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Cops Aren’t Cloned in a Brutish Mold

The past few weeks have not been good for the Los Angeles Police Department. But just how pervasive are corruption and misconduct among police officers? Is this behavior systemic, or are the things described by Rafael A. Perez, the officer who blew the whistle on the Rampart Division, isolated cases?

While I do not condone the actions by Perez and other officers in Rampart or elsewhere, I believe that painting all the officers with the same brush based on actions of one or even several officers is grossly unfair.

I have three degrees in biology and have taught at the university level. I am the founder and president of a nonprofit organization promoting the 2,000-year-old ancient Indian classical music, Dhrupad. I am a published author of a poetry book and scientific manuscripts. Yet somehow I doubt that any reporter would take my background and depict all LAPD officers as scientists and authors.

However, journalists are quick to look at the actions of a few and paint all officers as corrupt and power-hungry brutes. This is no different from racist attitudes that say that if one Latino teenager is a gangster, all Latino teenagers must be gangsters, or that if one African American man commits a crime, all African American men are criminals.

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I joined the LAPD in part to observe police culture and study human nature. Several of my assumptions about police have changed as a result of working as an officer. I now recognize that some problems exist within police departments due to the nature of police work itself; interacting daily with hardened criminals, victims of violence and abusive and manipulative people cannot help but affect the humanity of officers.

However, police departments do not exist in a vacuum. Officers represent the society they are part of, including all the problems that exist around them. Only a change in society and in societal expectations can bring change in institutions like a police department. Even a quick historical study of the LAPD or any other police department in America would show how the nature of policing continues to evolve in a positive direction.

In my two years at the LAPD, I have been impressed by the diversity, dedication and integrity of the people I work with. Many times I have seen officers exercise great restraint against aggressive and combative people when they justifiably could have used force. Of course we are faced with difficult decisions. But if my partner were to do something unethical, I would stop him, and I hope he would do the same for me.

I have so far not seen any officer misconduct in my division, which leads me to believe that systemic misconduct does not exist in the LAPD.

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Police officers have powers that, if abused, can result in serious harm to people’s lives and liberty. Officers must set a higher moral and ethical standard in their public and personal lives. Any misconduct charge must be seriously investigated and severe punishments meted out to the individuals who bring shame and dishonor to the badge. Rightfully, in the case of Rampart, the LAPD has shown itself capable of conducting a thorough investigation of alleged misconduct. We should remember that it was the LAPD’s own investigation that eventually resulted in the misconduct charges coming to light.

Yes, we may have bad cops--and if we do, we need to eliminate them from the force. However, most of the officers I’ve come in contact with are honest and dedicated professionals. Their hard work should be acknowledged.

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Sunil Dutta is an officer in the LAPD’s West Valley Division.

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