Will You Be On The Top or Bottom?

Your entire career will be a test of your professionalism and values. Will you end it on the top or on the bottom?

The following examples are real. They too, have come areas located between Texas and Michigan, Maine and California. No names. Most are from the archives. Many of the officers described are now retired. I strongly recommend you not follow in their footsteps.

  • Example #1
    You are a married guy with three young kids at home. You have about 15 years on the job. You routinely show up at the bar after work with the rest of the crew and on your arm is your girlfriend. She also appears at shift parties. You make no effort to conceal this affair while your wife is at home attending to your three children.
  • Example #2
    You are a long-serving command officer - with an alcohol problem. It is a problem that you vehemently deny. In the past year, you have been stopped on three separate occasions for DUI and each time, given a break. In every instance, the officer involved takes you home rather than arresting you and making an incident of it.
  • Example #3
    You work in patrol. You are more than half way through your 25 years. You have chosen to invest your retirement savings in real estate rental properties in and around the town where you work. You routinely spend a couple of hours on each shift tending to your duties as a landlord while leaving your area unattended.

The above examples are real people doing real things. Young officers can view this behavior and mistakenly think it is OK. They might even think that emulating this stuff will gain them acceptance by their crew. This stuff is poison.

It is vital that the strong, sturdy, moral cops do not stand mute. The future of policing depends on it. As a very wise man once said, The only thing that evil requires to succeed is for good people to do nothing.

What Does It All Mean?

You will unavoidably face tough decisions. While taking the high road is admirable, it can have disastrous consequences. In the earlier case studies, some of the misdeeds were ignored by those in attendance. In others, cops took action that was honest, honorable and just. In one case study that was omitted, the honest officer was targeted by IA until he produced photographic evidence supporting his statements. Then IA laid off but the officer worked without backup on the streets for about a year. His honesty, quite literally, could have cost him his life.

Sometimes the good guys prevail. Other times, doing the right thing can end a job or haunt a career for years to come. A black mark in an officer's history, that was caused by taking an honorable action, can smudge an otherwise lily-white record. That's not fair, you insist. While it isn't fair, it is real.

The stakes are high.

Cops who get caught lying or covering unprofessional conduct can hurt everyone in the community. Val Van Brocklin, one of my esteemed Officer.com colleagues, recently wrote that when an officer gains a reputation for dishonesty it can erode public trust in the police, harm the reputation of the entire department, end the career of the individual officer and have a long-term psychological impact on the officer from the effects of lying.

As I said in my last missive on this subject, some lying is acceptable. Some is even desirable. Blunt honesty is bad when your wife asks if a piece of clothing makes her backside look fat. It is bad business to quote an angry neighbor complainant to the supposed offender. When the truth needlessly inflames a situation, it may be best concealed.

The line moves. But be certain: there is a line. You need to constantly be vigilant of its location. If you find yourself inadvertently on the wrong side, recover - and do it quickly.

A new cop will come under great pressure to conform. There will be pressure to look the other way. Make no mistake: silence can be lying, too. The pressure to cover for other officers will come from the same group who insists that doing so is unacceptable: your boss(es) and training officers.

You will see cops with more time on than you who are doing really stupid stuff. Don't follow. Remember Mom chiding bad behavior saying something like, If the rest of the kids jump off a bridge, are you going to follow? and then sternly adding, I hope not!


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