Adachi: “Stop Snitchin’” Culture Plagues Law Enforcement

The most influential Stop Snitchin’ campaign in San Francisco isn’t in the Bayview or the Tenderloin. It lives on the streets and in the jails, wielding power over those you might not expect: police officers and sheriff’s deputies.

In March, a trio of scandals allowed us to peer over the blue wall of silence. The view isn’t pretty: SFPD officers sending racist text messages, jailers forcing inmates into gladiator-style fights, and crime lab technicians covering up bungled DNA results.

The ugly incidents involve different players and different departments. But they have one thing in common. They occurred because otherwise law-abiding colleagues turned a blind eye to the misconduct.

Every officer knows that crime flourishes when good people say nothing. It’s time for them to apply this Policing 101 lesson to their own ranks and punish not only those accused of misconduct, but those who ignore or enable it.

Task forces may be useful for investigating misconduct after the damage has been done. Federal corruption laws punish the tip of the iceberg, such as former San Francisco Sgt. Ian Furminger, a major player in the racist text scandal who was recently convicted of stealing from drug suspects.

We must expand our focus to holding people accountable for their complicity in allowing misconduct to go unchecked. It is the only way to change a toxic law enforcement culture that brands whistleblowers as traitors. The San Francisco Police Department and the Sheriff’s Department should immediately institute general orders or policies holding liable officers who fail to report misconduct.

Of course, there are many good men and women serving in uniform. And witness intimidation and misplaced loyalty to colleagues are not unique to San Francisco officers. It is a national problem that has festered so long that perjury has become routine. In fact, lying in court to avoid being ostracized by peers is so common, police even have a name for it: “testilying.”

In the 1990s, the Christopher Commission found the greatest single barrier to cleaning house at the scandal-plagued LAPD was the officers’ unwritten code of silence.

“Police officers are given special powers, unique in our society, to use force, even deadly force, in the furtherance of their duties. Along with that power, however, must come the responsibility of loyalty first to the public the officers serve. That requires that the code of silence not be used as a shield to hide misconduct,” the Commission concluded.

The racist texts, the human cockfights, and the lab misconduct are the latest in a seemingly endless string of shameful incidents. From a lab tech that stole and used drug evidence to police illegally entering hotel rooms to steal from San Francisco’s poorest people to prosecutors failing to turn over officers’ and criminal records, only a handful of officers have been criminally prosecuted, and only one — Furminger — sentenced to prison.

It is time for accountability —not only for the perpetrators of misconduct ,but those who knowingly avert their gaze. Law enforcement officers must follow their own advice: If you see something, say something.

Jeff Adachi is the San Francisco Public Defender. He hosts a monthly television forum on criminal justice issues at sfjusticematters.comAdachiop-edOpinionPublic DefenderSF

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

San Francisco Police officers speak with people while responding to a call outside a market on Leavenworth Street in the Tenderloin on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
SFPD makes the case for more officers, citing Walgreens video

Most of us have seen the video. It shows a man filling… Continue reading

A 14-Mission Muni bus heads down Mission Street near Yerba Buena Gardens. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Pandemic experiments morph into long-term solutions for SF transit agency

The streets of San Francisco became real-time laboratories for The City’s public… Continue reading

NO CONNECTION TO SERVER:
Unable to connect to GPS server ‘blackpress.newsengin.com’
Debate reignites over San Francisco’s first public bank

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, momentum was building for San Francisco to… Continue reading

Apprenticeship instructor Mike Miller, center, demonstrates how to set up a theodolite, a hyper-sensitive angle measuring device, for apprentices Daniel Rivas, left, Ivan Aguilar, right, and Quetzalcoatl Orta, far right, at the Ironworkers Local Union 377 training center in Benicia on June 10, 2021. (Courtesy Anne Wernikoff/CalMatters)
California’s affordable housing crisis: Are labor union requirements in the way?

By Manuela Tobias CalMatters California lawmakers introduced several bills this year that… Continue reading

Mayor London Breed spoke at the reopening of the San Francisco Public Library main branch on April 20. (Sebastian Miño-Bucheli/Special to The Examiner)
SF reopening more libraries through the summer

After a handful of San Francisco public libraries reopened last month for… Continue reading

Most Read