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What Happens When Officers Blow The Whistle On Police Misconduct


The police killing of George Floyd has brought on a national reckoning about policing in America, especially about police brutality and why it persists. One key question - if abuses are committed by a few bad apples, as some have called the officers involved, why don't other officers speak up or intervene to stop those abuses?

To gain some insight on this, we've called two men who say they have felt the consequences of speaking out in that way. Lorenzo Davis is a former Chicago police officer who won a $2.8 million judgment after he was fired from a now-defunct police review board. He was serving as a civilian member then. He says he was fired for refusing to change his findings about police misconduct. And a court evidently agreed.

Mr. Davis, thanks for joining us.

LORENZO DAVIS: Oh, thank you. Glad to be here.

MARTIN: Also with us is Sergeant Ike Lambert. He is a former detective and current patrol officer in Chicago who says he was retaliated against when he refused to sign off on a police report that he says was not true.

Sergeant Lambert, thank you so much for joining us as well.

IKE LAMBERT: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: I mean - and I especially appreciate both of you speaking about events that have to have been painful for you. And I'm going to start with you, Sergeant Lambert. And I do want to mention that your lawsuit is still pending. But it stems from an incident in August 2017 when an off-duty Chicago police officer shot an unarmed 18-year-old. And you said that the initial police report was inaccurate, and so you refused to sign off. You know, what happened then? I mean, when did you start to feel that you were, in effect, going to be retaliated against?

LAMBERT: Well, basically, after a year or so, when the report and its investigation remained dormant, a FOIA request was submitted to the city of Chicago, which prompted action by my police department. (Unintelligible) Doing some things I thought were just not just in terms of the way we were categorizing that kid as offender and officer as a victim. I didn't agree with it.

MARTIN: How long had you been on the force by the time this happened?

LAMBERT: Twenty-four years.

MARTIN: And I was just wondering - if you hadn't been on for that long and had the seniority that you have, do you think that you would have reacted the same way? Do you think you would have stood your ground, as it were?

LAMBERT: I've always spoke up against things I thought was wrong within the department. But like you said, this culture right now, a lot of officers don't feel as though they can speak up because there's no real, true mechanism that protects us from retaliation from our superiors.

Unfortunately, right now, I'm a perfect example of that. I'm living proof that, you know, if you speak out and it's not what the department wants you to conform to, you'll be punished. Or they'll take action against you, and you really have no recourse unless you're strong enough to stand out there on the ledge. And a lot of people won't back you. They'll leave you out there for yourself, so that's - it's different.

MARTIN: So if you just describe, like, what happened - I mean, you had been a detective. What happened - that you were, in essence, demoted?

LAMBERT: I wasn't demoted. I was given an unfavorable position. I was put back in patrol. Working in the detective division is considered a prime position in the department. And when you get dumped back to the streets, it's different. You know, it happened four days after I didn't want to approve this report but I was made to. I'm dumped midweek.

MARTIN: And what about you, Mr. Davis? Talk to me about your situation. I mean, you joined the police review board after a career with the Chicago Police Department. You're also a licensed attorney. Why did you want to join that board?

DAVIS: I was interested in what I was reading in the daily newspapers about officer-involved shootings. I did not recall it being so many when I was - the 23 years that I was a police officer. So I was interested in finding out exactly what was going on in the city of Chicago, my city. And I began to find that there was a lot of misconduct that was being committed, and police officers were not being held accountable for it.

MARTIN: When did you realize, though - when did you start to believe that your evaluation of events was not appreciated? Let me just put it that way.

DAVIS: Actually, when the administration of that agency changed. A chief administrator came in, a new one, who was a retired DEA agent - had a police - you might say a policing background. And he was also a member of the federal Fraternal Order of Police. It was at that time that my reports were being rejected.

MARTIN: And was it - was anything ever said to you? I mean, did he ever say to you, this isn't the way it's going to be or anything like that? Like, how did - was it just that your reports were never accepted?

DAVIS: He said to me that I appeared to be biased against police officers. He ordered me to change them, and I would not do it. I said, in order to change my findings, what I would have to do is change the evidence and witness statements and the like. And that would be unlawful, actually.

MARTIN: Can I ask each of you - why does this persist? I mean, I know maybe to you, it's a ridiculous question because you've lived it every day. But a lot of people want to know - why does this persist? You know, what is it that allows this to continue? So I don't know - Mr. Davis, you want to start?

DAVIS: Now, the situation persists, I think, because of the confidentiality that exists within the organization. And when you have that much confidentiality, you have no transparency.

MARTIN: What do you think, Sergeant Lambert? Like, what's your take on why this persists?

LAMBERT: I think some more important factors to me - the accountability of the investigations and meaning that we have an investigation of a bad police officer, it should be done in a manner that doesn't take three to four years. It should be dealt with swiftly by the supervisors, whoever sees to that. But I think the problem with a lot of people on our job is their moral compass. Sometimes it's integrity and being a professional when you do your job.

I mean, we're talking about things that just shouldn't happen. So why do they happen? Because we don't correct them. We don't discipline. We don't do what needs to be done. You know, like I say, you have so many different cliques, so many different biases from people. But at the same time, that shouldn't matter if you just do your job.

MARTIN: Ike Lambert is a sergeant with the Chicago Police Department.

Sergeant Lambert, thank you for joining us.

LAMBERT: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Lorenzo Davis is an attorney and former supervising investigator of Chicago's Independent Police Review Authority.

Mr. Davis, thank you so much for joining us as well.

DAVIS: And thank you for having me on.

MARTIN: And we should say we reached out to the Chicago Police Department for comment. We haven't received a response yet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.