When I lived in Southern California I became aware of the notion of professional courtesy for the friends and family of law enforcement. You just kept that officer’s card next to your driver’s license and miraculously you received warnings instead of tickets – or so I was told by my law enforcement friends and their family members. It was like the family discount that retailers provide employees – a job perk.
The problem with such a job perk is that it creates an inequity in the application of laws – an inequity that is troublesome. Looking the other way when the friends and family of law enforcement are violating laws can have serious results. It often isn’t until a major incident occurs that the public learns that there were other incidents that were brushed under the carpet. Then it is the entire law enforcement agency that is under scrutiny and many folks’ jobs that are on the line.
What I struggle with the most is the lack of congruence that exists in this behavior with an officer’s oath to uphold the law. I understand that part of policing is the ability to examine actions in context and make judgment calls. I further realize that knowing that someone is from a law enforcement family may assist in the initial assessment of behavior, but professional courtesy should have no place in the equation when a law is violated. Officers that do this are not being true to the oath they took and are creating dangerous conditions for law-abiding citizens.
Here’s the thing – those who know that the laws don’t apply to them the same way they apply to others create a hazard, not only in their home jurisdiction, but also in other places. When their behavior results in the injury or death of someone and it comes out that it is the result of years of getting a pass from local law enforcement – it disgraces the badge and the genuine efforts of law enforcement everywhere. I find this to be a tragic outcome for a wink-nod behavior that is viewed in the moment as relatively harmless.
I read with interest the article in InForum on this topic and the disciplinary actions taken in regard to not only professional courtesy activities, but also those taken in regard to abuse of power activities (I witnessed that in Southern California when my friend’s relationship ended – very scary indeed). I was happy to read the various departments’ stern postures toward such behavior when it is discovered and the efforts to make clear that it is unacceptable. But let’s face it – it happens plenty still. You likely know of instances yourself where it has happened in your community. Unfortunately, I know of some instances in my community. Indeed, it is probably one of the most difficult parts of a law enforcement officer’s job – applying the law equally when it is a family member, close friend, coworker, or coworker’s family member. I do understand how challenging a part of the job it is.
What I don’t understand however is how such professional courtesy behavior when juxtaposed with the law enforcement oath can be viewed as anything other than corruption. Hence, participating in such behavior should be evidence in-and-of-itself that you are not able to dutifully uphold your oath. And that oath is important as we are a society of laws and our society’s success relies on the laws being fairly and uniformly enforced.
I know that there are many inequities in our application of laws other than the issues of professional courtesy or power abuse based on personal circumstances. The system is far from perfect. I understand the truism that power corrupts and I know that there is no way to completely eradicate this in a power-based function. There are however many ways to put in checks and balances that help maintain the honor and integrity of the badge.
Community policing is most successful when it is connected to, and familiar with, the folks it serves. In that framework character judgments and motivation assessments are regularly made by law enforcement officers dealing with a situation – it should be that way. What it should not be is a wink-nod system that forgoes credibility and honor to extend personal favors or to further personal agendas.
Day one thousand five hundred and fifteen of the new forty – obla di obla da