Today the combination of an excess of deadly force and near-total lack of accountability is more dangerous than ever: Most cops today can pull out their weapons and fire without fear that anything will happen to them, even if they shoot someone wrongfully. All a police officer has to say is that he believes his life was in danger, and he’s typically absolved. What do you think that does to their psychology as they patrol the streets—this sense of invulnerability? The famous old saying still applies: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. In the NYPD, it used to be you’d fire two shots and then you would assess the situation. Today it seems these police officers just empty their guns and automatic weapons without thinking, in acts of callousness or racism. Today’s uncontrolled firepower, combined with a lack of good training and adequate screening of police academy candidates, has led to a devastating drop in standards.Serpico isn't just pointing out the problems, however, he is also offering solutions. Working with other whistleblowers and activists, the former officer has devised a clear, proactive six-point-plan to help combat police misconduct:
1. Strengthen the selection process and psychological screening process for police recruits.Police departments are simply a microcosm of the greater society. If your screening standards encourage corrupt and forceful tendencies, you will end up with a larger concentration of these types of individuals.
2. Provide ongoing, examples-based training and simulations.Not only telling but showing police officers how they are expected to behave and react is critical.
3. Require community involvement from police officersso they know the districts and the individuals they are policing. This will encourage empathy and understanding.
4. Enforce the laws against everyone, including police officers.When police officers do wrong, use those individuals as examples of what not to do – so that others know that this behavior will not be tolerated. And tell the police unions and detective endowment associations they need to keep their noses out of the justice system.
5. Support the good guys.Honest cops who tell the truth and behave in exemplary fashion should be honored, promoted and held up as strong positive examples of what it means to be a cop.
6. Last but not least, police cannot police themselves.Develop permanent, independent boards to review incidents of police corruption and brutality—and then fund them well and support them publicly. Only this can change a culture that has existed since the beginnings of the modern police department.