Four police officers were arrested last week on suspicion of mistreating teenagers, physically and emotionally. It reportedly happened in May at a youth boot camp at Camp San Luis Obispo. The officers, three males and one female, are now out on $20,000 bail each and on paid administrative leave.
Saturday’s Tribune said two of the officers are from the South Gate Police Department and two are from the Huntington Park Police Department. They were arrested on suspicion of committing child cruelty and other offenses while working at the police-sponsored boot camp.
The boys and girls at the camp ranged from 12 to 17 years old. Their parents paid $400 per child for a 20-week program that included the one-week camp and classes for the parents. The alleged mistreatment was revealed after a mother took her 13-year-old son to an emergency room with a bruised windpipe. A two-month investigation concluded that 15 children were physically or emotionally abused. A lawyer for some of the children said one officer stomped on a boy’s hand, which resulted in broken fingers.
The program brochure offered help for parents dealing with defiant children. One mother reported that one officer told a parents’ class, “I’m going to be the one your kids will fear.”
This case reminds me of the Stanford prison experiment in 1971, which was canceled after just six days because the make-believe “guards” abused the make-believe “prisoners.” The experiment gives us some insight into prisoner abuse.
Wikipedia tells us that Stanford University got a grant from the Navy to study the causes of strife between military prisoners and their guards. So the basement of the Stanford psychology building was turned into a simulated prison. It had three small imitation cells holding three prisoners each. A closet became solitary confinement.
Volunteers were solicited. Seventy-five students responded. Twenty-four were selected to be nine “guards,” nine “prisoners” and six alternates. Psychology Professor Philip Zimbardo became prison superintendent.
The experiment was to last up to 14 days, but Zimbardo canceled it on the sixth day. The guards were treating the prisoners too harshly. For example, the guards allowed some prisoners to urinate and defecate only in buckets in their cells. They also punished the prisoners by not allowing them to empty their buckets. The guards would also remove the prisoners’ mattresses, forcing them to sleep on the concrete floor.
Zimbardo stopped the experiment only after a graduate-student observer voiced objections. Zimbardo and the guards were lucky. They had wielded power, and power can corrupt. But it was only a small taste of bogus power over some make-believe “prisoners.”
But the officers at the youth boot camp had real power. If the charges against them prove true, it would mean power did corrupt them. There will be serious consequences. It’s a lesson for us all.