The “blue wall of silence” that says police officers don’t tell on each other has been thrust into the spotlight by the Milwaukee case of Frank Jude Jr., who was savagely beaten Oct. 24 by a dozen men who witnesses said identified themselves as off-duty police officers, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Prosecutors have been hamstrung by officers who have information about the beating but are not talking because of a “misplaced loyalty” toward fellow officers, District Attorney E. Michael McCann said.
Jude cannot identify his attackers, and two witnesses can pick out only a couple of faces, making the officers’ testimony critical. Some officers have cooperated, McCann said, but others need to step forward. The fact that any officers spoke up surprised some experts. “Cops will tolerate psychos, alcoholics, wife-beaters, dweebs and geeks, but they will not tolerate rats. Period,” said Tony Bouza, chief of the Minneapolis Police Department from 1980 to 1988. Others say that officers have friendships and allegiances among colleagues, much like workers in any office. “It is human nature. It is nothing unique to policing,” said Jim Pasco of the Fraternal Order of Police, a Washington, D.C.-based union that represents 318,000 officers nationwide. Other experts said the “silence” code is passed on to rookies from their first days on patrols: They need to back up other officers, even when they’ve done something wrong, or they might not get support when they really need it on the street. “It is a threat. You are going to be in a tight situation with your life on the line and they won’t be there,” said George Kirkham, a criminal justice professor at Florida State University who has worked as a police officer.