How a focus on ethics can elevate the police profession

Reinforcing — and reestablishing — trust among those we serve and protect can be achieved by establishing and adhering to higher ethical standards for our officers, leaders, and civilian employees

What’s happened to American law enforcement?  In the days and weeks following September 11, 2001, law enforcement across the country enjoyed an unprecedented spike in prestige and popularity. It seemed that police departments and sheriff’s offices could do no wrong. The support was overwhelming — and rightly deserved. 

Then, within the brief period of six months, the profession fell back to its uncomfortable low: We could do no right. What happened?

The answer is simple: Ethics.

Every Rung of the Organizational Ladder
Ethics is the common thread that can be found at the beginning of — and typically, throughout — almost every instance of police officer misbehavior. Somehow those officers who lowered our image in the eyes of those we protect and serve forgot that at one time they raised their right hand and took a solemn oath to uphold a certain set of ethics.

The problem runs from the highest command level to the civilians at the front desk. Each of these levels has a different responsibility, but ethics are everyone’s concerns. When one of our own violates their oath, everyone in this profession suffers. It is time to regain that which we lost.

Let us take the time to reinforce what we were taught in our basic academies by making ethics the top priority. We already pursue crime with tremendous success so why not pursue ethics with at least equal enthusiasm.

I challenge each of you to help create an environment that allows good ethics to grow. Many agencies are experiencing the storm before the calm. 

Scandals, officer firings, negative image, the laundry list is long. 

As With Everything, It’s About Training
Ethics training is the catalyst to the coming calm. Once you have a positive reality, the positive perception is not far behind. Let’s get the public behind us as we work together with them in partnerships and developing ownership via positive responsibility and accountability programs. 

Combating this problem requires each of us to realize that there is a problem. 

This first step is the most difficult. It is never easy to admit, especially for law enforcement, that there is a problem and that you are involved.

We do not send a cadet into harm’s way without proper training. Nor should we demand ethical change without proper education. That proper education is made available via ethics trainers. By creating an atmosphere of zero tolerance to ethical misbehavior as well as individual ownership for one’s actions, many of the problems clinging to us, as a profession, will vanish. 

Our officers are brave enough to face blazing guns and violent confrontations but sadly, sometimes don’t have the courage to properly deal with another officer’s ethical situations. 

It’s sad when administrators fail to adequately prepare their troops to feel comfortable in doing the correct thing. 

We need to act more like Adam 12 rather than The Shield.

By holding everyone to a higher ethical standard, we can reestablish trust where it has been damaged, and reinforce trust where already we’ve proven ourselves worthy. 

In developing accountability programs around the country, I’ve seen the difference. I’ve seen the positive change between the command and rank and file, between officer and officer, and between officer and citizen. 

Remember this: Right is right, even if no one else does it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone else does it.

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