The Blue Wall of Silence

The Blue Wall of Silence

The blue wall of silence, also known as the blue code or blue shield, is an unwritten rule among police officers that prevents them from reporting their colleagues' errors, crimes, and misbehavior. When a colleague is accused of misconduct, police officers read from the same script and choose not to expose them. As a result, justice is not served since police officers witness their colleagues committing crimes but do not report them. Misbehavior among police officers is thus rewarded, while professionalism is discouraged (Kleinig, 2001).

Whistleblower Cops and the Blue Wall of Silence

Whistleblower cops are shunned and intimidated by the police force. Police officers who blow the whistle on their superiors in the department face retaliation. There are significant numbers of police departments that promulgate this unspoken rule. However, the majority of the police officers do not uphold the blue code. There are some analysts that state that the blue wall of silence does not exist and is a myth. However, most police agencies acknowledge they face it and work towards improving the quality of the police service to the community. The concept of the blue wall of silence is quite complicated (Skolnick, 2000).

Factors Contributing to the Blue Wall of Silence

There are two factors contributing to the notion of the blue wall of silence. First, some police departments have been known to treat whistleblowers harshly, either intentionally or unintentionally. Kyle Pirog, a 16-year veteran of the Bedminster Township Police Department is a classical example. Officer Pirog accused officer John Dapkins of targeting minorities at traffic stops. According to documents obtained from the court, these accusations were also echoed by other officers. Pirog also claimed that officer Dapkins committed perjury so as to obtain a search warrant from a judge and lied on a police report. Pirog voiced his concerns with his superiors, but the superiors failed to address them. Pirog then took his concerns to the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office. When word got to his superiors, Officer Pirog was demoted, suspended for three months without pay and faces termination depending on the results of an ongoing Internal Affairs investigation. The civil suit filed by Officer Pirog is still pending in court.

The second and most damaging factor is the extent to which police departments go to rehabilitate, retrain, and retain rogue officers. The most prevalent behavior within police departments is to retain or transfer officers after they commit violations. This happens frequently as the department prefers to retain rogue officers and retrain them, rather than have them part ways with the department. Politics at the workplace also play a significant role in retaining rogue officers. There have been cases where officers have been retained and sometimes promoted after numerous complaints by fellow officers have been filed. There are instances where the department reprimands bad cops and sends them to remedial training instead of firing them. The department then finds ways to retain the rogue cop, irrespective of the policy violation they committed. Other instances involve officers who are well connected politically. They commit reckless policy violations, but instead of being fired, the department transfers them (Skolnick, 2000).

The Impact of Smartphone Cameras

Whenever indefensible evidence emerges showing an officer's misconduct, police chiefs stick to the script, claiming that the case is a rare one. Smartphone cameras are, however, capturing an endless stream of bad cops exposing the extent of institutional denial. Police departments still struggle to be transparent and professional in this day and age. The majority of police officers protect and serve the community professionally; however, there is an alarming number of people still being victimized by cops. Analysts say the driving force behind recent national discourse on police misconduct isn't the increase in the number of incidents, but the surge in the number of incidents caught on camera by civilians.

The Culture of American Policing

Most police officers are not racists, not even bad people. What is so troubling is the culture of American policing which does not encourage the work of good cops when policing bad cops. Contrary to expectations, the American policing do the exact opposite, they leave the community at the mercy of unprofessional and violent cops (Benoit, 2004).

The Mistreatment of Women by Officers

Women pay a hefty price when good cops refuse to step out and speak about the bad ones. Police brutality and mistreating of women by officers is rarely captured on camera, but shows what happens when officers look the other way as their colleagues abuse their badges.

Female Victims of Law Enforcement Officers

Women suffering at the hands of officers does not necessarily equate to the abuse of prostitutes. A substantial number of prostitutes have accused cops of taking advantage of them because of their legally uncertain status. Incarcerated women have also experienced a lot of cases of abuse at the hands of police officers. According to two studies, of the general population, only ten percent have suffered domestic violence. The same studies show that as high as forty percent of law enforcement families are victims of violence. However, studies have consistently shown that those female victims of violence at the hands of law enforcement officers are afraid to contact authorities. This is because the abuser is a member of the authorities and in most cases; the complaints are not treated seriously by superiors (Cottler et al., 2014).

Risk Factors for Trading Sex with Police Officers

A study conducted in 2005 through 2008 which analyzed risk factors for trading sex with a police officer among women from St Louis, Missouri drug courts had alarming results. The study had three hundred and eighteen participants. Seventy-eight of them reported a history of Police Sexual Misconduct or PSM. Of the seventy-eight women, ninety-six percent reported having sex with an officer on duty. Seventy-seven percent had repeated exchanges, thirty-one percent were raped by an officer and fifty-four percent were given favors in exchange for sex. Only fifty-one percent of the seventy-eight women always used a condom with the cop. The conclusion from the study was community-based interventions would help to significantly reduce the risk of abuse of women by law enforcement officers (Cottler et al., 2014).

The Role of Good Cops in Breaking the Blue Wall of Silence

The conversation we should have today should be how officers should not be afraid to speak up on evil committed by their colleagues. Good cops who believe that by not speaking up they are helping their rogue colleagues should change their attitude. This perception casts endangers the public and hurts the image of the police force (Benoit, 2004).

Historical Cases and Fear of Speaking Out

Historically, good law enforcement officials who tried to hold their colleagues accountable for misconduct have not been met with positive reinforcement. The most commonly used example is New York Police Department officer Frank Serpico who exposed corruption involving his fellow colleagues. He was later left to die by his colleagues after being shot in the face. A lot of good cops are afraid of stepping up and speaking out against fellow officers for fear of being the next Frank Serpico. The reputational damage done to good police officers by rogue ones also puts good cops in danger. Now more than ever before, good officers need a lot of courage to call out the bad ones.

Statistics on Officer Complaints

Chicago, which has been suffering from high-profile cases of police brutality, conducted an extensive study of officer complaints. The study found that less than one in ten officers from the police force of twelve thousand officers received multiple complaints. Of those who received several civilian complaints, only a tiny fraction was the subject of one in three total civilian complaints. A similar study by New York's Civilian Complaint Review Board found that forty percent of thirty-five thousand officers in New York City had never been the subject of a civilian complaint. Twenty percent of the officers had been subject to one complaint, and only one thousand officers had ten or more complaints filed against them.

Preserving Trust and Upholding Professionalism

Those two studies show that the majority of the police force is not a danger to the community. The numbers also show that the majority of the officers have not done a good job protecting members of the society from rogue members of the police force among them. The second statistic matters a lot; it shows that the majority of the officers do not speak against police brutality leading to some officers accumulating multiple civilian complaints. It is time for good cops to stop being indifferent to rogue officers as this harms the entire society and stains the reputation of the law enforcement agencies (Skolnick, 2000).

Retaining Bad Cops and The Need for Change

There is no good reason a department should keep bad cops. However, this is what we face today. Most police agencies are undermanned and overwhelmed and do what they feel is right in order to keep the workforce up. In some states, being fired from the police department equates to a dishonorable discharge. In other states, a bad police officer is still able to maintain their police certification and can silently transfer to another department (Benoit, 2004).

The Persistence of the Blue Wall of Silence

Despite police agencies and their defenders at times proclaiming that the blue wall of silence is imaginary, such denials are blatantly political and should never be taken seriously. There have been attempts in inquiries that have focused on the effects of the blue wall of silence, to denounce its existence, details its effects, and to suggest ways to break it down and dismantle it. Despite all this, the blue code has remained, contrary to periodic suggestions that it is going away (Kleinig, 2001).

The Duty of Police Officers to Protect and Serve

It is an officer's sworn duty to protect and serve members of the community. An officer should serve with distinction, without fear or favor and uphold the highest form of professionalism in their service delivery. The motto, to protect and serve, was first adopted by the Los Angeles Police Department back in 1955 but has since been adopted, albeit in many variants, by other police departments. A majority of members of the police force do remarkable work and have an impeccable record in protecting and serving the community. The problem lies with the few cops who are a danger to the society. How should police misconduct be handled? Should the perpetrating officer be liable for their actions or should other officers be lenient to them?

The Role of Law-Abiding Officers

Most officers do not testify against each other, resulting in crime and police brutality being covered up. It is unethical for law-abiding police officers to fail to report officers who break the law. Officers, who look the other way when their colleagues commit crimes, do the society a huge injustice. Not only do the real perpetrators walk free, but also maintain enough power to commit more crimes in future. In some instances, innocent people are locked up for crimes they knew nothing about. In other cases, innocent lives are lost to rogue officers, and the truth never sees the light of day (Skolnick, 2000).

The Responsibility of Law-Abiding Officers

Law-abiding officers who do not step up and speak out against colleagues who have committed crimes and police misconduct are as guilty as the perpetrator. In such cases, the law-abiding officer can be accused of aiding and abetting a crime. At this point, the officer is also guilty of the crime and stops being a law-abiding officer. The officer also goes back on oath they undertook to defend, support, and obey the Constitution of the United States and the constitution of the respective State. The oath that officers take sum up the duties of the office they would hold. This oath summarizes an officer's promise to the public. When officers honor that promise, they receive lots of respect, public support and chances of complaints against them are significantly minimized. The ripple effect of law-abiding officers protecting bad cops is that all police officers are painted with the same brush.

The Impact of Failure to Report Rogue Officers

Officers who have committed a crime or violated a policy are prone to be repeat offenders. This results in crimes being committed that should have been avoided if an officer had been held accountable for their actions. Failing to step out and report a rogue officer exposes the community to a known perpetrator who will most likely walk scot-free from their next crime.

Advocating for Transparency and Professionalism

It is the duty of the police department to advocate for transparency, especially in controversial cases. It is also the duty of every man and woman in uniform to maintain the highest levels of professionalism in service delivery. Officers shouldn't be scared to break ranks and criticize their colleagues or testify against them. Crime, whether committed by a co-worker or a stranger, needs to be reported, and the truth needs to be told. The community suffers not at the hands of bad cops, but at the hands of law-abiding cops who choose not to testify against their fellow cops. The trust between law enforcement officers and the society is irrevocably shredded due to police misconduct and cover-up by colleagues and superiors alike. The reputation of the police force is tarnished and will likely stay that way for a while. However, this should not deter law-abiding cops from speaking against evil committed by their colleagues. Officers should not offer the public anything less than obeying, defending, and upholding the Constitution of the United States and that of the respective State. Integrity and ethics in the police force are critical for effecting policing and forging trust within the community. Officers who break tradition and testify against their colleagues should be encouraged instead of being intimidated. The police department and specifically the superiors should uphold the highest standards of professionalism and persecute officers who violate policies of the police service.


Benoît, J. P., & Dubra, J. (2004). Why do good cops defend bad cops?. International Economic Review, 45(3), 787-809.

Cottler, L. B., O’Leary, C. C., Nickel, K. B., Reingle, J. M., & Isom, D. (2014). Breaking the blue wall of silence: risk factors for experiencing police sexual misconduct among female offenders. American journal of public health, 104(2), 338-344.

Kleinig, J. (2001). The blue wall of silence: An ethical analysis. International Journal of Applied Philosophy, 15(1), 1-23.

Skolnick, J. H. (2000). CODE BLUE What will it take for prosecutors to penetrate the police's blue wall of silence?. American Prospect, 11(10), 49-53.

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