Professionalism/Justin Hopson and the Lords of Discipline

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Background[edit]

It all started when Justin Hopson, a rookie at the NJ State Police Department, witnessed his colleague wrongfully arrest a young woman for drunk driving. Hopson could clearly tell the arrest was unlawful because the woman wasn't driving, she was sitting in the back seat. "There was no gray area", he said. Even though Hopson had only 11 days on the job, he confronted the man who made the arrest and eventually testified against him in court. Before he testified, the "Lords of Discipline", what Hopson called a "secret society" within the police department, tried to silence the rookie with different forms of harassment and threats. [1]As Hopson would find out later, this society had done the same to many others. Rogue officers drove by his house late at night, shining spotlights in his windows and breathing deeply into the overhead car speaker. Colleagues wearing "Lords of Discipline" t-shirts would elbow him forcefully as they walked by him in the office. His car door would be covered in chewing tobacco and spit. This lasted for a few years as Hopson fell in and out of depression and paranoia. After a lawsuit and the largest internal investigation of the state's police history, NJ settled with Hopson in 2007 for $400,000, and he moved to Charleston, South Carolina.

The Lords of Discipline and their Code of Ethics[edit]

The "Lords of Discipline" enacted an unwritten code of ethics understood throughout their organization. This unwritten code often directly opposed and effectively superseded the published code of ethics. The New Jersey State Police motto is "honor, duty, and fidelity". However, the LOD promoted unconditional fidelity to fellow officers in spite of honor and duty. The LOD allegedly targeted anyone willing to speak out against another officer for illegal or improper actions. Using scare tactics, they influenced their subordinates to conform to their way of thinking being that women, minorities, and those who act out will be ostracized and harassed.

The LOD's unwritten rule to not report a colleague's errors, misconduct, or crimes is a somewhat common occurrence in law enforcement. The phenomenon is known as the "blue wall of silence". Certain attributes of law enforcement organizations, such as a lack of transparency and deep sense of brotherhood, may make them especially susceptible to unwritten codes. In these organizations, the type of professionalism demonstrated by Justin Hopson is important in preventing corruption.

The Bystander Effect and Diffusion of Responsibility[edit]

The bystander effect and the diffusion of responsibility is phenomenon where individuals are less likely to take action when others are present. This might be caused by either pluralistic ignorance or a diffusion of responsibility. Known examples of the bystander effect are the NASA Columbia space shuttle disaster, and the Kitty Genovese murder.

New Jersey State Police Department Interviews[edit]

After the Hopson case, 250 members of the New Jersey State Police were interviewed about the existence of an organized group that hazes and harasses individuals who are considered outsiders due to their race, gender, background or physical appearance. Fourteen other troopers gave accounts of being hazed or harassed. Five people identified the Lords of Discipline as being involved in the harassment.[2] Seven troopers were found guilty after the allegations and punishment ranged from reprimands to 45-day suspensions.[3] Because Hopson had the courage to break out of conformity, many others found strength to come forward. Due to these accounts, the Division of State Police incorporated sensitivity training in their programs to avoid any similar cases in the future. Hopson describes the situation as bittersweet because the Lords of Discipline still exist.

Letter to Senator[edit]

Hopson forwarded a letter to Senator John Adler, Chairman of the N.J. Senate Judiciary Committee complaining about continuing brutalization and harassment since N.J.S.P. Office of Professional Standards started its investigation. Hopson went all the way to the senator, a much higher authority, to do the right thing and stood up for himself. [2]

Integrity[edit]

During the incident, it wasn’t due to expertise that Hopson stood up, it was corruption and integrity. Hopson was only 11 days on the job. He could have hesitated and not said anything, but superiority didn't matter to him, so he stood up and did what was right. In his words: "I was an ordinary cop with an extraordinary cause. My cause is constant - to unearth corruption and shine a light on integrity because it seems like integrity these days has become the exception rather than the rule,” [4] Hopson stated that it's an exception nowadays for people stand up and fight for the right thing. Only Hopson and his fellow officer were present during the unlawful arrest. If Hopson didn't come forward, unjust behavior could have gone unnoticed.

Relating to Other Cases[edit]

Serpico and the NYPD[edit]

The case of Frank Serpico is very similar to that of Hopson. Serpico was a NYPD officer who discovered widespread police corruption while working on the force. His whistle-blowing efforts resulted in the Knapp Commission, formed in 1970 to investigate internal corruption. The case is further evidence of how a "code of silence" can permeate an organization, especially law enforcement.

The DC-10 Case[edit]

The cargo door of Turkish Airlines flight 981 failed during a flight and the plane crashed, killing everyone on board. The design flaw had been noted by engineer Dan Applegate but was left uncorrected before and after the production of DC-10s. Professionals knew the latch would fail but they didn’t do anything about it until it resulted in catastrophe.[5] In Hopson's case, he acted before the Lords of Discipline did something really bad. There’s a lot hidden in law enforcement so it is important for people with integrity to take it upon themselves to keep things in line.

Corrupt Secret Societies at American Universities[edit]

In 2015, Alex Smith, a student at the University of Alabama, unveiled a society on campus called The Machine, dating back a century or more. The group functioned within the shadows of what is known to be the largest community of sororities and fraternities in the U.S.. Group members don't recognize its existence and it isn't officially affiliated with the university. After being elected as campus senator, Alex realized how corrupt the inner workings of the society could be. She would receive texts before Machine meetings telling her how to vote. She was the only one to advocate for a policy to allow The Machine to be more open with their community. An article in the Tuscaloosa news reports that "through the years, stories of nefarious Machine actions aimed at opponents have become numerous — a burglary, a cross-burning, vandalism, social blackballing, to name a few." Smith is quoted saying "I'm finally doing the right thing. I'm finally free.” after she took it upon herself to expose the corruption that had been hidden for so long. [6] Alex and Justin experienced very similar situations. Because they both understood that they were free to stand strong in their judgement, they were able to unmask widespread unethical behavior.

References[edit]

  1. Moore, Thad (2012). Justin Hopson, who shook up New Jersey State Police, advocates for doing the right thing. The Post and Courier.
  2. a b Baum, R. E. (2005). Lords of Discipline. State of New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety Division of Criminal Justice Investigation Report.
  3. Jones, Richard (2007). New Jersey Agrees to Settle Trooper's Harassment Suit. The New York Times.
  4. Retaliation in Law Enforcement. (2011). WestBow Press.www. copsholdingcopsaccountable.com/retaliation/
  5. Fielder, J. H., & Birsch, D. (1992). The DC-10 case: A study in applied ethics, technology, and society. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  6. Reeves, Jay. Student exposes 'corrupt' secret society at Alabama. (2015). Tuscaloosa News