The thin blue line is a colloquial term for the police–the force being the only thing standing between a civilized society and chaos. In Syracuse, we have discovered that the thin blue line is torn and frayed–especially if you are a female police officer.
Three female officers have recently won hefty lawsuits against the city and the SPD after three separate juries found the police department retaliated against female officer that complained about discrimination or abuse. Apparently, there are two more lawsuits in the pipeline–also likely to result in more jury verdicts and damages to the complainants.
The misconduct alleged in the five lawsuits span 11 years, five police chiefs and two mayors. Taken together, they make for an ugly soap opera. They air, under oath, allegations of affairs within the department, domestic violence, cover-ups and favoritism in an agency charged with enforcing the law.
The jury found in the most recent case that bosses retaliated with such frequency that it had become the unwritten, official policy of the department for anyone who filed complaints.
“They’ve operated through special interests, bullying, retaliation — that’s what juries are finding,” said Bosman, a Rome lawyer.
While the new city administration is moving quickly to change disciplinary procedures and the culture of the police department, several questions remain:
1) The city is taking the money for the jury awards out of the department’s budget, according to Corporation Counsel Juanita Perez-Williams, so that “the taxpayers aren’t going to be accountable for this . . . the Police Department itself will have to come up with the $1 million in verdicts through reduced overtime and staff cuts.” Talk about tortured logic, taxpayers that will face a huge reduction in police coverage, at a time when the city was already planning significant cuts in its police force, will not be bearing the brunt of the cuts?
2) Where the hell was the P.B.A. during all this? Time to clean house with the good ol’ boy network there, as well. They’ve been front and center denying any and all allegations of police abuse of citizens, loudly and proudly. Their silence now speaks volumes.
3) Citizens complaining about abusive and disrespectful treatment at the hands of the police have never been well served in Syracuse–facing a stonewalling P.B.A., chiefs of police denying any problems and a do-nothing, un-accountable civilian review board. If this is the kind of treatment that police officers dish out to their own, imagine what they are doing to citizens.
4) The Syracuse Fire Department was sued back in the 1970’s for discriminatory hiring. They instituted new hiring policies and now routinely exceed the number of required hires for females and minorities. They also have close to 45% of their force living in the city–more than twice the rate of police city dwellers. Why didn’t we ever sue the police department?