FEATURED IN TECHNOLOGY AND COMMUNICATIONS
Last month in Cop Road Rage on the Information Highway we looked at some of the profanity infused ranting, insulting and venting cops are doing on public Internet forums.
Here are some reminder forkfuls of that mud pie:
“We should blow up the whole city and start over. The bystanders are not even people -- lups of s@#t.” [The commenter cared enough to come back and correct his spelling to “lumps of s@#t.”]
“Act like a POS, get treated and talked to like a POS.”
“I've got an idea. Since most beefs arise from traffic stops, how about we stop making them? Let people kill each other with their unsafe driving.”
“Good job, keep locking up them dirty s-bags, i.e. anarchists, subversives, counter-culturists, communists, socialists, dopers, whackos, convicts, hookers, deviants and thugs. Did I miss anyone?” [Commenting on Occupy protestors.]
Now we’re going to look at whether such profanity:
- Violates the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics;
- Violates the Law Enforcement Oath of Honor; and
- Is conduct for which an officer could be fired.
You Can Put Lipstick on a Pig, but It’s Still a Pig
Putting lipstick on a pig is a cosmetic attempt to make something look more attractive. The Code of Ethics is lipstick on a pig if it’s violated openly, routinely and with impunity.
Different states and law enforcement agencies may have their own police Code of Ethics. We’re going to look at the one adopted by the IACP. The link I’ve provided to this Code takes you to a website that looks for police misconduct. Although many cops clearly aren’t weighing whether their public Internet comments violate the code, the public is watching.
I encourage every reader – cops and citizens alike – to revisit the Code.
The Code begins, “As a law enforcement officer, my fundamental duty is to … respect the Constitutional rights of all persons to liberty, equality, and justice.”
From their public comments on the Internet, it’s clear many officers need to be reminded of what "respect" means: “To hold in esteem or honor; to show regard or consideration for.”
It’s an action word in the Code; a way of living and being. It includes all persons and doesn’t exclude citizens who file complaints arising out of traffic stops, people who hold political or sexual orientations with which the officer disagrees, people the officer thinks badly of, or bystanders who do not aid an officer involved in a violent confrontation.
The next paragraph of the Code requires, “I will keep my private life unsullied as an example to all, maintain courageous calm in the face of danger, scorn or ridicule; develop self-restraint, and be constantly mindful of the welfare of others.”
"Unsullied" means “untarnished, pure.” This part of the Code recognizes that officers are expected to meet this standard off duty in their private lives. Becoming a law enforcement officer is a voluntary decision to embrace a higher standard of conduct 24/7. Again, it’s a way of living and being – not just a 40-hour a week job.
“Courageous calm in the face of danger, scorn or ridicule” does not permit ranting profanities and calls to blow up an entire city.
Officers have numerous means of restraining others – handcuffs, OC spray, ASP batons, Tasers, firearms and specially equipped patrol cars. When it comes to themselves, officers are expected to exercise self-restraint, that is, restraint willingly imposed on oneself by oneself.
The last paragraph of the Code demands, “I recognize the badge of my office as a symbol of public faith, and I accept it as a public trust to be held so long as I am true to the ethics of the police service. I will constantly strive to achieve these objectives and ideals [.]”
The Law Enforcement Code of Ethics doesn’t just govern use of force. It’s a code for ethical behavior that goes to the heart of a person’s character who chooses to be a police officer.
Public comment by officers spewing profane derogatory comments about whole cities or segments of the citizenry based on their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or political views, and their prolific kin on the Internet, violate the Code’s requirements of:
- A fundamental duty of respect for the rights of all persons;
- Conducting oneself in an untarnished and pure manner OFF and ON duty;
- Courageous calm in the face of scorn or ridicule; and
Officers are entitled to wear the badge only so long as they remain true in their professional and personal lives to the Code of Ethics. When officers identify themselves as police officers and then publicly spew profane insults, intolerances, calls to bomb entire cities and to let citizens kill themselves on the highways – they speak through their badges. Such public talk tarnishes the badge and officers who tarnish the badge should lose the right to wear it.
What About the Oath?
There’s also the Law Enforcement Oath of Honor, which states: “On my honor, I will never betray my badge, my integrity, my character, or the public trust. I will always have the courage to hold myself and others accountable for our actions. I will always uphold the constitution, my community and the agency I serve.”
The IACP explains the solemn words of the oath:
- Honor means that one's word is given as a guarantee.
- Betray is defined as breaking faith with the public trust.
- Badge is the symbol of your office.
- Integrity is being the same person in both private and public life.
- Character means the qualities that distinguish an individual.
- Public trust is a charge of duty imposed in faith toward those you serve.
- Courage is having the strength to withstand unethical pressure, fear or danger.
- Accountability means that you are answerable and responsible to your oath of office.
- Community is the jurisdiction and citizens served.
The public comments by posters identifying themselves as police officers that have more in common with gangsta rap than any civil discourse violate all three sentences of the Oath.
- They betray the badge;
- They sadly betray the poster’s character as woefully lacking in the high standards required by police work;
- Because they are posted anonymously or pseudo-anonymously they lack integrity, courage and accountability; and
- They do not uphold the community; they dismantle it into “us” vs. “them.”
These Comments are Firing Offenses
I’ve previously written about cops getting disciplined and fired for indiscreet comments they posted on their social network pages that got out even when the officers had privacy settings.
As discussed in the above articles, under current employment and case law each one of the publicly posted comments in this and my last month’s article could justify firing the officer. The comments are protected by neither the 1st nor 4th Amendments.
On the Other Hand …
There is no other hand. The fact that officers may need to vent and let off steam changes none of this. Officers may feel a homicidal rage towards a violent child predator and they still are expected to respect the rights of the evil doer.
It’s work that entrusts much and demands much. The pressures of the job do not exempt officers from the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics or Oath. If a person chooses not to meet such high demands of character and conduct there are other lines of work. If the profession doesn’t hold true to the Code of Ethics and the Oath of Honor, they are just lipstick on a pig.
Anonymity or pseudo-anonymity does not excuse the comments we are discussing. It simply obscures accountability and fuels false bravado – false because none of the posters would have the courage to publicly make such comments in their own name.
Many in law enforcement subscribe to an unofficial Warrior’s Code of Ethics. Much homage is paid to it at police conferences, in law enforcement publications, at academies and in-service trainings. Next month we’ll look at how the kinds of comments we’ve been discussing here, which are replete on the global internet, measure up against Warrior Ethics and the very foundations of modern policing. Stay tuned for some national experts to weigh in.