When most people, police apologists in particular, talk about the "bad apple theory" in policing, they refer to the single rapist cop or the one loose cannon who shot and killed an innocent child. However, they always leave off the second part of that idiom which is one bad apple spoils the bunch or rots the barrel. An extensive study conducted by Northwestern University on Chicago police brutality shows how irresponsible leaving off that second part actually is.
The short of it is when good cops see bad cops do bad things and get away with them, those good cops will start doing bad things too.
“We’re basically studying the process of the bad apples rotting the barrel,” said Jason Gravel, who co-authored the report with Marie Ouellet, Sadaf Hashimi and Andrew V. Papachristos.
As CBS Chicago reports:
The study, which took two years to complete, explored how an officer’s exposure to peers accused of excessive use of force shapes his or her future involvement, through learned information.
The federal consent decree that mandated reforms within the Chicago Police Department, along with the shooting deaths of Laquan McDonald, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice, served as a backdrop for the report. The context demonstrated the importance of addressing how the culture of a police department – and a lack of accountability – can impact the department. It can also fracture trust between the department and community it serves.
“When residents become cynical of the police, they tend to withdraw from contacting the police,” the authors wrote, adding, “Police cannot do their jobs effectively without a working relationship with the community.”
The study looked at thousands of Chicago cops and their findings were shocking, to say the least. They found that misconduct among cops can be predicted based on associations with bad cops accused of excessive force and never held accountable. It literally spreads like a contagious disease.
"Our findings indicate officers’ peers may serve as social conduits through which misconduct may be learned and transmitted. Isolating officers that engage in improper use of force, at least until problematic behaviors are addressed, seems to be critical to reducing police misconduct and department-wide citizen com-plaints. Future studies should be aimed at investigating how social networks shape police misconduct and the ways network analysis might be used to diffuse intervention strategies within department," the study notes.
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"Police misconduct has a direct negative impact on citizens resulting in the tragic loss of life, massive racial disparities in criminal-justice–related outcomes, and negative health consequences for neighborhoods and populations experiencing first- or even second-hand police abuses," the authors note.
The spread of misconduct, especially among Chicago police is rampant and evident across the board—especially since they are almost never held accountable.
In one example, which TFTP reported on back in April, two massive Chicago cops, shoved a girl down a flight of stairs, punched her in the face, tasered her multiple times, and stomped on her head. Proving the unnecessary and sadistic intent behind the officers' actions, the 16-year-old girl had committed no crime.
The victim, 16-year-old Dnigma Howard has since filed a lawsuit after the two cops savagely beat her for no reason. While investigating the lawsuit, the family found that these cops are part of a network of bad cops and have had more than a dozen complaints between them.
One of the officers, Johnnie Pierre has 18 misconduct complaints against him, while the other officer, Sherry Tripp has three.
The study found that of the 8,642 cops it looked at, only 344 had racked up 5 or more complaints. However, they noted that the behavior of these 344 cops spread to other cops and increased the likelihood of future excessive force.
Officer Tripp, who was seen savagely beating an innocent teen girl on video was not included in the 344 cops as he has only had 3 complaints. However, as seen on the video, he is still a threat to society. And, judging from the severity of his abuse, it is highly likely that he will strike again.
Until this culture of condoning, excusing, and covering up police brutality is addressed and the officers held personally accountable, we can expect the problem to get worse. The next time someone tells you that the problem is only a few bad apples, remind them of the second part of the idiom and how that one bad apple is rotting the barrel.