Saturday, September 2, 2017

Blue on Blue: An Insider's Story of Good Cops Catching Bad Cops


Rating: 4 Stars

This book interested me for a couple reasons. One, I am utterly obsessed with New York City. Two, Law and Order: SVU is one of my favorite shows ever. And three, most importantly, I am deeply troubled about this growing divided between police officers and the public that seems to have been split wide open in the wake of the deaths of so many unarmed civilians, many of whom are young African American males.

The book is not perfect. In general it is fairly conversational and I liked that. It felt like I was sitting around with my grandpa and he was telling me stories about his childhood and this and that. Only it wasn't my grandpa, and the stories were about IAB catching nasty pieces of work who never should have been given the privilege of wearing an NYPD badge. But at times the writing feels a bit defensive about officer-involved shootings. I think most rational-minded people realize that the majority of police officers are honest, hardworking, good people who do their jobs with all the integrity with which they took their oath. The defensiveness was a by-product of trying to explain what it is like to be in a situation where you have a split-second to make what amounts to a life or death decision. I truly believe that the majority of the police officers in our country react the same way the author did, with thoughts of: Please don't make me shoot them, please don't make me shoot them, please don't make me shoot them. In the last few years, starting with the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, so many people have questions the idea of why an officer can't shoot to injure, instead of shoot to kill. The author explained that in the NYPD, the policy is 'shoot to stop'.

At the time of the author's retirement, only one other member of the NYPD had served as long or longer than him. He spent 20 years of his career with IAB, which makes for some fascinating and horrifying stories. It is hard to convince people to take a job that requires them to basically police the police, meaning some of their friends even. I can't imagine a more unenviable job but it is a necessary one, as this book proves time and again. It also amazes me that some of these officers could be so stupid as to think that they would get away with their crimes in the end. In fact, officers should always assume that when someone brings a shady plan to them, that it is really an Integrity Test. Unfortunately it won't, because there will always be bad cops, just like there are bad teachers, doctors, etc.

On a sort-of lighter note, Law and Order: SVU is one of my all-time favorite shows. I unfortunately had to stop watching it for two reasons: Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni, yum) left the force after season 12, and I had a baby which made it nearly impossible to watch a fictional show based on real crimes often committed against children. I could not handle it and cried buckets the first time I tried to watch the show as a new mom. And if you do not believe the tag line of 'ripped from the headlines', it is 100% true. The author recounted a tale of a suspect being arrested and beaten up by the four officers during transport to the precinct, where upon arrival two of the officers took him into a bathroom and one held him down while the other shoved the end of either a broom or a plunger (I can't remember which) into the man's rectum. This happened on an episode of SVU, though the motive and crimes surrounding this part of the story were changed. With some of the stories the author recounted, it was hard to not see Benson and Stabler as detectives within the narrative, even though yes I know they are fictional. It was also interesting to think about how Stabler always reacted every time IAB was afoot as I was reading.

Overall this is a good read about what it is like from the inside, investigating the very people who have sworn to protect the public. It is by no means an easy job, or a fun one, but it is a necessary one.

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