability, but John Oliver is nothing more than a shill for the Establishment.

If you want facts, then go to copblock.org where they dish out the facts on a daily basis.

Everything that is wrong with our current generation of law enforcement is not because of a lack of accountability, but rather the fact that they’re hiring an entire generation that was trained, in the Middle East, to treat all civilians as potential threats. I mean, even the latest BLM riots are based on a Black cop shooting a black man yet they’re still purporting it as a hate crime…Sheer insanity!

On another note, what is up with TD rapidly devolving into leftists regressive biasm?

I come here to read original and unbiased articles but lately, I’ve been getting dished pseudoliberal rehashes of other pseudoliberals.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Everything that is wrong with our current generation of law enforcement is not because of a lack of accountability, but rather the fact that they’re hiring an entire generation that was trained, in the Middle East, to treat all civilians as potential threats.

Police departments are hiring almost exclusively people who got their training in the middle east? Where did you get this information? Or should I say “information”?

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Infowars?

I love how these mad conspiracy theorists come dashing in here all a-froth, shouting out their fact-free declarations, and in case we’re in the least bit incredulous, they shore their statements up with epithets.

Protip: your opinions have more merit when they’re backed by provable, checkable facts. And there’s no need for name-calling. Most of us don’t bother to subscribe to particular political orthodoxies because they don’t work out for us in practice.

Anonymous Coward says:

So where’s all the news coverage of whites getting shot by police? Sure, there’s ‘bad apples’ every where, but according to the latest statistics, 10x more whites get shot and killed by cops than blacks, so why is all of this such a race issue? If anything, Caucasians have more of reason to start a WLM movement than blacks since statistics have shown that whites are more easily convicted of murder than any other ethnicity because of these racial stigmas.

And this is in despite of the fact that most of the victims that Oliver listed, were shot by either black cops or a combination of black and white cops…Under a Black Commissioner, Black Mayor, and to top it all off, a Black President.

I fail to see where this is a race issue and not an issue with the vetting process at academies and how cops are brainwashed *cough* I mean trained…

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Sure, there’s ‘bad apples’ every where, but according to the latest statistics, 10x more whites get shot and killed by cops than blacks, so why is all of this such a race issue? If anything, Caucasians have more of reason to start a WLM movement than blacks since statistics have shown that whites are more easily convicted of murder than any other ethnicity because of these racial stigmas.

Got any references for your statistical claims?

Whatever (profile) says:

Giggles

More giggles courtesy of Techdirt and one of their current faves…

Let’s toss out the bad apple defense. So now, when a pro basketball player does drugs, we know that EVERY DAMN ONE of the rest of them are druggies too. Murder? Indict all of them!

Holding all police responsible for the acts of a few is silly. Trace the bad acts down to the people who support, tolerate, and encourage them and punish them – don’t punish all of the police.

I would expect crap like this from the extreme left.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Police, pro basketball players, same thing right?

Let’s toss out the bad apple defense. So now, when a pro basketball player does drugs, we know that EVERY DAMN ONE of the rest of them are druggies too. Murder? Indict all of them!

Really, I wasn’t aware that any time a pro basketball player got caught doing drugs or murdering someone the other players, team managers/owners and pro-basketball union(s) made a habit of supporting them, either by staying silent and pretending nothing happened, voicing their support more directly, and/or pressuring those that exposed the drug use/murder to quit for not being ‘team players’.

I also had no idea that prosecutors and judges treated pro-basketball players drastically different than anyone else, giving them special considerations such that even getting past the grand jury stage is an extremely rare occurrence because the prosecutor often has no interest in bringing charges. Or that pro basketball players were allowed to employ in-house ‘internal affairs’ to investigate any accusations of drug use or murder, such that it rarely even reaches that point.

Or that pro basketball players can simply resign/quit rather than facing charges.

Or have disciplinary records scrubbed after a year and a half, such that anything that happened two or more years past effectively didn’t happen at all as far as the record is concerned.

When police unions stop trying to justify the inexcusable as not only no big deal but completely acceptable, even to the point of fighting to get the rare cop that violates the rules/law to the extent that they managed to get fired re-hired…

When one of the near mythical ‘good cops’ reports misconduct by a fellow officer and gets a commendation for it rather than harassment and pressure to quit…

When police start pushing for transparency and accountability rather than against it…

When stories of police misconduct/abuse of power are consistently followed by denouncements of such by other officers, their superiors and unions…

When the above becomes the norm rather than the rare anomaly then I might buy the ‘only a few bad apples’ joke of an argument, but at this point it’s pretty clear that the barrel’s rotten through and through, with ‘only a few good apples’ still in before they get thrown out by the rotten.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Giggles

More bullshit, courtesy of whatever and his friend trolls!

It’s like copyright abuses, right? All exceptions! Exceptions that happen everyday, almost every time the MAFIAA sends some dmca notice. But alas, exceptions!

Bad apples may be a defense when it’s about very isolated incidents and the ‘bad apples’ are tossed out. It’s clearly not the case. But hey, let’s twist and distort the things to defend the establishment, no?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Giggles

Trace the bad acts down to the people who support, tolerate, and encourage them and punish them – don’t punish all of the police.

Totally agree – let’s start with NOT allowing them to investigate themselves for a change. Are you on board with that?

Because seems like the police always seem to look at the bad apples and agree nothing was wrong.

Would you afford a criminal the same privilege?

Or is it just because you can’t fathom a cop ever doing something wrong?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Giggles

You regularly hold the Internet and other groups responsible for the acts of a few. What makes the police so special? Because they have badges and guns? Right, the same knuckleheads who quiver in their boots and refuse to do their jobs if they see so much as a smartphone.

Real upstanding community you’re rooting for here. Par for the course for Whatever, authoritarian lapdog.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Giggles

Punish? Every time bad acts are pointed out you do nothing but complain. Cop flashbang a baby? Oh, but doing proper restraint and investigation is too hard and will encourage criminals to hold babies as shields! Cop shot an unarmed man? Oh, but the mobile phone obviously looked like a gun and the fact that they might be punished makes cops nervous, obviously the idiot deserved it!

Piss and moan, bob and weave, that’s your definition of punishment.

“Trace the bad acts down to the people who support, tolerate, and encourage them and punish them”

So in other words… you?

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