June 5, 2008, Officer.com reports that San Francisco Police Chief Heather Fong has gone years without qualifying with the service weapon that she carries each day. According to the article by Jaxon Van Derbeken of the SF Chronicle:
The issue of Fong's proficiency with a gun was raised last week by Officer Andrew Cohen. He wrote to Police Commission President Theresa Sparks that the chief had gone five years without being certified, which he called "an egregious matter of misconduct." "I know the chief is busy, and an occasional lapse or non-appearance may be justified," Cohen wrote. "However, 10 consecutive failures to qualify are simply outrageous and insulting to all the men and women of the department."
Cohen went on to explain that during the five years that the Chief has failed to qualify, she has ordered disciplinary action for others that have committed the same violation of department policy.
Do we have a double standard here ladies and gentlemen? A rhetorical question to be sure. And is this not the quintessential example of how some of our leaders grant themselves special privileges and exemptions by virtue of their rank? We expect that those charged with supervising others and running the daily operations of our police departments be morally and ethically sound, in fact, above reproach in all matters.
What's really at issue here, more so than Chief Fong's total disregard for her own department's policies, is that she has engaged in reckless and irresponsible behavior. Yes, having access to a deadly weapon and not having demonstrated one's proficiency with that weapon for five years is tantamount to reckless endangerment. Imagine the hue and cry from the public if one of San Francisco's finest got involved in a shooting, and it was later discovered that the officer failed to meet the qualification standard. They would be screaming for the officer to be fired at the very least.
What about those charged to administer the firearms program for SFPD? Did no one make an issue of it? Certainly they were aware of her absence for Five Years! Imagine if you or I missed one, or several sessions... think we wouldn't hear something or have some action initiated against us? As a former Principal Firearms Instructor, I was expected to ensure that everyone that carried showed up as ordered and passed all qualification courses fired. If anyone failed to qualify, I was expected to take their weapon.
However, in defense of the SFPD firearms guys, I can only imagine the heat they would face if anyone made an issue of it. For all I know, they may have tried to intercede, but let's get real here. How can anyone who calls themselves a leader, disrespect one of the most important tenets of police work - staying proficient with one's weapon? What kind of example does that set for the rank and file, and what kind of statement does that make to them other than "some of us are better than others."
In a similar story, American Police Beat reports that the Federal Air Marshall program is losing people and lowering standards, while Homeland Security officials continue to tell us how safe air travel is. According to the recent story, airport screeners are being employed to fill the gaps of those leaving. Additionally, in July 2006, the Service decided that new hires would not face mandatory psychological testing, unless the recruit admits that he or she has been treated for a serious mental condition.
Firearms standards have been lowered as well. A former weapons instructor who taught the Tactical Pistol Course (TPC), said that new recruits were having difficulty passing it, so the TPC was replaced with the less difficult practical pistol course that is a standard federal law enforcement course. The problem is that it's less dynamic and not as applicable for gunfights aboard an aircraft.
We see two different issues here, yet both bear much similarity. Is it ethical to allow someone to be entrusted with carrying a firearm without having qualified with it? Is it ethical as well to lower firearms standards, simply because some recruits have difficulty passing, yet we know that the more difficult course is more appropriate?
Both questions require more examination and scrutiny; both issues have potentially deadly results. Neither should be swept under the rug.
Stay safe brothers and sisters!