Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Survey: Most US workers don't snitch

Most Americans don't snitch on their co-workers, reports a new survey on workplace ethics. I've written before that snitching in the criminal justice system is fraught with moral hazards - when used indiscriminately, it can countenance behaviors and reinforce values that violate the good sense and best nature of average citizens, undermining support for law enforcement and respect for the rule of law.

Outside the realm of overtly criminal organizations, far away from the street-level drug peddlers and others who might view the "stop snitchin" movement as a mere witness intimidation tactic, most Americans don't think it's okay to snitch. According to a recent national
survey of 1,436 US workers:
EVEN though one in three workers say they have witnessed unethical activities at work, only 47 per cent are willing to "blow the whistle" on their company or boss, according to a recent survey. Unethical and illegal activities in the workplace, also known as white-collar crimes, include financial fraud, bankruptcy fraud, bribery, insider trading, tax evasion and embezzlement.

Interestingly, men are more likely than women to report these types of activities, according the 2006 survey conducted by Spherion Corp, a staffing and recruiting company.
Before long some savvy marketer will inevitably branch out with the product line - they could be selling those "Stop Snitching" t-shirts in the malls to mainstream America, not just as a novelty item in the 'hood. Hell, you could create an upscale version to sell near Wall Street to people who had to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley. The sentiment against snitching obviously resonates much more deeply than just its application in the justice system or the drug war.

I'm surprised, upon reflection, that police unions don't have their own version of the slogan: nowhere does the "no snitching" sentiment hold sway more than among cops themselves.
To be sure, some courageous officers come forward in the fact of misconduct by their mates, but they can pay a steep professional price. Snitching among police officers is a cultural taboo. But the baseline sentiment that cops shouldn't snitch on each other, like the whole discussion of snitching, lies in a gray, muddled area, morally speaking, where strongly held values like loyalty and honesty conflict.

The sentiment against snitching represents a commonly held value among a huge swath of the public, not just those engaging in crime. Seeing the results of this survey emphasizes to me that, whatever its root, opposition to snitching is a deeply entrenched part of the American ethos, not just a vehicle for petty witness intimidation, even if on occasion it has become that, too.

See prior Grits' coverage.

10 comments:

  1. It depends on the seriousness of the crime. Anyone that would snitch on someone for stealing office supplies is distinctly weird. (In fact, the managers at my workplace suspect that they're buying half the school supplies for the entire town - but the time to merely ask people why they need more paper and pencils would cost more than the supplies are worth.)

    Tax evasion: How do I know whether what you are doing is illegal when the IRS itself can't give consistent answers to common questions? If ever there was a law that should be thrown out for vagueness, it's the tax code. I'm not eager to help the government enforce it.

    But if I witnessed a murder, assault, hazardous waste dumping, or even someone walking out the door with a company laptop that they weren't authorized to be using, you bet I'd snitch.

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  2. Why? what do you have to gain man

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  3. I think Markm draws the line about where most people do - he'd inform where a crime would obviously cause someone substantial harm, but not per se just because a law was broken.

    The difference in the criminal justice system is that police and prosecutors incentivize snitching through cash paid or reduced culpability for the snitch's own crimes in order to get them to testify. That drives down considerably the threshold at which the average person would snitch.

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  4. Hmm...Grits writes about how most Americans don't agree with snitching and appears to imply that he agrees. He also makes the statement,

    "I've written before that snitching in the criminal justice system is fraught with moral hazards - when used indiscriminately, it can countenance behaviors and reinforce values that violate the good sense and best nature of average citizens, undermining support for law enforcement and respect for the rule of law."

    However, he then goes on to call police officers who decide to snitch "courageous." Kind of contradicting isn't it?

    Let me write you a reality check. As much as you hate snitching, it is necessary in police work. There are many places with illegal activity that police simply can't go. How else would you locate major fencing operations, chop shops, drug houses, ect, ect...?

    It's called the criminal underworld for a reason. Without the ability to use snitches, police would be much more ineffective. Of course, I get the impression that is what Grits would like.

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  5. @ anon: Yes police officers who report official misconduct by fellow cops are "courageous" - they're placing their duty to the public over their personal values of trust and loyalty, which is a difficult moral decision. Since that's the case, they shouldn't be asked to do it over small stuff. I'd consider it courageous to tell on a fellow cop who's on the take, for example, but wouldn't blame the same officer for failing to squeal on the guy filching office supplies at the beginning of the school year. As Markm's comment implies, everyone must make those judgements for themselves about where to draw the line.

    Otherwise, I'd encourage you to look in the archives for my past writing on snitches before you further misrepresent my positions on the topic - the rest of your screed is hardly worth replying to, since on many occasions I've written quite differently on the subject than you portray.

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  6. Cops don't rat out cops for the simple reason that a police force coheres solely through mutual blackmail.

    A newly minted cop will not be trusted until he has been 'blooded' by some act he can go to prison for. He will thereafter be repeatedly tested, making sure he's not an IA stooge or some kind of deranged Boy Scout trying to play Serpico.

    This hold is so strong that if one of a group of cops commits a misdemeanor, felony or capital offense in public, the others will close ranks to protect him, standing guard to prevent any do-gooder from acting, and scaring away witnesses. If they see a camera they will commit armed robbery to get it.

    A cop who rats out cops can expect from his brother cops the same thing a gangster expects for ratting out the mob.

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  7. Cue the black helicopters now?

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  8. "The difference in the criminal justice system is that police and prosecutors incentivize snitching through cash paid or reduced culpability for the snitch's own crimes in order to get them to testify. That drives down considerably the threshold at which the average person would snitch."

    It also gives criminals, who generally need very little incentive to lie anyway, a strong incentive to form lies to implicate others.

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  9. Hey, there is really much worthwhile material in this post!

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