The guy can drive you nuts. Just when you think he’s about to encase himself in a predictable cloak of political or public safety polarization, out he comes with sometimes shocking contradiction. This is Tony Bouza and his oft-quoted remark:
“I am an unapologetic supporter of the use of police violence, even lethal force, but it has to be guided by the law, the standards of reasonableness and the U.S. Constitution. I have presided over clubbings, shootings, gassings, and other assaults by the police. I see violence as a key weapon in the police arsenal and trained cops in the full range of possibilities available to us.
"My only caveat is that the use of force has to be legally justified, measured, and appropriate, and that the weapons have to be in conformance with the law."
This is part of the Preface of Tony Bouza’s latest book, Expert Witness: Breaking the Policemen’s Blue Code of Silence, a volume of case files in which the former Minneapolis police chief, considered by most to be a maverick cop, remains a conscientious defender of ethics in policing – this, despite the statement above.
Those on the receiving end of police violence – especially serious advocates of reining in all police abuse – might dispute even this reasoning on its use in enforcing the law. And yet:
This is also the guy writing books and running around the country testifying against police abuse, abuse too often forgiven by chiefs, prosecutors, judges and juries, more often than not pitting the word of men (and some women) of color against cops known to their colleagues and other witnesses as “thumpers” or worse – killers – many willing to lie on reports and cover for each other, no matter how straight most of them may be – because the Blue Code of Silence is like the Mafia’s Black Hand: you never, but never fink on a fellow cop.
Multiply Rodney King times a million or more victims of out-of-control street muggings by uniformed police officers, unafraid of rolling cameras and cell phone videos, knowing the chances are somewhere in the neighborhood of 90% that the cops will get off, despite the visual evidence. Pictures don’t matter much when the public is scared to death – either of criminals or cops – and refuse to convict. The rare conviction usually means one’s network has failed him (or her – almost never her).
Tony Bouza’s years as a cop and his rebellious nature as chief lend him a certain cache of credibility as an expert witness in criminal and civil cases calling out his former brothers in blue for their arrogant excesses, similar to a few other ex-police officers, like author and retired Minneapolis supervisor, Mike Quinn. Quinn’s book, Walking with the Devil: The Police Code of Silence, like Bouza’s, depicts cops as dedicated law enforcement officers – until they lose it – and they lose it often, especially those in Minneapolis Police uniforms. But the criticism remains and some very broken heads and dead bodies have resulted in the name of “protecting and serving.”
As MPR reporter Dan Olson suggested in his 2004 interview of Quinn: “If observing the code protects police, protects citizens and puts bad people away, isn't it at worst, harmless and at best, beneficial?” Quinn says no. He says the code changes the police motto "protect and serve" to "convict and incarcerate." It encourages police to take the law into their own hands, because they know there's little chance their wrongdoing will be exposed by other officers.
‘Then we start having problems," Quinn says, "because then we start seeing that it's OK to start kicking in doors without warrants, that it's OK to make that drug arrest without really seeing them drop the drugs.’”
But that may only be the half of it. The very notion of such codes bespeaks a corrupting culture that may give a false sense of security to those who stay away from criminality or even legal dissent, but get in the face of any officer, and you will find the most innocent of democratic values may mean nothing to the uniform in front of you, one accompanied by a very large gun, a baton and a can of pepper spray.
TTT’s Andy Driscoll talks with a returning Tony Bouza, now author of some twelve books, about his latest, Expert Witness: Breaking the Policemen’s Blue Code of Silence.