Too tame? What if the FTO slips out a flask and takes a drink? Or roughs up a suspect?
Or how about this one? An officer responds to a disturbance call and finds a domestic involving another officer in her department. While no one sustained significant injuries, it's clear that the officer was the primary aggressor and under the laws of the state should be subject to a mandatory arrest--which could spell the end of his police career.
Any of these would be good fodder for a classroom discussion, where officers could explore all the possible choices and their ramifications. But how much more powerful would they be if the officers had to role-play the calls--and actually make the decisions? Suddenly the dilemma moves out of the realm of the theoretical ("Well, I would do this...") into the realm of the actual.
Walking the Walk
Ethics scenarios, like any other scenarios, must be designed to be winnable, but not too easy. Having a scenario in which a traffic offender attempts to bribe the officer into letting him off without a ticket is too easy--the right answer is obvious. (No, it's not to take the bribe and issue the citation anyway!) A better scenario would put two values in conflict, such as loyalty vs. truthfulness or upholding a suspect's constitutional rights vs. obtaining vital evidence.
While it's important to have training devoted specifically to ethics, it's also important to integrate ethics into other training topics. For example, in a vehicle contacts class, you would expect to have scenarios where officers conduct an investigative stop. Why not prep one of the officers to bully the driver into permitting a search of the trunk? When the driver politely refuses consent, the officer persists, saying, "Look, if you don't have anything to hide, why don't you want us to look?" When the driver again refuses, the officer says, "OK, you leave me no choice. I'll have to place you under arrest for resisting an officer and tow your vehicle, which will require an inventory search of the entire vehicle--including the trunk. Please step out of the car."
While expecting the scenario to focus on law and tactics, the second officer is suddenly faced with how to respond when another officer pushes the ethical envelope. There's no time to sit back and study the issues: the officer either has to intervene or let the moment pass. Either way, the moment packs an emotional punch that just isn't there in an academic discussion.
Why It Matters
One way in which policing differs from just about every other profession is that the newest, greenest rookie is likely to have the least supervision and the broadest discretion. Think about it. If shift selection goes by seniority, as if often does, the new kid is probably going to wind up working midnights, when street sergeants are scarce and command staff virtually absent. In addition, most of the citizens awake on that shift are not exactly pillars of the community, making them easy targets for police misconduct and easy to discredit on the witness stand. You've heard the sayings: "There are no victims on nights," and "The only people you see on nights who aren't drunk are other cops." In a very real way, that brand-new officer has ample opportunity to engage in bad acts with little chance of being caught.
If we don't prepare officers to meet those ethical challenges by practicing proper responses ahead of time, we're setting them up to fail. We wouldn't expect an officer to be able to defend against a physical assault armed only with a book on defensive tactics and a classroom discussion. Why do we expect an officer to withstand ethical assaults if all they've done to prepare is read and talk? Over the last 30 years, more than 19,000 officers have been decertified because of misconduct. Hundreds more have faced lesser discipline. Surely some of those ruined careers could have been saved if the officers had been better prepared for the ethical dangers they faced. Isn't it time we take what we've learned about what works in training and apply it to all aspects of officer survival?