Brace yourself, people, I’m about to talk accounting. You are probably all familiar with the accounting scandal at Enron in 2001. What you might not be as familiar with is the rash of other accounting scandals in the late ’90s: WorldCom, Waste Management, Phar-Mor among others. All of this led to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) of 2002. It’s designed to add greater levels of oversight to publicly traded companies. But the single greatest improvement it made, at least in my opinion, is that it requires the CEO to attest to the validity of the company’s financial statements or face jail time. Yes, you read that correctly. Prior to 2002, blatantly lying on your financial statements would at most get you a fine. It was barely illegal. Now, in order to confirm the financial statements are accurate, companies must have an outside auditor examine the company once a year, and tell everyone, “Yeah these guys are cool.” It hasn’t eliminated fraud, but it’s a significant improvement over the old model of allowing companies to tell you how well they were doing.
I bring this up not only because I have intimacy issues and push you away because I’m afraid of your love, but also because of the normalizing effect yearly audits have on oversight. When everyone is subject to annual examinations of their work environment, products and records, no one is suspect. There’s then an element of Schrodinger’s trust: we believe everyone is doing their jobs well and simultaneously that we need to confirm every last fact. You know that thing where school children all say “Ooooooh” when someone gets called to the principle’s office? Even when it’s just something stupid like you forgot your extra clarinet reed at home and your mom dropped it off for you before band practice (that is purely hypothetical and not a personal story)? If everyone were called down to the principle’s office once a week, no one would care anymore.
That is just one of the infuriating elements in every police shooting (you know, aside from the horrific loss of innocent life and the unrelenting pain and shame that accompany racial injustice.) When someone says, “Everything here is on the up-and-up, no reason to look at this more closely, we should probably just move on without any investigation,” do you ever believe them? Every time Trump tells us we should “trust him,” do you? When your kid tells you everything is fine and you shouldn’t look in their closet, what’s the first thing you do?
Demanding trust from the public isn’t the same as earning it. And being subject to oversight isn’t an attack on officers’ character; it’s what’s required when you’re a goddamn public servant. We’re more than willing to believe that most police are performing their difficult jobs with grace and integrity. Provided they’re willing to prove they won’t tolerate a few “bad apples.”