In planning for the April 2014 Career Newsletter — which focuses on ethics — we asked our PoliceOne Facebook fans how they defined ethics and what instances they had seen within their department in which ethics was displayed. What we discovered is that the word ethics means so many things to so many people.
Is ethics upholding the oath you took the day you put on the badge? Or is it doing what you think is right regardless of what the law may state? Do your ethics as a police officer conflict with your ethics as a person?
Perhaps the most unsettling discovery when we posted the question was that many who commented — sworn and unsworn — believed that ethics had no place in law enforcement at all.
Well, we beg to differ. In the past 12 months alone, we’ve reported on countless cases of police officers demonstrating superior ethics in both thought and deed — both on duty and off. The below stories illustrate how we at PoliceOne define ethics, and in how many forms ethical behavior can come.
1.) In September 2013, Miami (Fla.) Officer Vicki Thomas caught a struggling single mother shoplifting food from a grocery store for her family. Thomas made the news for the way she solved the problem. Rather than arrest her, she purchased the food for the mother, and showed her the local food banks and churches where she could get back on her feet.
“I made the decision to buy her some groceries because arresting her wasn't going to solve the problem with her children being hungry.”
2.) In May of last year, Phoenix (N.M.) Sergeant Natalie Simonick discovered a teen in her area walked 9 miles to and from work each night, so she picked him up and gave him a lift home. She then purchased a bike for him, and arranged for members of the department to teach him how to ride it.
“If everybody could help just one person in the world like this, I think it would definitely be a better place to live.”
3.) As an apology for leaving a wheelchair-bound robbery victim to find his own way home, New York police continuously visited the home of the victim, Fredrick Brennan, to bring him hot dinners and help him with chores he was unable to do himself, like building an entertainment center. The department realized their faults (not providing and did everything they could to make it right, including starting a fund so that Brennan could purchase the ‘Cadillac’ of wheelchairs.
4.) Former Auburn (Ala.) Police Officer Justin Hanners risked his job in order to stand up for his beliefs when he spoke out against the police chief, who allegedly forced his officers to comply with ticket and arrest quotas. He was fired from the department, and continued to speak out against the injustice.
“I got into law enforcement because I want serve and protect, not be a bully. The role of police in society — I believe — are to interfere with the lives of the people as little as possible, but protect them from the one percent element that wants to victimize them. Protect the people and the property.”
5.) Nicoma (Okla.) Police Officer James Hall was heartbroken when he learned that an autistic boy in his neighborhood had his bike stolen at knife point. He collected money from his department and his second job to buy the boy a new bike and hand-deliver it to him at his home.
“It just hit me in the gut that somebody would attack, you know, a child that already deals with so much in his life. We can’t control what happens in life, but there are people out there like us that are willing to step up and help out. There’s more good guys than bad guys.”
This short list of remarkable people took a matter of moments to gather, and we have, without a doubt, forgotten countless others who deserve to be celebrated for what they do every day. Their displays of ethics vary greatly, but they all have one thing in common: None of them did it expecting the media attention or a pat on the back. They did what they thought was right.
Officers who have been on the job long-term are often jaded by what they’ve seen. Yes, there are dishonest cops, and yes, there are corrupt superiors. But don’t let those who have lost their grounding ruin the good names of your brothers and sisters.
Sound off in the comments section below with instances of ethics you’ve witnessed in your department. Badgering your profession only makes it easier for uninformed non-LEOs to do the same.