When a police officer beats someone to death or shoots an unarmed motorist or steals drugs from the evidence room, there is often at least one witness: Another cop.
What happens when those officers speak up and report the misconduct?
USA TODAY set out to establish, for the first time, the extent of law enforcement’s blue wall of silence and its impact on the individual officers who have defied it, as well as the communities they police.
After a year fighting for public records and interviewing police officers and victims of misconduct, reporters found an unofficial system of retaliation in departments large and small across the country. Police leaders protect those accused of wrongdoing and then punish the officer who accused them.
Take Moses Black, a former officer in Louisiana. He watched a sergeant kick a handcuffed suspect, who then hit his head and went into a seizure. Black reported the sergeant's kick, and his department suspended and then fired Black. Now he fixes air conditioning units in sweltering attics for $19 an hour. “Because I'm telling the truth, that's why I can't get a police job anymore,” Black said. “Now I know how a convicted felon feels.”
USA TODAY’s series of investigations reveals what happens to the so-called “good cops” after they see something and then say something.
Dead rats, death threats, destroyed careers. How law enforcement punishes its whistleblowers
Around the country, police departments hunt down and silence internal whistleblowers to cover up misconduct with impunity. They've been fired, jailed and, in at least one case, forcibly admitted to a psychiatric ward. This is the most comprehensive public accounting of police retaliation ever compiled, including dozens of examples never before reported. READ MORE
‘Lost in this Evil’: The police code of silence claims a cop in the Bayou
Two mothers with dead sons. Two law enforcement agencies engulfed in scandal. And a veteran narcotics detective turned whistleblower, whose life is falling apart. Louisiana’s long history of police misconduct and retribution spares no one. READ MORE
How law enforcement punishes its whistleblowers
A USA TODAY documentary on three textbook examples of the blue wall of silence shows how the system has impacted families, whistleblowers and many others seeking police reform. WATCH
'We have to change the whole system': Solutions offered for police code of silence
USA TODAY reporters interviewed dozens of law enforcement officers, attorneys, experts, activists and others about how to encourage police whistleblowers to come forward and protect them when they do. READ MORE
To protect and serve their own: Secrets of police failures before abused woman's murder are revealed
For more than a decade, police officials on Long Island were allowed to keep secret how they repeatedly failed to protect a woman who was brutally murdered by her ex-boyfriend. They locked away the full story in a 781-page internal affairs investigation. USA TODAY has obtained the report. READ MORE
Whistleblower cops face a system built to beat them down
In the hundreds of cases USA TODAY reviewed, a pattern emerged: Whistleblowers must confront systems hostile to the allegations they're making, whether the complaints are made within their own department or to outside agencies they turn to for protection. READ MORE
A police officer exposed a video showing a death in custody. Now he’s facing prison time.
An Illinois officer slapped a handcuffed man dying of a drug overdose, called him a “bitch" and then shoved a baton in his mouth. He was suspended for six days. Another officer leaked video showing what happened. He's facing prison for whistleblowing. READ MORE