Your behavior must pass the smell test. It must withstand the reasonable man theory in order to be acceptable.
Does society or anyone else expect you to be perfect? No they don't. But, you are expected to strive for perfection. Society will not accept a law enforcement professional who blatantly disregards the two most fundamental principles of life: (1) Tell the truth and (2) Treat others the way you want to be treated (a/k/a The Golden Rule).
The best way to avoid finding yourself in a bear trap is to prepare. Your ethics and your honesty will be tested by those closest to you. THINK IN ADVANCE about how you intend to handle these situations.
As an aside, I learned about an Ohio cop when doing the research for this article. Anytime he worked with another officer for the first time, he had a short prepared speech. The critical message: I will not lie for you or for anyone. Don't ask. He would then tell the new coworker that he was free to find a different partner if the rules were unacceptable, but this cop would not bend and it was clear from the outset.
I am not suggesting that this is a universal solution. There is no, one size fits all option for this problem. Sorry, Charlie.
The examples used came from all across the country. They come from agencies which are both big and small. I know a few of the perpetrators personally. The reason for real examples is to teach the young about the reality of the job.
A future blog entry may be written to open discussion about these types of events. I would like to know what your response would have been if you had been there. This is not about crucifying anyone, but rather, using the stories as a real-life learning experience.
To the good young cops coming up - I am proud of you. I want to remain full of pride for all that you will accomplish in your careers. Please, please, please: consider these ethical dilemmas that are certain to find you. Do not fall unwittingly into a quagmire and end your career on the bottom.
It's all about saving just ONE life. Let's work to save careers in the process, too.