OpinionPolice Accountability

Jaco: A toxic culture in black and blue

Detective Sergeant Heather Taylor is black, and a woman, and a cop, in that order. In her years on the force, and as president of the Ethical Society of Police, she’s been threatened with discipline for talking to reporters, when officials of the (mostly) white St. Louis Police Officers Association –the police “union” –do it all the time.

She turned in her head-of-ESOP predecessor for embezzlement, saying he deserved to go to jail. She’s had her heart broken every time she’s worked a homicide scene, wondering whose son, brother, daughter, or sister was lying dead in an alley. She’s been threatened by fellow officers. And she’s had quite enough.

This week, Taylor took to Twitter to vent about the toxic racism that permeates the culture of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.

She wrote “Logged into Twitter and the first thing I see is a photo of an officer that liked the idea of me ‘bleeding out.’ Who also called me a ‘bXXXX.’ He still works at SLMPD.”

The cop’s photo was with a doctor and an organization that works with victims of violence. Taylor Tweeted “The organization and doctor are amazing. They don’t know the monsters that exist within this place…I often see him on homicide callouts, and I remain professional because our victims always come first.”

“So no, don’t ever tell me I’m one of the blue. I’m black, and I’m a woman. I’m always professional…Even when I’m beyond disgusted with the very people I have to work with.”

One day after her Tweets, the Post-Dispatch reported that officer Nathaniel Hendren, accused of shooting and killing fellow officer Katlyn Alix during what the cover story claims was a game of “Russian Roulette” at Hendren’s apartment, ignored a call for a burglar alarm at a business. Instead, Hendren, who was on duty, made a cell phone call from his apartment to another cop asking him to check out the alarm. Moments later, he supposedly shot and killed Alix, who was off duty.

Add racism, dereliction of duty, and killing another officer to the four cops indicted by a federal grand jury for covering up their beating of an undercover black cop at a protest over — wait for it — a police shooting. Add those to a flood of federal court civil suits charging brutality, the arrest of two officers for shooting a civilian outside a bar, and the 28 cops forbidden from submitting cases to the circuit attorney because they’re allegedly liars, and it equals a police department in moral free fall.

The attitude of the city’s top brass is that there’s nothing to see here. Mayor Krewson, Police Chief John Hayden, and Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards all say there’s no crisis in the department, only dozens of cops who’ve made isolated, individual, bad decisions.

During a spirited (okay, downright nasty) exchange I had on Twitter with Jane Dueker, a hired-gun lobbyist, lawyer, and (nominal) Democratic Party heavyweight, I wondered about her core values, since she represents the St. Louis Police Officer’s Association as a lobbyist, even though the police “union” has been attacked as both racist and a shield for bad police officers. Dueker shot back that I “hate all cops.”

That, in a nutshell, is the problem. The city’s elites refuse to even consider that the good work of many officers is being undercut by a toxic culture of racism and bad behavior in the SLMPD, and that any racism, brutality, corruption, psychotic behavior, and dereliction of duty is the fault of a few individuals.

It might be useful for Dueker, the mayor, the chief, and the head of public safety to take a look at a 2016 edition of the publication Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies and Management. In it, ex-cop and criminologist professor Gary Cordner had a funny thing happen while researching police culture.

Cordner waded through surveys competed by 13,000 police officers nationwide. He analyzed employee survey data from 89 U.S. police and sheriffs’ departments. And he found that there’s no such thing as police culture. Instead, he found that every law-enforcement agency has its own, individual culture, and that a department’s organizational culture determined how police interacted with the public and each other, and how they dealt with law-enforcement issues.

If you go by evidence, and not by the deflection of the city’s elites, you have to conclude that the SLMPD’s culture of tolerating bad behavior and normalizing deviance has at least something to do with the city’s astronomically high violent-crime rates. A police culture that tolerates and defends unprofessional behavior has a tough time switching gears and becoming professional when it comes to fighting crime.

Just ask Detective Sergeant Taylor.

Charles Jaco

Charles Jaco is a journalist and author. He has worked for NBC News, CNN, KMOX, KTRS, and Fox 2. He is best known for his coverage of the first Gulf War, and for his "legitimate rape" interview with Senate candidate Todd Akin. He is the winner of three George Foster Peabody Awards, and the author of four books.

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