The “blue wall of silence” – if you haven’t heard the term before - is a troubling reality that many victims of police misconduct must overcome, namely “the unwritten rule that exists among police officers not to report on a colleague's errors, misconducts, or crimes … or [to] claim ignorance of another officer's wrongdoing.” Some believe this attitude has contributed to patterns of police brutality, so it’s disturbing to now learn that this “code” is essentially being required of victims and the public, as well.
The Wall Street Journal has an article today about the conditions forced upon victims of police brutality with whom the city of Baltimore reaches legal settlements – namely, silence. The paper writes, "In 95% of police-misconduct cases, as well as in some other types of disputes, Baltimore requires the plaintiff’s public silence, beyond saying that a satisfactory settlement was reached, according to Baltimore Solicitor George Nilson."
And make no mistake, silence is enforced.
Violating that restriction can result in a settlement being cut in half.
The city last year withheld $31,500 of one woman’s $63,000 payment after she posted messages about her case on a newspaper website, for instance. …
“It kind of defeats the purpose of these types of lawsuits, which is to shine a light on police misconduct,” said Jeffrey Neslund, a Chicago attorney who represents plaintiffs in these cases.…
It’s rare for a city to impose gag orders on victims, says the paper. Except it’s not so strange when considering the lengths to which many states go to cover-up histories of police misconduct
New York City’s public radio station, WNYC, recently did a fascinating investigative report finding "that a police officer's disciplinary history is effectively confidential in almost half of US states.”
In some of these states, the law explicitly exempts these records from public view. In others, records are secret in practice because police departments routinely withhold them under vague legal standards or in spite of court precedents.…
In  states, and the District of Columbia, a police officer's disciplinary history is mostly unavailable through public records requests.
In some cases, all public employee personnel files are exempt from disclosure. In others, police departments withhold records under a general privacy exemption.
Laws in New York, California, and Delaware specifically make law enforcement officers' personnel records confidential.
Indeed, our home base of New York, it turns out, is one of the worst when it comes to public access to such records. Writes the New York Times,
The uniquely restrictive New York State law that is used to conceal the disciplinary histories of police officers — even some who have committed crimes — reared its head again last week in misconduct proceedings against the officer who brutalized the retired tennis player James Blake during a mistaken arrest in Manhattan last month.
The public has the right to be kept informed of police misconduct cases, especially at a time of heightened concern over police brutality. But when the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board substantiated excessive force charges against James Frascatore, the officer who attacked Mr. Blake, it was allowed to release its findings to Mr. Blake’s lawyer but was barred from making them available to the public. Had Mr. Blake’s attorney not released the information, the public would still be in the dark.
And now, Massachusetts “is considering a controversial plan to shield investigations of police misconduct from the media and general public.”
A proposal by state Rep. Nick Collins, D-Boston, adds documents "related to any review of conduct of police officers which could result in disciplinary action" to a list of government materials exempted from public disclosure.
Interesting that the outliers making news over this issue are politically “blue” places like Baltimore Maryland, New York, and Massachusetts. Maybe they just like the color.