Blue Wall of Silence

2012-01-05 04:17:48

The Blue Wall of Silence is an unwritten code that prohibits police officers from providing adverse information against fellow officers. In essence, the code states that ‘‘cops don’t tell on cops.’’

Officers allegedly learn about the wall of silence in the police academy when instructors inform them that all officers are ‘‘blue’’ (referring to the color of their uniforms) and have to protect each other no matter what. ‘‘I’ll watch your back and you watch mine’’ is the understanding that police officers have among themselves. The problem with this philosophy is that a sense of loyalty develops that is based on relationships with other police officers rather than loyalty based on principles such as justice, fairness, and respect for human rights. Many police officers adopt this philosophy and turn a blind eye to fellow officers who engage in drug dealing, theft, assault and battery, murder, and other human rights violations.

The Blue Wall of Silence makes it possible for police violence against citizens to be perpetuated with impunity. In one of the most egregious examples of this phenomenon, officers in the New York City Police Department failed to do or say anything to protect Abner Louima from a sadistic anal assault perpetrated by Officer Justin Volpe in a Brooklyn police station. When Volpe marched around his fellow officers waving a broken broomstick stained with Louima’s blood and feces, bragging that he had ‘‘taken a man down,’’ no police officer reported this outrageous conduct. Other egregious examples of how the Blue Wall of Silence has operated include the cases of Rodney King (Los Angeles, Calif., 1992), Tyisha Miller (Riverside, Calif., 1998), and Amadou Diallo (New York City, 1999).


References and Further Reading

  • Chin, Gabriel, and Scott Wells, The Blue Wall of Silence As Evidence of Bias and Motive to Lie: A New Approach to Police Perjury, University of Pittsburgh Law Review 59 (1998): 233
  • Gallo, Gina. Armed and Dangerous: Memoirs of a Chicago Policewoman. New York: Forge, 2001
  • Human Rights Watch. Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States. Human Rights Watch Report, 1999.
  • Kappeler, Victor E., Richard Sluder, and Geoffrey P. Aplert. Forces of Deviance: Understanding the Dark Side of Policing. 2nd ed. Prospect Heights, IL.: Waveland Press, 1998
  • Stamper, Norm. Breaking Rank: A Top Cop’s Expose of the Dark Side of American Policing. New York: Nation Books, 2005.