Found within the ancient Hindu text of Manusmriti, or Laws of Manu, truth is said to be superior to silence (Wayman, 1974: 389). Yet, mere introspection quickly reveals that this mantra is far from fully integrated within the modus operandi of social interactions, institutional communications, organisational cultures and the like. Orwell (1948) commented on this in his classic novel 1984, in which one of the most poignant examples of doublethink was the Ministry of Truth’s “ignorance is strength” (Orwell, 1948: 27) slogan. The slogan carries a manipulative meaning that suppresses the importance of information, and justifies why it is unadvisable to seek it. Although this book was a work of fiction, the reality of contemporary society is unarguably haunted by silence and secrecy. Many scholars have identified information as the key to progress and change within organisations (Perrow, 1999; Penning-Rowsell, 1996; Toft and Reynolds, 2005). Yet, where individuals fear that whistleblowing and reporting will tarnish their reputation and status, silence and secrecy remain prominent and prevent a comprehensive learning process that can lead to organisational change. Would, non-jeopardy/just culture confidential reporting systems, then, guarantee active learning?
In Toft and Reynolds’ (2005) Steps to active foresight, it is argued that at the onset of a disaster, two linear systems converge to develop foresight (and thus active learning) in organisations. The first focuses on learning from past accidents via isomorphism and hindsight (Toft and Reynolds, 2005: 67). The second pertains to individual and organisational factors such as emotional impact, safety culture and organisational reaction (Toft and Reynolds, 2005: 67). It is from the latter that this essay will argue that non-jeopardy/just culture reporting does not guarantee active learning, as individual and organisational factors will play an important role as to how information ties into active learning and how it can influence the degree at which organisational change can occur.
This essay will examine the above question by considering firstly what is meant by ‘just culture’, ‘non/jeopardy reporting’, ‘foresight’, ‘active learning’, and ‘organisational culture’. Having clarified these concepts, a case study examining policing, secrecy and corruption in the NYPD since the early 70’s will be outlined. Then, an analysis of police organisational culture will be outlined, providing signposts explaining the prevalence of secrecy and silence in the NYPD that have prevented the reporting of police corruption and misconduct. Finally, this essay will investigate the role that external factors play in legitimising secrecy within police culture.
As the essay question implicates the notion of ‘non-jeopardy’ and ‘just culture’, these terms warrant a clarification. As identified through the work of Hood (2002; 2011a; 2011b), blame is prevalent within contemporary society and results in blame-avoidance behaviour that is interested in “ (…) reducing perceptions of harm or on reducing perceptions of responsibility (or both)” (Hood, 2011a: 71). Commenting on Frankfurt’s (2006) book On Truth, (Mullender, 2008: 280) explains that blame culture has devalued social capital and threatens the notion of truth. This truth, arguably, is what leads organisations to learn about mistakes and improve safety. Non-jeopardy reporting seeks to gain this truth by offering organisational members a blame-free means of reporting in order to “(…) discover safety attitudes, behaviours, culture, and information flow” (Tesmer, 2007: 15). The spirit of non-jeopardy reporting claims “it is more important to collect threat and error data to understand what is happening in the system than to blame and punish the individual” (Tesmer, 2007: 15). Just culture, similarly, is the implementation of organisational measures where “(…) people will feel free to share safety-critical information (…)” (Dekker, 2012: 7). A just culture aims at reaching two goals: “satisfy demands for accountability; contribute to learning and improvement” (Dekker, 2012: 9). As with non-jeopardy reporting, where “(…) there will be jeopardy (…) if the error is intentional, deal with illegal/criminal operations, drugs/alcohol or falsification of records/documents/statements (…)” (Tesmer, 2007: 15), the intention of just culture is to avoid single-loop learning “(…) which focuses on the first part (possibly a human) that can be connected to the failure [and] does not get at the heart of the issue” (Dekker, 2012: 18). Both just culture and non-jeopardy reporting will be used interchangeably throughout this essay.
The intention of non-jeopardy and just culture reporting can be correlated to the concept of ‘active learning’, as the information provided by these reporting systems can lead to an understanding of ‘isomorphism’, where it is recognised that accidents do appear to have similar features at some level of analysis” (Toft and Reynolds, 2005: 72). Toft and Reynolds (2005) argue that a systematic understanding of isomorphism can be used to gain insight on patterns of causation and as indicators to draw universally applicable lessons (Toft and Reynolds, 2005: 66). If these lessons are applied to gain foresight, it is referred to as ‘isomorphic learning’. ‘Foresight’, being “(…) a social practice that confronts managers with the limits of their knowledge” (e Cunha et al., 2006: 943), pushes toward ‘active learning’, the notion that organisations, through learning from past events, actively implement changes to organisational structure, culture and policies in order to overcome the injurious factors that led to disastrous consequences. Yet, foresight and active learning are not exclusively dependent on the availability of information, as organisational factors must also create an environment where information leads to learning from the past to ensure active learning for the future. Notably, an organisations ‘safety culture’, described as “(…) those sets of norms, roles, beliefs, attitudes and social and technical practices within an organisation which are concerned with minimising the exposure of individuals to conditions considered to be dangerous” (Toft and Reynolds, 2005: 26) can contribute to an organisational climate and its choice to adopt a conservative or progressive approach to how new sources of information are implemented in their policies, procedures and culture. This is part of ‘organisational culture’, the “(…) shared values, attitudes, beliefs, and customs of members of an organisation” (Ramachandran, Chong and Ismail, 2011: 618).
Silence, corruption and misconduct in the NYPD: The Knapp Commission and onwards
On February 3rd 1971, a New York Police Department Narcotics unit police officer engaged in a drug bust operation in Brooklyn. Next thing he knew, his head was wedged between a door and its frame, he was shot in the face and left for dead by his fellow patrolmen (Serpico, 2014: 1). This man was Frank Serpico, one of America’s most notorious whistle-blowers on police corruption. It was after multiple attempts to report incidents of police misconduct and corruption to his superiors, with no avail or remedial action taken, that Serpico secretly contacted the New York Times in order to expose his experience within the NYPD (Plouffe, 2012a: 964). As the story began to gain momentum within media circles, Mayor of New York John Lindsay launched the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Police Corruption and the City’s Anti-Corruption Procedures, “(…) popularly known as the Knapp Commission (…)” (Brown, 1974: 227). The commission found that NYPD officers had been “(…) collecting ‘protection money’ and were on the ‘pad’, which meant that they took bribes from criminals to ensure the criminals that their illicit activities could continue without the threat of being investigated or arrested by the police” (Pascarella, 2007: 747). The Knapp Commission’s findings made a distinction between two types of police involvement: “Meat eaters were those who actively pursued opportunities for extortion and graft [and] grass eaters would not directly confront people and demand money, but they would accept the money that was offered from people or other officers to turn the other way or to forget something happened.” (Plouffe, 2012a: 964)
The blow to Serpico’s face should have been fatal, but a neighbour of the suspect rapidly called the emergency services, resulting in the saving of the officer’s life. When he woke up in the hospital, he realised that his officers may have set him up to get killed, as he had broken the ‘blue code of silence’, having consequences such as “(…) being shunned, losing friends, having no on to work with, losing backup support, harassment, physical threats, permanent stigmatization, and exposure of one’s own misconduct” (Rothwell and Baldwin, 2007: 612). The code of silence, also known as simply the ‘Code’ (Skolnick, 2002: 8) and similar to that of Omerta within the Italian Mafia (Plouffe, 2012b: 280; Serpico, 2014: 1), is an “(…) occupational norm that precludes officers from exposing acts of misconduct to police administrators” (Long et al., 2013: 242). The Knapp Commission had determined that the code was deep-seeded within the NYPD, where “(…) corruption permeated the branches and ranks of the department from patrol officers to high-ranking department officials” (Moloney, 2007: 537).
The Commission made several recommendations, suggesting “(…) to eliminate those police duties that provide the greatest temptation for graft [and] the shift of enforcement responsibilities to other agencies” (Brown, 1974: 228). It also recommended for more accountability and transparency at all responsibility levels within the department, including more opportunities for anonymous reporting within the department, alongside taking citizen reports more seriously (Brown, 1974: 228-229). Mayor Lindsay now had closure on the corruption scandal, but as time went on, more corruption scandals emerged.
In 1994, after allegations of “(…) cops actively selling drugs and ripping off drug dealers” (Messing, 2012), the Mollen Commission was formed. What set off the establishment of the Commission came after “(…) six police officers assigned to two separate Brooklyn precincts were arrested on charges of participating in a conspiracy to sell narcotics in Suffolk County (…) in May, 1992” (Baer and Armao, 1995: 73-74). The Commission learnt that “(…) much drug-related police corruption involved officers using their authority as law enforcement officers to allow open-air drug markets to flourish in the city” (Stinson, 2009: 531), and that some police officers used their connections in the narcotics network to use and sell drugs themselves (Stinson, 2009: 532). It was identified that the increasing usage of crack and cocaine in New York City provided “(…) corrupt officers with abundant opportunity to steal money, drugs and guns from drug dealers and to assist drug traffickers who pay handsomely for non-enforcement of the law” (Baer and Armao, 1995: 76). The Mollen Commission did not establish a direct connection between corrupt patrolmen and high ranking police workers (Pascarella, 2007: 748), but did note that “brutality, regardless of the motive, sometimes serves as a rite of passage to other forms of corruption and misconduct” (Hentoff, 1998) and that: “As important as the possible extent of brutality is the extent of brutality tolerance we found throughout the Department (…) This tolerance, or willful blindness, extends to supervisors as well (…) because they believe that this is the only way to fight crime today.” (Hentoff, 1998)
As brutality was prevalent within the department, and tolerated by police supervisors, “the commission concluded that the police department had abandoned its responsibility to police itself and failed to take any substantive steps to create a culture dedicated to rooting out corruption within the New York Police Department” (Stinson, 2009: 533). Its recommendations included internal modifications in the areas of training, recruitment and leadership (Baer: 1995), and the establishment of an external permanent oversight commission tasked to collect internal and external reports on police corruption (Baer and Armao, 1995: 83). The still standing Commission to Combat Police Corruption (CCPC) was established in 1995.
In the CCPC’s 2014 Sixteenth Annual Report, it concluded that “(…) the Department is dealing well with its always-present potential for corruption (…)” (Commission to Combat Police Corruption, 2014: 108). However, many instances of corruption and departmental secrecy have come to light in recent years. 2011 was hit, for instance, with a series of police corruption scandals: “The eight officers charged with gun smuggling. The seven drug cops convicted of planting evidence on people to hit their arrest quotas (…). Three others convicted of robbing a perfume warehouse. Sixteen officers charged with crimes in connection with ticket fixing, and hundreds of others swept up in looming disciplinary cases related to that probe.” (Rayman, 2011)
Yet, the most apparent topic of corruption in recent years has been the constant resurfacing of the ‘stop and frisk’ quota issue, “(…) a practice with constitutional implications in which an officer stops someone suspected of a crime, and may subsequently frisk that individual if they have justification for doing so” (Flatow, 2013). Although consistently denied by NYPD supervisors (Rayman, 2010; Belle Isle, 2015), officers such as Adrian Schoolcraft, who secretly recorded roll call proceedings and conversations with other officers, have confirmed the use of quotas, claiming that this leads to occupational pressure, omitting to report certain activities and the falsification of crime statistics within the NYPD (Rayman, 2010). In July of 2015, attorney Elinor Sutton found “ (…) ‘a stunning pattern of evidence destruction in a high-stakes class-action case alleging cops have issued 850,000 bogus summonses due to a quota system (…)” (Brown, 2015). Mayor Bill de Blasio, since his inauguration in 2014, has attempted to face the existence of quotas and pledged to eliminate them from the NYPD (Levitt, 2014), but this has come with much disapproval from NYPD officers that have accused him of “(…) fueling anti-police sentiment (…)” (Berman and Tumulty, 2014). De Blasio’s critique of ‘stop and frisk’ policing and quotas has created tension with NYPD police officers (Laughland, 2015), police unions (Tumulty, 2014) and new police recruits (Berman, 2014).
Boin and ‘t Hart explain that “in public organizations, a routine incident can trigger a crisis when media and elected leaders frame the incident as an indication of inherent flaws and threaten to withdraw their support for the organization” (Boin and ‘t Hart, 2007: 43). This is seemingly the case for NYPD, where police officers feel as though there is a “(…) a serious threat to the basic structures or the fundamental values and norms of a system (…)”(Rosenthal, Charles and ‘t Hart, 1989: 10). The Knapp and Mollen Commissions may have passed, but where Rosenthal, Charles and ‘t Hart (1989) describe crisis as “(…) the phase during which order-inducing institutions stop to function (…)” (Rosenthal, Charles and ‘t Hart, 1989: 10), the NYPD may be entering a new time of crisis. This paper moves forward from this point, explaining that although accountability, transparency and reporting have been recommended throughout the years, the NYPD still fails to learn actively and move forward from its tarnished reputation of corruption and secrecy.
Organisational culture and secrecy legitimisation
The core argument of this essay is that non-jeopardy/just culture reporting systems are insufficient to ensuring active learning, due to important organisational barriers that prevent learning from occurring. In police organisations, the most prevalent organisational barrier to active learning is in regards to its safety philosophy, “(…) the ideas expressed (…) when discussing matters relating to safety” (Toft and Reynolds, 2005: 68). As police organisations are preoccupied by the issue of safety, and are empowered to ensure it, their perspective is deeply integrated within the values, norms and behaviours of their organisational culture. However, as seen with the Knapp and Mollen commissions, along with modern controversies within the NYPD, police corruption and misconduct has cast doubt on the validity of their safety philosophy. Learning from these instances, calls for an updated safety philosophy and increased opportunities for reporting have been perpetually recommended over the last forty years. Yet, as corruption and misconduct still prevail, this essay contends that learning from past legitimacy crises has been hindered by a seemingly static organisational culture.
Police academy’s are the starting point for all wanting to join the ‘force’, and share characteristics of total institutions where “(…) a large number of like-situated individuals, cut off from wider society for an appreciable period of time, together lead an enclosed, formally administered round of life” (Goffman, 1961: xiii). Much like total institutions, where importance is made on “(…) group cohesion, intense training, prolonged socialization, and strict discipline (…)” (Sagan, 1993: 253), police academy’s adopt an “(…) authoritarian-based model [that] is geared to produce a student who obeys orders without question (…)” (Vander Kooi and Palmer, 2014: 176). Amongst its teachings, police academies are the first exposure points for the “(…) ‘we against them’ tenant of police work” (Baer, 1995: 8). When new recruits enter the police department after training, socialisation continues as “(…) rookie officers are socialised by ‘old timers’ to participate and uphold the code to demonstrate loyalty to fellow officers” (Ivkovic and Shelley, 2008: 446).
Toft and Reynolds (2005) claim “the type of organisation (…) and hence its relative distance from the incident” as an important contributing factor as to how much change can occur in an organisation’s safety culture. It is through this intricate scheme of socialisation that make police organisations “(…) closed systems in that they are self-governing with respect to personnel policies, and decisions, and most notably, closed to outsiders (…)” (Rothwell and Baldwin, 2007: 611). Thus, it is argued that when corruption and misconduct allegations make surface in the public, police organisations feel removed from the incident as their culture instructs them to do so.
Filstad and Gottschalk (2010) claim that “(…) in every police organization, elements of dishonesty, lack of professionalism and criminal behaviour occur [and] can be related to a weak learning culture within the police force (…)” (Filstad and Gottschalk, 2010: 404). The case of the NYPD, where it has “since the early 70’s (…) been subject to no less than three major investigations” (Manning, 2001: 320), active learning has undoubtedly not properly occurred. The code of silence has been maintained, and Dornbusch and Scott’s (1975) four pillars of legitimacy can aid in explaining it. Propriety “(…) refers to an individual’s belief that particular rules and norms of conduct are proper and appropriate patterns of action (…)” (Long et al., 2013: 246). One “(…) excuse used by police officers to justify the code of silence is the pressure of the job and the proposition that because the public hates cops, police officers need to receive special consideration or breaks when they engage in misconduct (…)” (Plouffe, 2012b: 281), and that due to the “(…) high probability for mistakes in police work, the ever-present threat of danger” (Long et al., 2013: 244), police officers must “(…) possess an unparalleled need for loyalty, solidarity, and protection” (Rothwell and Baldwin, 2007: 610). Endorsement “(…) is the support from peers and subordinates” (Long et al., 2013: 246). Chappell and Piquero (2004) assert that “(…) one of the most profound pressures operating in police agencies is peer influence” (Chappell and Piquero, 2004: 93), as is seen in police academies and through the trickling down of cultural norms from more experienced officers. Fear is the most prominent reason why officers do not report others’ misconduct or corruption (Plouffe, 2012b: 281), as “(…) mechanisms of informal social control are often utilised by the police subculture – ostracism, harassment, and physical threats” (Ikovic and Shelley, 2008: 446). This ties into validity, the understanding that a normative order is in place “(…) and the obligation to obey these norms even in the absence of personal approval” (Long et al., 2013: 246). Similar to the desired result of training in total institutions, “(…) regardless of personal differences, individuals adopt the beliefs and definitions of the department” (Chappell and Piquero, 2004: 94) as “the code of silence ensures that officers will act in accordance with their collective well-being rather than their personal self-interest” (Rothwell and Baldwin, 2007: 610). The last pillar of legitimisation is authorisation, described as the “(…) support of the normative order from people in power (…)” (Long et al., 2013: 246). Specific examples of organisational structure and the reactions to particular citizen and internal reports show that authorisation may implicitly be granted to the code of silence. For instance, as the demand increases for supervisors to crack down on corruption, organisational culture change has been ineffective “(…) because the top wants their statistics, their figures, and likely they were involved in the same misconduct when they were in that position” (Andersen, 2002: 39). In short, “(…) supervisors can comprise an integral part of a subculture that is supportive of misconduct and corruption because they were socialised into the subculture and the use of the code as police officers” (Ivkovic and Shelley, 2008: 447). This permeates through the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau (IA), tasked to tackle internal corruption and misconduct allegations, where in 2010, it was shown that IA had the triple amount of citizen and internal tips on corruption, but that “the number of investigations pursued over the same period [had] dropped by more than half” (Baker and McGinty, 2010). Where Toft and Reynolds (2005) assert that “whether or not the management attributes the disaster to internal or external factors” as an important factor in safety culture change, it is argued here that authorisation of the code of silence in the NYPD has limited the ability to effectively take responsibility for and act on its corruption and misconduct scandals, resulting in missed learning opportunities.
This last section has shown that silence structures have been deeply imbedded and legitimised within police culture. As Toft and Reynolds (2005) assert that “the degree of organizational ‘surprise’” (Toft and Reynolds, 2005: 85) to a crisis can determine the amount of organisational change that will follow, history and current corruption unveilings cannot validate an excuse of surprise within the NYPD. This limits the amount of learning that can occur, and the potential for just culture reporting. The next section will outline external factors that legitimise the culture of secrecy.
Further legitimisation of secrecy from outside pressures
As discussed in the previous section, departmental propriety, endorsement, validity and authorisation have legitimised the code of silence inside police departments, including the NYPD. Yet, external factors and pressures may also contribute to the perpetuation of a silence doctrine within police organisations. Rothwell and Baldwin (2007) state that “whistle-blowing is rare because it threatens the solidarity and sense of oneness of police who feel victimized by a critical media, an intolerant general public, and a demanding police administration” (Rothwell and Baldwin, 2007: 611). This perception has reinforced the ‘us versus them’ complex previously documented within this essay, and has arguably defined the day-to-day role and cultural assumptions of police officers.
Since the end of World War II, the role of police as ‘crime fighter’ has been the “(…) dominant police strategy” (Moore and Kelling, 1983: 56). This was reinforced within the NYPD during the 90’s (Fagan and Davies, 2000: 470), when Mayor Giuliani and Commissioner Bratton made “(…) a shift from (…) community policing to a crime control model” (Manning, 2001: 321). This was part of a tactical shift to professionalise police officers. Yet, in doing so, “(…) ‘volunteers’, citizens on whom so much used to depend, have been removed from the fight” (Moore and Kelling, 1983: 58), further polarising police departments and the citizens they must protect. Now, “(…) police officers are trained to see every person and every situation as potentially dangerous” (Maskaly and Donner, 2015: 207), reinforcing solidarity within police communities and leading to operational practices that mimic the ‘us versus them’ paradigm. Examples include the NYPD’s broad use of ‘order maintenance policing’ (OMP) (Fagan and Davies, 2000: 462) and ‘zero tolerance’ (Manning, 2001: 321) tactics in the 90’s, and its current ‘stop and frisk’ approach. Although these may seem like internally decided protocols and procedures, they are based on the external assumption and perception that the public cannot be trusted (Long et al., 2013: 244). This is amplified by the accountability and transparency demands put onto police departments by the media and public when corruption and misconduct surface, as was seen during the Ferguson and Baltimore riots of 2014 and 2015.
Moon and Zager (2007) assert that “active cooperation through the increased contacts with citizens is crucial to the success of community policing” (Moon and Zager, 2007: 485), and that such cannot occur “without mutual trust, respect, and support between police and citizens” (Moon and Zager, 2007: 485). Yet, where political instruments such as the police militarisation ‘1033 program’ still prevail, authorising “(…) the transfer of DOD [Department of Defense] personal property to (…) all law enforcement agencies (…) for bona fide law enforcement purposes that assist in their arrest and apprehension mission” (Defense Logistics Agency, undated), the narrative of trust between citizens and police cannot succeed. The same can be said for the departmental mandatory quota systems, where “(…) cops are forced to be predators” (Andersen, 2002: 38).
All of these factors contribute to the everyday roles and cultural assumptions that the police appropriate, of which Toft and Reynolds (2005: 85) identify as a key factor in change of organisational safety culture and philosophy. Just culture confidential reporting systems may well be in place, but optimal reporting on corruption and misconduct can only take place in an occupational environment that is willing to sacrifice the deeply ingrained identity of police work and can only lead to learning if members within the respective departments truly believe that change must occur.
The essay outlined above discussed the organisational factors that uphold secrecy in organisations, of which must be considered when reviewing the efficacy of just culture/non-jeopardy confidential reporting systems. As was shown throughout this essay, active learning is not exclusively the result of available sources of information gained through reporting outlets, but is also the result of an organisational desire to implement changes in its safety culture and philosophy. This essay has given clear evidence that this largely depends on norms, values and behaviours upheld within organisational culture.
Where Filstad and Gottschalk (2010) explain that “the learning organization is a concept of the ideal organization with its own capacity to learn and therefore be able to change (…) as a result of its experiences” (Filstad and Gottschalk, 2010: 409), the NYPD, having faced multiple inquiries and scandals over time, cannot be considered a learning organisation. Confidential reporting systems have indeed been implemented throughout the years, giving potential for active learning, but the legitimisation of secrecy has prevented its follow through.
It is concluded here that just culture/non-jeopardy reporting systems cannot guarantee active learning, particularly in the scope of the unique example of police organisations where secrecy is prevalent and well documented. However, where the code of silence “(…) varies by agency and department (…)”(Long et al., 2013: 244), a deterministic claim about police organisations and the efficacy of their reporting systems cannot be fully asserted.
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