As the former chief executive and elected Sheriff in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I always demanded professional conduct from my officers. It is crucial for the public to have trust and confidence in their law enforcement agencies. I stressed excellence—not perfection. It is important to realize that we are dealing with human beings and thus, the imperfection of the human condition. Like in any aspect of life, people are always going to fall short of what we expect. Your kids, even your spouse, will let you down at times. When in a position of trust like policing, a higher standard is warranted—so is reasonableness in enforcing discipline. Now that you know my standards, let’s review the PC overreaction happening in Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Dallas.
Recent news stories involving police departments include some where officers were immediately removed from street duty on the discovery that they engaged in what can best be described as unprofessional banter on social media. In Philadelphia, 72 officers were placed on administrative leave. That is a lot of manpower to work without when most agencies are already operating short-handed. To me, that puts the city at risk and should only be done if officers are accused of criminal conduct.
Why are these police executives who are terminating officer’s careers, afraid to tell the public the truth? Let’s have an honest conversation. Cops are a special breed. The law enforcement profession is not for everybody. It takes a particular personality to put on a uniform and go out to protect and serve. They risk their lives in service to their community. Over time cops become jaded from all the bad things they deal with daily. Seeing an abused or dead child, a battered spouse, interviewing a rape victim, or seeing a dead body from gunshot wounds takes its toll emotionally and psychologically. Cops routinely develop a coping mechanism way of talking to each other, sort of like locker room banter. Is it crude? Yes. Cops do daily what no other profession expects its employees to deal with and remain sane. Police suicide is on the rise. I wrote about that recently. Maybe the pressures of the profession are affecting this Gen-x and millennial generation of officers differently than past generations. Cops usually only talk to each other in this cop-speak. Most of us who are honest have all said crude or inappropriate things like telling off-color jokes or laughed at them in private circles that we would never utter publicly and if it got out, we would be ashamed and embarrassed. Admit it. Television host Joy Reid of MSNBC was not fired after past homophobic tweets posted by her were discovered. Reid even lied and said someone hacked into her account. The New York Times hired Sarah Jeong on their editorial board knowing she put out racist men-hating tweets.
The activist group, Plain View Project who exposed this, is on a cop-destroying mission. It’s founder, Emily-Baker-White, is a criminal defense lawyer. Suffice it to say she is no friend of the police. The two professions are diametrically opposed. We arrest lawbreakers; she works to get them out. Because she can’t win cases in court, she goes about destroying the character and reputation of police officers as witnesses. It’s an old trick. She no doubt has asked for leniency for many a criminal after conviction and during sentencing. She got a list of officer’s names and went to Facebook to find crude posts by officers. Most of the posts were to friends and family. If she did the same with a list of lawyers, she would get the same embarrassing result. In one post, the Project pointed out that an officer with the city's police department commented on a news article about an alleged murderer, writing, “hang him.” That is cop-speak for, throw the book at him — big deal. I know cops. I served for just short of 40 years.
It is incredibly hypocritical for people to talk about giving criminals, even violent criminals, a second chance, to support restorative justice programs for crooks and to talk about teachable moments when somebody missteps but when a police officer posts something on social media that may be reprehensible, we throw second chance and teachable moment theories out the window. Instead these so-called law enforcement leaders impose what amounts to a death sentence by taking their career and livelihood away from them. Has anyone considered that the cop’s family pays the price too? What did the family do? A cop’s salary pays the mortgage and puts food on the table. This is a PC over-reaction, and nothing more than virtue signaling by those like Philadelphia Commissioner Ross, who said, “I continue to be angered and disappointed by these posts.” Give me a break Commish. You have forgotten what the stresses of street duty can be like. He of all people should know cop-speak and how they cope. It was a teachable moment, but Ross took the easy way out. If these officers had no previous violations of this sort, they should have had written reprimands placed in their personnel file, sent for retraining on how to comport themselves professionally at all times so as not to undermine public confidence, and then they should have been allowed to move forward. Ross should have apologized to the public on behalf of the agency, had the courage to return them to duty and talked about second chances while explaining how cops become jaded. He should remind the community that most officers meet the high standards policing requires. But that would require a little more work, honesty and less pandering. Destroying the officer’s lives over issues where reasonable discipline would best remedy the problem is where I draw the line. They are human beings, who make mistakes, and need to be treated as such. There is no reason to use a shotgun to kill a fly.