Are the Good and Honest Cops Starting to Speak Out?



This is from Radley Balko’s stunning interview with a former Baltimore police officer, Michael Wood, in yesterday’s “Washington Post” (You can follow Wood’s revealing Twitter posts @MichaelAWood.)  Balko is also the author of The Rise of the Warrior Cop).

Now on to his interview with Michael Wood:

Radley Balko: “So how long were you a cop in Baltimore? When and why did you leave? Wood: Eleven years. I joined in 2003. I was a sergeant when I retired. I started by walking the Western District on foot. That’s where Freddie Gray was killed. That was my first beat. I also worked in the Southern and Northern districts for a while. Then I was promoted to the Violent Crime Division. I did street work with a narcotics division for six months. Then I was promoted to Major Crimes. I left in January 2014 due to a shoulder injury. I wish I could say my injury came with an interesting story, but it’s pretty boring…

“You’ve received a lot of praise on Twitter, but also some criticism. One common criticism asked why you didn’t report these incidents. Why didn’t you? To an extent, I’m totally guilty. I should have done more. My excuse isn’t a good excuse, but it’s reality: You report that stuff, and you’re going to get fired. I mean, of course you’re going to get fired. Or they’re going to make your life miserable. I mean, look what happened to Joseph Crystal… It all goes back to this whole us versus them thing. You suit up; you get out there; you’re with your brothers. You’re an occupying force. Your job is to fight crime, and these are the guys you do it with. So you just don’t see the abuse. It doesn’t even register, because those people are the enemy. They aren’t really even people. They’re just the enemy. This is the culture. It’s a s—– excuse. But it’s the reality.

“What happened between 2007 and the last few months to make you decide to come out with the external abuses so openly? It’s been a gradual progression. I got my master’s degree. The critical thinking required to earn my degree helped me more fully process those revelations I had in 2007. It taught me to think about things differently, to evaluate information in different ways. I started reading news from alternative media, seeking out different perspectives. Then I think the national discussion after Ferguson really drove it all home for me. That whole discussion was so divisive, but it was also instructive. So much of it goes back to a lack empathy. You start to see how neither side is able to see things from the other’s perspective…

“Do you think these problems are unique to Baltimore? I haven’t talked enough with cops from other cities for them to feel comfortable opening up to me. But I’ve been to conferences. I’ve been around other officers. It’s all the same. You could take a cop out of Philly and put him in Baltimore and he’d get along just fine. You can take a cop out of New Orleans or Chicago and do the same. Big cities obviously are going to have different problems. But the culture is the same everywhere. The driving part of the police in Ferguson is no different than it is in Baltimore: It’s us against them…

“You were in the Marines. There has been a lot of talk of police militarization lately. I’ve had law enforcement leaders who are concerned about militarization tell me that bringing in veterans to become cops contributes to the problem. But I’ve also had some police chiefs and sheriffs tell me that former military guys are actually a good influence on rogue cops. What do you think?  Well first, let me address the military equipment. The police don’t need it, and they have no business having it. But when it comes to former military joining law enforcement, I’m in the camp that says they’re going to be better when it comes to shootings and using force. Bad police shootings are almost always the result of a cop being afraid. Look at Walter ScottMichael Brown, the South Carolina state trooper shooting — those were all cops who were afraid, and fired their weapons out of fear. The military strips you of fear. Here’s the thing: There’s nothing brave or heroic about shooting Tamir Rice the second you pull up to the scene. You know what is heroic? Approaching the young kid with the gun. Putting yourself at risk by waiting a few seconds to be sure that the kid really is a threat, that the gun is a real gun. The hero is the cop who hesitates to pull the trigger…

“President Obama’s policing commission uses the phrase ‘guardians, not warriors.’ I could get behind that. The important thing is to change the mindset, to foster a sense of empathy, so police officers see themselves as the protectors of these communities, not as an occupying force that’s at war with them. But I also think we need to start thinking more critically, more creatively, and more from a data and science-driven perspective…

“So here’s the impossible question: How do we make things better? I think it starts with empathy. We need to stop all this warrior talk, the militaristic language, and the us versus them rhetoric. We need a better metaphor. Police officers aren’t warriors. They aren’t soldiers. I don’t even like the mentality that we’re ‘enforcing the laws.’ Maybe a term like “protectors”… I’d like to part of the solution. I woke up to this, and I think I can be a bridge. I speak the language cops speak. If there’s some task force or policing reform committee I can serve on, I’d love to do that.”


UnknownNote: Earlier, the Baltimore Police Department issued the following release to in response to Wood’s comments:

“The recent allegations made by Mr. Michael Wood are serious and very troubling.  The Police Commissioner has made clear that the Baltimore Police Department will never tolerate malicious conduct.  We hope that during his time as both a sworn member and as a sergeant with supervisory obligations, that Mr. Wood reported these disturbing allegations at the time of their occurrence.  If he did not, we strongly encourage him to do so now, so that our Internal Affairs Division can begin an immediate investigation.  In a recently published letter to the Baltimore Sun, the Police Commissioner made clear that his reform efforts remain focused on rooting out the type of conduct that is alleged.  We implore Mr. Wood or anyone else with knowledge of such acts to contact our Internal Affairs Division at 410-396-2300.”

Interesting. I know that the Police Commissioner must say this, but it is in total disregard (and denial) of the crippling power of the “blue subculture.” Cops depend on other cops for protection. Breaking the silence means literally putting your life on the line. That’s what I know and what every cop knows and why they look away when bad cops do bad things. (Read what former officer Joe Crystal had to say about this.)

  • So let’s get real. Police will never be reformed and improved as long as the bad guys in the minority exercise control over the good cops.
  • This means a BIG, BIG cultural change. This means HONESTY and INTEGRITY must become the new values — the hallmark of democratic policing!


  1. Radley Balko aside, this information is disturbing, and not only due to the misconduct it alleges.
    First, Wood was a sergeant, which means he had a responsibility to supervise and guide officers. Is he admitting he observed misconduct and didn’t take appropriate action?
    Also, his support for drug legalization is ludicrous. I realize the world isn’t going to end if someone smokes a joint, but does he genuinely want unfettered access to heroin, crystal meth, etc? The human devastation caused by those addictions is widely known, yet he advocates legalization?
    If Wood truly wants to improve policing, perhaps he should start with his own credibility.


    1. You are right on many points here. I think Wood is showing us a very dark, Serpico-like underbelly of policing. He admits he should of said something, but when I hear Joe Crystal (also of Baltimore PD) and Adrian Schoolcraft (NYPD) I am reminded that turning in a fellow cop is not just being a “snitch,” in many large urban departments it is a kiss of death — your life is in jeopardy; e.g. no one comes when you need help. That can chill a lot of cops out of telling on a fellow officer. Most cops I have worked with and led want to do the right thing, but they are often confronted with bullies who are bad cops and they, as the minority, tend to set the stage. What I am arguing for is for good cops like you, Ashley, to make a commitment to stand for fair, impartial, and honest policing — that must become the NEW POLICE CULTURE or, I am afraid, all will be lost. Thanks for you input from the ranks. Always welcome.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.