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.


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 3 Oct 2016 @ 1:23pm

    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'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2016 @ 1:27pm

    If you're a cop who doesn't publicly call out bad cops...

    ...you're a bad cop.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 3 Oct 2016 @ 1:38pm

    John Oliver is my hero! :)
    And kudos to his staff of researchers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    I.T. Guy, 3 Oct 2016 @ 1:44pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    dogwitch (profile), 3 Oct 2016 @ 2:01pm

    love this show

    i do like and do as much ad for it to all my friends and online.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    It's so if you say so, 3 Oct 2016 @ 2:06pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Padpaw (profile), 3 Oct 2016 @ 6:20pm

      Re:

      The sad fact is there are more piles of evidence showing police misconduct and outright criminal acts with no accountability for said acts, than of police doing their jobs lawfully.


      I am not talking media I am talking about regular citizens who record this and usually get beaten up or murdered for daring to record the police.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      mhajicek, 3 Oct 2016 @ 10:31pm

      Re:

      Here's a better apple analogy. There's a barrel of 100 apples. 99 of them won't kill you. Would you like an apple?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2016 @ 2:14pm

    At this point I'm afraid the only rational response to assertions that it is only a few bad apples is "Citation needed"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Kaemaril (profile), 3 Oct 2016 @ 2:20pm

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

    Love to. Unfortunately 'The uploader has not made made this video available in your country.'

    Cheers for that, Last Week Tonight.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Kaemaril (profile), 3 Oct 2016 @ 2:22pm

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

      Nuts. One 'made' too many. Oh well. You know what I mean.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 3 Oct 2016 @ 2:35pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Padpaw (profile), 3 Oct 2016 @ 6:17pm

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

        Canada is nearby and we don't seem to be embracing the culture of the police are gods who can do no wrong.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        MrTroy (profile), 3 Oct 2016 @ 8:52pm

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

        I know you were aiming for funny, but you hit closer to sad but tr... actually, just sad.

        You also missed the perfectly reasonable option of waiting until the copyright owner decides to make the content available in the relevant parts of the world (ie- never).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        @b, 4 Oct 2016 @ 3:40am

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

        Their facebook page let me view that vid (from a phone web browser, and without logging in).

        Geoblock tried and geoblock failed.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2016 @ 2:21pm

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

    Are you saying it should read:
    John "Oliver" has now taken on police accountability -- the second word of which should always be enclosed in scare quotes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    I.T. Guy, 3 Oct 2016 @ 2:22pm

    7:25 - A perfect example of the Brotherhood at work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 3 Oct 2016 @ 3:48pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Thad, 3 Oct 2016 @ 4:57pm

    He didn't even point it out when, in the next segment, the Wells Fargo ethics video used the same damn "bad apples" cliche.

    (I guess he didn't have to; I heard the audience laughing at that line without him needing to call any attention to it.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2016 @ 5:26pm

    The United States is a police state.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2016 @ 5:44pm

    Oh, boy, Whatever's not going to like this at all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Plod, 3 Oct 2016 @ 6:27pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2016 @ 7:11pm

    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.

    What is up with TD rapidly devolving into leftists regressive biasm?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2016 @ 7:19pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 4 Oct 2016 @ 7:21am

      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"?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Wendy Cockcroft, 5 Oct 2016 @ 5:56am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2016 @ 7:36pm

    if he can where he is, i bet george carlin watches oliver.
    and i bet he nods and smiles if he can.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2016 @ 7:47pm

    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...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 4 Oct 2016 @ 7:23am

      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?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Whatever (profile), 4 Oct 2016 @ 2:53am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 4 Oct 2016 @ 4:52am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 4 Oct 2016 @ 5:33am

      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?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 4 Oct 2016 @ 7:25am

      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.


      That is all of the police.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2016 @ 8:52am

      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?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2016 @ 9:26am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2016 @ 5:40pm

      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?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Berenerd (profile), 4 Oct 2016 @ 5:45am

    To use a political statement...

    If you have a bowl of grapes and 3 are poisoned, are you going to eat the grapes? (The GOP used skittles but its the same idea) They want people to trust the police but we can't trust people fleeing violence even though its the same thing only we know the police are armed and will more than likely get away with it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    me@me.net, 4 Oct 2016 @ 5:58am

    Also: forcibly disband police unions

    They might as well be the mob

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 4 Oct 2016 @ 12:59pm

      Re: Also: forcibly disband police unions

      Pretty sure the mob is both more trustworthy and less prone to violence, as random meaningless violence is bad for business, and they're in it for the money.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2016 @ 12:46pm

    The uploader has not made the video available in your country.

    Why? (UK)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      drew (profile), 4 Oct 2016 @ 2:03pm

      Re: The uploader has not made the video available in your country.

      Yeah, I got that too. Because...


      ... I dunno. Why in the name of all that's holy would you do that? Am I going to go and buy some kind of HBO cable deal just so I can watch that clip? What are they trying to achieve?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: I Invented Email
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.