Living in a country of laws, one would think those who enforce the law would be held to an equal, if not higher, standard of conduct. It makes sense that in order to retain credibility, law enforcement officers must be made to conform to the very laws they enforce. Officers who commit a crime or explicitly break the very laws they are sworn to uphold should be as severely punished as an average citizen. Unfortunately, this is hardly the case.
On April 17 of last year, Seattle police received a call reporting a robbery outside of a nightclub. The suspects were described only as young, Latino males and officers were dispatched to the scene immediately. Shortly thereafter, eight blocks away from the reported incident, several officers detained a group of Latino men. Within minutes, six squad cars of the Seattle Police Gang Unit pulled up to secure the three individuals, two of whom were not even suspected of being involved. The police forced the men to the ground, face down, while police detective Shandy Cobane verbally abused them, telling one of the innocent men that “I’m going to beat the f***ing Mexican piss out of you, Homey!” Cobane then stomped on the man’s head as he lay face down on the cement.
Fortunately for the innocent men suffering this atrocious abuse of power, someone was filming the officers' brutality. This landed Cobane in deservedly hot water with the community, but unfortunately not with the law.
Last week, after over a year’s worth of investigation, the Seattle Police Department let Cobane off with what was basically a stern warning, suspending him for 30 days without pay before fully re-instating him to the police force. This is how a department with the policy that racial slurs “will not be tolerated and [are] unacceptable at all levels” punishes an officer who physically and verbally accosted an innocent man, based on no reasonable suspicion of guilt other than ethnicity.
Last year, Chicago officer John Ardelean was cleared of all charges stemming from a 2007 accident in which he killed two people while driving drunk, despite video evidence of him taking shots at a bar just minutes before getting into his car. Further evidence that Ardelean called his fellow officers, requesting their help to cover up the incident before officially reporting it, was suppressed. This caused the state to refuse to appeal the ruling. The kicker? Ardelean never lost a day’s worth of work or pay; he was never suspended or punished beyond being put on desk duty.
As accountability becomes less common, examples like this are becoming more and more prevalent. Police officers' lack of liability creates a culture of superiority and entitlement that spills over into the unbelievable. Just last week, San Francisco police officers were accused of running a brothel in the district they were supposed to be patrolling, using their badges to shut down competing brothels in the area. As long as the police are allowed to regulate themselves and make a mockery of accountability proceedings, this disgusting level of abuse is bound to continue.
Officers should see their service as a privilege and an honor, not an entitlement. Law enforcers are given the highest power of the state — the power over life — on the assumption they will be responsible and better society. Certainly, these police officers are in the minority of hard-working law enforcement personnel, but officers who protect their colleagues who break the law are no better than the transgressor. By giving every officer who commits a crime a slap on the wrist and a “don’t do that again” warning, police departments nationwide are effectively complying with criminal abuse that would put an ordinary citizen in jail for decades.
Without just punishment there can be no deterrence. Once the police stop remembering that they serve at the behest of the people, there can be no end to law officers' abuses or their sense of entitlement.
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