Issues of the police force in general and the way it handles internal issues such as discrimination or harassment are important factors in the criminal justice system and news items concerning police harassment frequently invoke discussions on much larger issues. On the one hand, it would seem as though these issues related to police harassment are separate from the way police deal with their jobs with the public, but on the other, problems such internal and external police harassment that have an effect on the internal cohesion of the force more generally will have an impact on the way police respond as a team. Police should set the example, not only within the larger context of society and the criminal justice system, but among one another. Problems such as in-office and on-the-street police harassment with the criminal justice system can be traced back to unfavorable police behavior and it is important to consider the large-scale impact of these behaviors by police.
To highlight this thesis statement about police harassment, take for instance an article that appeared in the New York Post on April 24, 2007. This report, entitled “Violated by ‘Ho’ Humor’ by staff writers Nicole Bode and Melissa Grace describes an incident of discrimination and harassment that occurred against three women police officers. In the wake of the controversy over the racially and sexually-charged comments made by radio personality Don Imus about black women being “nappy-headed ho’s” a couple of male officers, perhaps in an attempt at humor, called the three women “ho’s” as they were lining up to go on duty for the day. The women, angered by the comment in this incident of internal police harassment, refused to line up as directed and one of the other male officers present added more to the initial insult, saying they should line up or they would be “not just ho’s, but nappy-headed ho’s” (Bode, Grace 2007). Naturally, this case of police harassment even further angered the female officers, who spoke out against the comments and informed their superiors of what transpired. The offending male officers were then punished according, being demoted or offered official reprimands. While this instance of police harassment was obviously not enough to cause the male officers to be fired, it did raise certain crucial questions about the way law enforcement deals with issues of discrimination or racial or sexually-oriented police harassment.
It might be rather simple to make the assumption about police harassment (as the authors of the article do in a passing manner) that this issue gained the kind of importance it did because of the recent highly publicized comments and apology made by radio host Don Imus. However, to merely consider this kind of police harassment in terms of general law enforcement practice as simply a product of over-reaction as well as a play off of a public case would be devaluing its importance, both in the context of workplaces in general as well as in terms of the police force. As a law enforcement agency, the police, particularly in a large metropolitan area such as New York City, must have a great degree of group cohesion. In other words, there needs to be an overarching sense that there is a strong sense of mutual respect among all officers before the problem of police harassment ends. This fosters the kind of safe and healthy working environment for law enforcement that is very desirable among police, especially in a field that requires so much teamwork and reliance on one’s fellows. For a situation such as the one that occurred with these male officer’s comments, the most public and officer-wide appeal must be made to end these kinds of sexually and racially-driven comments.
To allow such incidents of police harassment, things to go unchecked would create an air of disrespect among fellow officers and the criminal justice system in general. Also, police harassment and discrimination issues could be a potentially life-threatening situation, especially if an officer is in trouble yet is not respected among his or her fellow officers. All of this aside, it is important, from the perspective of one examining issues of law enforcement, police harassment, and the criminal justice system, to recognize that discrimination is not only illegal and wrong, it can rip apart institutions we depend on. Just as the more personnel-related issues surrounding the criminal justice system have an influence on perception of police and related institutions, problems surrounding the responses of the police and law enforcement to potentially dangerous situations often occur. One article, also in the New York Post, entitled “Doomed Ma’ Plea: 911 Call Before Son Kills Her, 2 Others in Queens” discusses a potentially flawed response by officers. In a tragic situation, a mentally ill 20-year old man shot his mother and wheelchair-bound fiancée before taking his own life.
This was a dramatic situation for law enforcement that involved enough without bringing the internal issues of police harassment and neglect, but it did not come out of nowhere and to many who knew the family, this was not a surprise. According to one of the victims’ sister, the police had been called many times before the young man killed his mother and fiancée. Furthermore, there are police records indicating that officers responded to several calls in the weeks prior to the shootings, two of which occurred just nights before the event. However, just because the police were informed that there might be a domestic issue does not mean that they were entitled to take action and have the young man arrested. On one visit, according to a witness, police attempted to get the young man to a psychiatric center but he was never arrested and formally charged. According to a police source who was cited in the article, “There was no evidence, just disputes, disruptions in the house.” In other words, because of a lack of obvious crime, the police were unable to do anything about the situation. They were able to make suggestions that the man go and get an evaluation or professional help but in actuality, their hands were tied—without clear indication of a crime police cannot arrest someone.