The piece that appeared on NJ.com about a couple of officers in the Elizabeth, New Jersey Police Dept., might be the silliest, most tempest-in-a-teapot thing I’ve ever read about police conduct.
Here’s what happened, according to the website: While a police lieutenant named Jaime Colon was talking to his officers during roll call (which the website called “role call”) before evening shift on a Friday night in June of 2012, another officer who was off-duty reportedly mooned the officers. The other officer, Sgt. James Kearns, was alleged to be intoxicated at the time. Officers said Kearns yanked his pants down and mooned them through a doorway that was out of Colon’s view. Here’s the kicker: Colon was brought up on charges in a closed hearing of the departmental disciplinary board for not reporting the incident.
In my opinion Colon behaved as almost any supervisor would. When he found out what happened, he tracked Kearns down and told him to leave the building, and even offered the other officer a ride. Kearns, according to the New Jersey Star Ledger, which reported on the incident, is said to have left the building without accepting Colon’s offer.
Colon, who has been an officer for 23 years, according to the newspaper, is charged with “violating department rules of conduct by not notifying his superior about what transpired.” Colon says the referral of the incident, which he didn’t even witness, was referred to the disciplinary board because, he alleges, the department did not want to promote him. The National Coalition of Latino Officers has backed Colon’s handling of the incident.
By the time this goes to press, this will all be old news, so you’re probably wondering why I think it’s relevant as my lead column for 2013. Here’s why I think it’s important to keep [this story] in mind while shaping the public image of your department in the coming year: The public comments posted on the NJ.com website run from being supportive of Officer Colon’s decision, to derisive of the newspaper for bothering to print the story in the first place. In other words, not only did the public not believe this incident warranted web space, but readers also expressed the opinion that putting Colon through the wringer for being the unwitting butt (sorry about that) of a practical joke was ridiculous. I’m with them—and the NCLO—on this one.
Police work is intense. Cops suffer from depression, failed marriages and alcoholism in disproportionate numbers. It’s a job that means putting one’s life on the line on a daily basis. It requires specific skill sets that aren’t easy to develop, and which must be kept current.
Cops are open to lawsuits for nearly everything they do. They work under the scrutiny of the public microscope and find solace and acceptance largely through their association with other police. Succinctly and to the point: Bringing Colon up before a disciplinary board, no matter how it turned out, is just plain baloney.
Police sometimes let off steam in inappropriate ways. It’s not a good thing, and maybe it shouldn’t be ignored, but being present during a mooning incident he didn’t even see shouldn’t be the catalyst for ruining a career. What were the powers that be thinking?
Perhaps if everyone’s most embarrassing personal moments were made public fodder, the individuals responsible for hounding Colon would see themselves for what they are: Petty. I say this is a case of overkill. What do you think?
A 12-year veteran of police work, Carole Moore has served in patrol, forensics, crime prevention and criminal investigations, and has extensive training in many law enforcement disciplines. She is the author of “The Last Place You’d Look: True Stories of Missing Persons and the People Who Search for Them” (Rowman & Littlefield, Spring 2011). She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keep up with Moore online: www.carolemoore.com