Life in the Courthouse

Getting to know all the characters in a busy urban criminal courthouse is fascinating. One clerk I know (a former court officer) had these cartoons up in his office and I asked his permission to copy them. I thought they were amusing and they will probably be pretty familiar to anyone who works in the Bronx Courthouse and other places like it, even if they don't identify with everything they depict.

[Click on the images to enlarge]

These reminded me of "cop's rules" I'd read.

-Watch out for your partner first and then the rest of the guys working the tour [shift];

-Don't give up another cop;

-Show balls [physical courage];

-Be aggressive when you have to, but don't be too eager;

-Don't get involved in anything in another guy's sector [car beat];

-Hold up your end of the work;

-If you get caught off base, don't implicate anybody else;

-Make sure the other guys [officers, but not supervisors or administrators] know if another cop is dangerous or "crazy";

-Don't trust a new guy until you have checked him out;

-Don't tell anybody else more than they have to know, it could be bad for you and it could be bad for them;

-Don't talk too much or too little;

-Don't leave work for the next tour;

-Protect your ass;

-Don't make waves;

-Don't give [supervisors] too much activity;

-Keep out of the way of any boss from outside your precinct;

-Don't look for favors just for yourself;

-Don't take on the patrol sergeant by yourself;

-Know your bosses;

-Don't do the boss's work for them [e.g. let them discover miscreant officers for themselves];

-Don't trust bosses to look out for your interests.

(Reuss-Inanni, 1984,: 14-16. Based on observations of NYC police officers. Excerpted in Fyfe, "Good Policing" in Brian Forst, Ed., The Socioeconomics of Crime and Justice, Reprinted with permission in Critical Issues in Policing, Contemporary Readings, Dunham, Roger and Alpert, Geoffrey, Eds. Waveland Press, Prospect Heights Illinois, 2001)

The cartoons are pretty old, and the research that quoted these "cop rules" is from the early eighties. A generation ago, most officers where white and male, as depicted in the cartoons, but now a typical officer could be white, black, or Hispanic, and is just as likely to be male as female. I also suspect that former military service, while once a defining characteristic among court officers, may have become less prevalent among younger officers. However, I wonder whether the core observations about the culture of cops and court officers remain essentially unchanged.