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.