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Code Of Silence Allows Cops Who Tarnish The Star To Stick Around, Expert Says


Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has come under pressure after a year that's brought police shooting after police shooting there. Tensions have been especially high since a video was released last month showing a teenager being shot by police 16 times. Just last weekend, a college student was killed, and police say they shot a grandmother to death accidentally.

Yesterday, the mayor rolled out new plans aimed at reducing the use of deadly force by police, including more Tasers in the hands of officers and more training for the force. Lou Reiter is a former deputy chief of police with the LAPD and a police trainer and consultant. He supports the changes outlined by the mayor, but says they aren't enough. According to him, one of the biggest challenges is breaking the code of silence.

LOU REITER: The real issue here is you have to have officers who feel comfortable that they will come forth with testimony that might get another officer into trouble. If they step forward, if they do the right thing, they will inevitably end up being retaliated out by other officers. And we have to say that retaliation is real. It's sinister. It normally hurts an officer so badly that he or she cannot stay with the agency anymore.

MONTAGNE: Recognizing it as a problem is a good start, and fixing it is, of course, an ideal. But specifically, how do you make that happen? Do you have an example of another police force that has done this?

REITER: You know, I really don't. I wish I could say so, but I think there is a way that you could begin to break this. The mayor and all of the chief administrators have to stand up and say, we will protect you. And they need to go down and handpick a select group of officers who they know the field respects and have them come front and say, you know what? It's time for us to stop this code of silence. It's time for us to speak up and root these people who tarnish our star out of the agency.

MONTAGNE: I'm wondering in this year where there has been unprecedented scrutiny of the nation's police forces, as well as officers being charged, as someone who has audited police departments - you've literally written the book on internal affairs - do you think that this might be, for at least a place like Chicago - and maybe other places - really be the time when some change will happen?

REITER: I do. I think that this is a historic moment. One of the major revelations that came out of this is that nationally we really have no idea how many people are killed by the police, either in use of force or in custody deaths. That's what's astounded law enforcement even. I mean, that in itself is ridiculous.

The other concern - and I think we're seeing this nationwide - for years, we've hidden behind the confidentiality of internal affairs. That's coming to an end. I mean, we see in California legislation saying you can no longer have secret grand juries look at police-involved shootings. So transparency is becoming more and more common. And I think those two issues right there are going to drag law enforcement kicking and screaming into an era where the police truly are the community, and the community are the police.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much for joining us.

REITER: Renee, my pleasure.

MONTAGNE: Lou Reiter was with the LAPD for 20 years and has spent many more years as a police consultant and trainer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.