Job Integrity and Inherent Risks

Sept. 23, 2013
It is not what you do when you know you are being watched, but it is what you do when you think nobody is watching that defines your level of integrity. We are the guardians of our profession and the only ones who keep the tarnish off the shield.

After many years in this profession I repeatedly hear the same sad stories. Young officer takes new assignment and ends up in deep trouble and probably fired, if not indicted. There are several perilous assignments around the department that if not taken seriously can be the road to ruin. Why do these stories continue I have asked; maybe nobody warned them or they thought that a compromise in the system would not be detected by the bosses? Matters not; it can and will happen and do not let this happen to you.

Probably the most prevalent one is the Evidence and Property Room Assignments. First of all money, jewelry and drugs seems to be the reoccurring theme here. I have heard the ‘property manager taking some money and with great intentions bringing it back before it got discovered’ tale. How about ‘substituting the silver certificates with regular currency’? After all they both are legal tender. Nope, vintage currency is far more valuable. Do not even consider taking the jewelry or the bling watches for the night on the town. There are vast temptations within the realm of the property/evidence room. Frequent audits and integrity audits are not against you but rather there to protect you and the system.  A few compromises of the system can have adverse effects on the integrity of trials and the morale of the department. We don’t steal; we do it right every time. If you are a chief or sheriff, your selection of this staff member can be one of the most critical selections so choose well.

Gun Permits (purchases or conceal carry permits) now are becoming scrutinized more than in the past. Whether it is a gun purchase, transfer, or concealed carry permitting, there are vast pitfalls here; a friend of a friend or a family member slips through because somebody turned their head. Without debating the firearms issues or rights, know the laws that you are mandated to enforce and follow them. If one firearm gets into a thug’s hands we are all possibly a victim. If someone is trying to circumvent the process there is a resounding reason why. Find it out to protect your career and officer safety. 

Wreckers and taxi permits have one common factor here: money.  A wrecker driver offers you $50 per recommendation for each tow he gets. A taxi company offers you tip or bonus for always hailing their hacks over the other taxi companies. Seems simple for cash is unreported income; who could possibly know?  Well, the second that the wrecker and taxi company gets called on the carpet for unscrupulous business practices guess whose name will come out of their mouths? Taking tips for ‘recommendations’ will haunt you; I’ve seen this happen too much. That $20 tip will get you unemployed.

Special events are an entirely different world. Having seen cops working the backdoor getting friends in to meet the band, to backstage goodies and passes will come up and bite you. If you are working an event, sporting or concert, you have got to be the professional police officer and not a fan. The second you become a fan you are compromised. Granted you can make some extra by selling backstage privileges but when you are caught you could get discipline and lose all of your extra work income. The secret is to do your job as a professional and not get caught up in the excitement of the event or the star. 

Parking permits and parking tickets have created more trips to the commander’s office and more calls to the chief’s office than anything. I have seen more complaints over a $15 parking ticket than I have over felony charges. Everyone does it they say; the meter was broken and so forth. Please do not get wound up with the ‘courtesy cards’ and voiding tickets. If you need to void one, take it to a supervisor and get a clean blush on it.

Are there other pitfalls within the profession? Yes, I have not covered off-duty work and some more special assignments; these will be at a later date. What is worrisome is that these stories of cops making an assignment or task a financial endeavor will continue to plague our profession. First of all, we are all human. The full vetting of all applicants to these special positions is required. The audits and compliance checks are there for our own good. It is not what you do when you know you are being watched, but it is what you do when you think nobody is watching that defines your level of integrity. We are the guardians of our profession and the only ones who keep the tarnish off the shield.

About the Author

William L. Harvey | Chief

William L. "Bill" Harvey is a U.S. Army Military Police Corps veteran. He has a BA in criminology from St. Leo University and is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute of the University of Louisville (103rd AOC).  Harvey served for over 23 years with the Savannah (GA) Police Department in field operations, investigations and completed his career as the director of training. Served as the chief of police of the Lebanon City Police Dept (PA) for over seven years and then ten years as Chief of Police for the Ephrata Police Dept (PA). In retirement he continues to publish for professional periodicals and train.        

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