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Ethical decision making in law enforcement

The bottom line here is simply this: If you wear a badge, don’t do anything illegal

Recently I was shocked to see a news story from a local channel. The news story dealt with an officer I’ve known for thirty years. Seems he was captured by a surveillance camera watering and tending to a marijuana plant. The end result was that he resigned and might face charges.

Now, I’m not going to get into a philosophical debate over a marijuana cigarette being less harmful than a martini, or whatever. The problem as I see it is simply this, a martini is not illegal, and a marijuana cigarette is. To my way of thinking, if a thing is illegal, and you wear a badge, you shouldn’t take part in it.

The shame of it is that this doesn’t seem to be an isolated incident from my area. In talking to a Lieutenant from another department, he informed me that during a recent hiring test, approximately 30-40 percent of the applicants failed — during the interview and polygraph — the requirement for a five year abstinence from drugs. He further stated that the applicants didn’t appear to be worried about their use of drugs — they had an attitude of, “Why would this department be concerned about such things?”

There have also been other incidents in the area dealing with officers committing burglaries, assaults, and a host of other crimes.

Where Are We Headed?
My concern is this: If the above conduct is a localized phenomenon, then shame on Pennsylvania. However, if the above conduct is indicative of a wider attitude with those in law enforcement, then we are becoming what some in the public have always believed about us — that we preach one course of conduct and then do another.

However, I’m an optimist when it comes to police work and police officers, and I believe that, unfortunately, what I’ve been seeing is more an indictment against my home state than an indictment against police as a whole. I won’t go into detail, but, being able to talk to a host of officers throughout the western part of Pennsylvania, this state has a long way to go in training officers if the complaints I hear are any indication.

However, the whole purpose of this article is to simply act as the devil’s advocate, if you will, and remind every officer that the police, more than any other group of professionals, are under the spotlight constantly. It doesn’t help when the public exhibits a you’re-all-the-same mentality — a “thought” process that goes something like:

“If one cop tends to a marijuana plant, then they all do! If one officer assaults a female, then they all do!”

This has been one of the biggest irritations for me in my career. The public doesn’t do it to dentists, doctors, lawyers, politicians, or any other group — but they do it to the police. I get sick and tired of it but I’ve come to the conclusion that we, the police, might just have to live with it.

The bottom line here is simply this: If you wear a badge, don’t do anything illegal. If you wear a badge and are not sure about a course of action, talk to some of your buddies and get a consensus before you act. If you wear a badge and have problems with alcohol or drugs, get help before you get found out (or worse!). Remember if you initiate the help process things have to remain confidential. Not so if you get found out first then need to get help.

Lastly, if you wear a badge, wear it with pride. Being a police officer isn’t just a job, it is testament to you, the officer that you were just a little bit better than others when you applied for the position and that’s why you made it. Strive to make that little bit better a lot better every day.

Stay safe.

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