Thinning the blue line

Officer Richard Cujdik enters a van outside Jose Durans bodega during a Sept. 11, 2007, police raid. (Still from surveillance video)
Officer Richard Cujdik enters a van outside Jose Durans bodega during a Sept. 11, 2007, police raid. (Still from surveillance video)
Posted: May 01, 2014

THE CALLER HATED last week's Daily News coverage of the Philly cops who've avoided criminal charges for thuggish behavior that would've landed anyone else in an orange jumpsuit.

My column about them was damning. I even referred to one of the cops as "a menacing dirtbag."

"There are bad apples everywhere," said the caller, the mother of two police officers. "They're no different than a 7-Eleven clerk who goes to work every day to earn a living for their family. They're just like anyone else."

Oh, how I disagree.

Unlike a 7-Eleven clerk, police officers wear a badge and carry a gun, and we're supposed to trust that they won't abuse the authority that gives them.

The band of rogue narcotics cops profiled in our "Tainted Justice" series are accused of using their authority to make phony drug arrests and to terrorize 22 bodega owners - destroying their video-surveillance systems, stealing cash from their registers and trashing their stores.

The "menacing dirtbag" is accused of sexually assaulting three women during drug raids.

What would a 7-Eleven clerk use to wreak the same havoc?

A mango Slurpee?

Given how angry the caller was about my column, she's going to hate what I'm about to suggest, which is this:

Cops must start reporting other cops' bad behavior when they see it or suspect it. And if they refuse to snitch, they need to face harsh consequences - lost pension, anyone? - for their complicit silence.

"Mandated reporting" already exists in the field of child welfare. School personnel, social workers, hospital employees, cops and others in contact with children are legally required to report known or suspected abuse of a child. Similar laws protect the welfare of the disabled and elderly, too.

The thinking is that the most vulnerable among us require the protection of those in the best position to suspect abuse when they see evidence that others might not question.

Since the conviction of Penn State coach and child abuser Jerry Sandusky, Pennsylvania has toughened the penalties on officials who don't intervene when they suspect harm by one of their own.

Indeed, the inaction of Penn State's bigwigs was almost as chilling as the sex acts Sandusky perpetrated on the vulnerable.

Well, you know who else is vulnerable?

Immigrant bodega owners who don't know a cop is lying when he says, "Your surveillance system is illegal," the way the "Tainted Justice" cops told shop owner Jose Duran.

Drug-dealer informants whose word - when they accuse a cop of misbehavior - will never be trusted over the cop's.

And the pitiable, dirt-poor women unlucky enough to be present at a police drug raid.

The word of any of these people - the shop owners, the drug dealer, the poor women - will never be believed over the word of a cop. Bad cops know this. They count on it. So do their lawyers.

But the word of a good officer, reporting the same suspected behavior about a bad officer?

We might just get somewhere.

Cops are already required to report corruption, says a veteran cop who has had no qualms with reporting the "stupid-ass" behavior of brethren he sees breaking the law. But that doesn't mean others are as comfortable doing so as he is.

"It's not a thin blue line" that separates police officers from civilians, the officer tells me. "It's a very wide blue line. It's just not in the culture to report things. You look the other way. You make sure to keep your distance. But you don't report it."

The police rightly complain about the no-snitch policy that prevents them from taking bad guys off the street. But their own no-snitch policy helps bad cops stay on the job.

If there were real consequences to not snitching - again, lost pension, anyone? - that wide blue line might be easier to cross.


Email: polaner@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-2217

On Twitter: @RonniePhilly

Blog: ph.ly/RonnieBlog

Columns: ph.ly/Ronnie

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