MARSHALL - Retired policeman Michael Quinn talked at Southwest Minnesota State University this week about police misconduct and its costs.
"We train officer survival but fail to understand the biggest threat to your survival is not a bad guy with a gun but cop culture," Quinn said. "More cops go to prison than are shot by felons. Three times more cops commit suicide than are shot, many because they are under investigation."
Quinn is the author of "Walking with the Devil: The Police Code of Silence," and a 24-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department. Quinn's assignments included uniformed patrol, undercover work, two years in Internal Affairs and 17 years on the Emergency Response Unit (ERU), now known as the SWAT Team.
Quinn was invited to speak at SMSU in connection with Black History and Inclusion Month.
"It would be easy to think from what I'm going to say tonight to get a negative impression of policing," Quinn said. "But I loved it!"
Quinn said policemen are heroes who put their lives on the line to protect life, but they also carry the awesome responsibility of having the authority to take life based on their personal judgement. Mistakes in judgment are inevitable when learning the profession, and a cop culture of covering mistakes can lead to accepting unethical practices such as "creative report writing" as acceptable.
Quinn was not sparing of himself and mistakes he'd made early in his career.
He described one incident when his partners stopped him from choking a suspect after a long foot chase during which he'd been smashed in the face with a bottle.
"If I'd been alone, or had different partners, I might have been the one going to prison," Quinn said.
According to Quinn, cops tend to make a lot of mistakes in use of force, which is understandable in high-stress situations with a lot of unknown variables. Where they go wrong is when they try to justify their mistakes.
Quinn acknowledged the costs of reporting police misconduct are high, and the temptation to look the other way is great.
"What do you do if someone who maybe saved your life does something illegal or unethical, and only you know?" Quinn asked.
Quinn spoke of his experience and that of other officers who reported misconduct, and the price they paid.
"What happens to snitches?" Quinn asked. "Shunned to the end of your career."
But, he said, the unethical conduct cost more, when families are broken up and children live with the knowledge their father is in prison.
"Good ethics is about paying a higher cost than you want to," Quinn said. "The problem with mistreating somebody is it puts other cops at risk. Someone mistreated in custody is going to be a dangerous person for the next cop."
Quinn stressed police misconduct does not come from bad people, but good men and women who start by looking the other way, not speaking up, not looking out for a partner whose tempted to do something unethical. He cited the example of Police Battalion 101, a German unit of ordinary citizen unfit for military service, which ultimately murdered 38,000 helpless people.
"Threat number one is 'The Lucifer Effect,' blind obedience, uncritical conformity, passive tolerance," Quinn said. "Good people are capable of terrible things."
Quinn's lecture and PowerPoint presentation are part of an ethics course he's developing for police departments in the U.S. and Canada. He's working with the New Orleans Police Department, considered the most corrupt in the country.