It’s come to my attention that we have a lack of ethical leadership in law enforcement. This is horrible for the troops, and it manifests itself in the headlines I read. Stories about cops crossing the line are way too common these days. After spending a few minutes on the Web, anyone can find tons of examples of cops engaging in criminal activity. I’ve seen stories of cops committing robberies, rapes and all sorts of other horrible things. Their actions are caused by a combination of factors, including a lack of ethical leadership.
In the News
To be honest, the stories that really bother me are the ones concerning cops taking shortcuts and screwing up everything from good cases to officer safety to operational security. The actions of these cops are a direct result of unethical and lazy supervision from the line level to the command level.
You think Ol’ Bullethead is crazy? I read about one department way out west where the chief of police got nailed for drunk driving in his city car. I have no idea how a man makes it to that level and hasn’t figured out that you can’t drink and drive. I’m sure this idiot put his entire department into a tailspin because of his stupid actions.
Example: Say you’re a junior cop, and you start hearing stories about command-level people getting drunk in bars and having other department people drive them home. If you’re this junior cop, it becomes obvious that ethical behavior isn’t important at your organization. Now you’re trying to make a case on some crook. The right thing to do is to stay within the lines, and move one step at a time toward a good hook.
Your whole career you’ve been watching this jacked-up boss who acts without an ounce of ethics, and now you’re trying to get some piece of crap off the streets. You don’t have a way to get into this dude’s pockets, his car or his house, but you know when you do get in there, you’ll find something. Because ethical conduct isn’t a big deal at your department, you just slide forward and include a few things that aren’t exactly true in your report. After you do it once, it’s a lot easier the second time. Soon you’re skipping all sorts of procedures and laws, and covering for these actions in court. Maybe you decide instead of booking that dope into evidence, you’ll just toss it or save it up for when you need to put together a case on someone else. The bottom line: It is not okay to do these things—ever.
I’m not sure what’s going on at the command levels to make these guys lose their ethics and their ability to lead. I suppose that at a certain point they stop worrying about doing the right thing and start worrying about how to go as far as possible in their career. When that happens, all of their decisions are colored by career preservation and career enhancement. What they don’t get is that they become completely see-through as soon as they make that first move. Cops will take one look at something like that and know that particular captain or chief has gone to the dark side. I heard a captain say, “You have to lie at my level.” I heard another admit to lying on the stand in a civil trial and claim he did it for the benefit of the organization. That’s horse crap.
There’s no room for that sort of behavior, so listen up: Our existence is based on our ability to be trustworthy and ethical from the day we start this career to the day we retire. It starts with our own ethics. We act ethically and within the law and our department’s policy. That’s the only way we maintain our support within the communities we serve.
It’s probably too late for many of the command people I’ve met; they’ve lost their way and will probably not make it back inside the lines. But those of us down here in the trenches must maintain our own standards and ethics, despite idiot drunk-driving chiefs and captains who think their job description includes lying. Being a completely ethical cop isn’t always easy, but it’s always right.
We need to remember why we’re here. It isn’t just to stick scumbags into the pit—that would be easy. We have to do that while maintaining our leadership in the community and our ethical behavior. It may take 10 years to fix this mess, but we must start now by leading from the bottom up and calling out those above us when they cross the line.
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