Police Whistleblowers – Why there are few if any and the blue code of silence
Whistleblowing. What motivates it? What prevents it?
Many of us can relate to the desire to tell, to unburden, to inform, especially when harm is being done to others. A few take the risk and tell, but at what cost?
David Hutton, Executive Director of FAIR – Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform which works to protect whistleblowers who protect the public interest, recently writes, Dr. Shiv Chopra, Margaret Haydon and Gerrard Lambert were scientists with Health Canada in the late 90′s. They blew the whistle on a drug designed to improve dairy cattle’s milk production that would be harmful to Canadians drinking the milk – Monsanto’s bovine growth hormone. Their protest caused the drug to be banned not only in Canada, but in other developed countries around the world. Canadians’ and other world citizens’ health was protected, but our government reprimanded these scientists, told them to remain silent, then fired them.
A government agency was created to protect whistleblowers. The scientists were promised protection for their testimony by the senate. Later, the public sector integrity commissioner, Christine Ouimet stated that it wasn’t in the “public interest” to deal with the scientists concerns and the senate took no action against the integrity commissioner. The result – three sacrificed careers.
Ernesto Londono of the Washington Post reported that a number of our Canadian military soldiers in Afghanistan in the mid 2000′s, were upset after witnessing Afghan boys being raped by Afghan soldiers. A Canadian forces chaplain, Jean Johns filed a report describing how one corporal told her that Canadian troops have been ordered by commanding officers “to ignore” incidents of sexual assault. Other chaplains told similar accounts of soldiers coming forward to speak of the same incidents of sexual assault on boys. The Department of National Defence argued Canada wasn’t obliged to investigate because none of the soldiers made a formal complaint.
Can one expect these soldiers to blow the whistle, when the result will be loss of their jobs, income for their families – a means to survive? The whistleblowers are left unprotected as are the victims that the whistleblowers are attempting to protect in the first place.
The Toronto Star’s, Sheryl Smolkin writes, “If you badmouth your manager or your company in a way that seriously undermines the employment relationship, you could be fired for just cause without notice or termination pay. Criticizing a boss’s character, honesty or competence can also trigger justifiable termination and it’s easier for the company to prove just cause if you criticize the management in writing.”
No wonder formal, written complaints are not lodged.
Is it then, a surprise that police officers do not ‘rat out’ their partners or co-workers? This is why it is important to have effective oversight of the policing systems so that reliance on whistleblowing is not required. The SIU - Special Investigations Unit initiated in the early 90′s- was created to supposedly have effective oversight and mete out disciplinary action for the handful of police officers not following protocol. Unfortunately, this has not been effective. The few police officers that choose excessive use-of-force each year are often cleared of any charges – if in fact, any charges are even laid at all.
Associated Press reported in London that police chiefs in the UK suspended officers from duty following alleged racism, among them an allegation that an officer used a racial slur while arresting a black man in the aftermath of England’s riots last August. And, in Northern Ireland, 4 police officers were suspended from duty after the discovery of racist and sectarian text messages. The Police Service of Northern Ireland said in a statement, “We expect our staff to behave with the utmost integrity at all times both on and off duty. Any officer who fails to abide by the highest standards of behaviour expected of all officers as laid out in our code of ethics can expect to be rigorously investigated.”
At the Toronto Police Services Board meeting April 19th, I heard nothing that compares. What I heard from Toronto Police Services Board and Chief Blair is that ‘use-of-force’ is declining backed by plenty of stats to support that statement. What I didn’t hear was a commitment to discipline any officer who had killed unnecessarily, found contravening police protocol.
I’m still waiting…