Abuse of Power

Using the statement “Hey, I’m a cop” off-duty to manipulate an outcome in your favor is an abuse of power

Mike’s perspective

We’ve all been on the receiving end of some version of, “Officer, do you know who I am…?”  Every one of us has pulled over the Mayor’s “oldest childhood friend… we go way back,” investigated a city councilman’s second cousin, twice-removed (by marriage), or otherwise come into professional contact with a variety of high and mighty offenders with no qualm about trying wield their influence to cajole or intimidate us with their imagined importance. 

Sure, while it’s annoying at first the gratification of watching them squirm with the realization that a) you absolutely do not care, and b) their already bad situation has just taken the teensiest turn for the worse, makes it all worthwhile!  But after the episode is all wrapped up, how do you consider the person?  Arrogance, self-absorption, and bullying tend to create a strong, and long-lasting, impression on the recipient.

No matter how you look at it, when a police officer tries to use the office to get his way, far removed from any legally justified, job-related purpose, there are really only two interpretations likely to be formed by the recipient.  The first is that the officer believes he is somehow special, or deserving of special consideration, exempting him from the rules everybody else has to follow.  The second has a more sinister undertone, which is if he doesn’t get his way consequences will follow.  This one is naturally intimidating.  Either way, just as name-dropping by those we deal with tends to leave the impression of arrogance, self-absorption, or bullying, the irrelevant-to-the-moment mention we’re cops does exactly the same.  Worse yet, it sullies not only the character of the individual officer, but of all who wear the badge.

This isn’t another ethics column about free cups of coffee, or half-priced meals; follow your department’s policy, or pay what the waiter asks for and then tip generously, I really don’t care.  And it’s not about extending each other professional courtesy; flash the badge with humility and then have a nice day, which usually works for me when I see red & blues in my rearview!  This is an ethics column about a common and subtle, but very real, abuse of power.  I don’t believe this is widespread among us, but I know it does happen.  I know because it has happened to Althea, and I know because it has happened to me.  On a couple occasions, I have even experienced it on-duty from “brother” LEOs!  The trouble is how near and easy the temptation to drop “I’m a cop…” really is when things are not going our way, and I know this because I have been tempted.  The danger is how quickly it diminishes all of us when we give in to temptation.

Most “civilians” still have a healthy respect – even a little fear – of the police and the powers you hold even if they have done nothing wrong.  Strange perhaps, but that’s just the way it is and a normal human reaction to authority.  To exploit that fear – even a little bit - for personal gain is unethical and should give pause.


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About The Authors:

Althea Olson, LCSW has been in private practice in the Chicago suburbs since 1996. She has a Master of Social Work degree from Aurora University providing individual, couple, & group therapy to adolescents, adults, and geriatrics. Althea is also trained in Critical Incident Stress Management & is a certified divorce mediator.

Mike Wasilewski, MSW has been with a large suburban Chicago department since 1996. He holds a Master of Social Work degree from Aurora University and has served on his department’s Crisis Intervention & Domestic Violence teams. Mike is an adjunct instructor at Northwestern College.

Mike & Althea have been married since 1994 and have been featured columnists for Officer.Com since 2007. Their articles are extremely popular and they now provide the same training and information in person throughout the United States. This dynamic team was recently featured at the at the 2010 & 2011 ILEETA Conference & Exposition.

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