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To Be or Not To Be: Ethical, That is. Print E-mail
Written by Ray Fairman   
In the last few years we have seen so many examples of poor ethics displayed by almost every segment of our society. Ethical battles are being fought daily and I am sad to say that casualties are being taken on the political front, the religious front, the corporate front, and the law enforcement front and now even on the military front.

The battle rages around us

Everywhere I look it seems that situational ethics are being touted in order to keep from losing power, profit or popularity. I attended a Memorial Day ceremony recently and was troubled by a politician who stated that a group of protesters ( these were religious fanatics who were in my humble opinion far from mainline Christians ) should be insured their rights to protest against the military, but indicated quite plainly would not be bothered in the least if that insurance was delivered in a more physical than necessary manner. God help us when we become our own worst enemy. There can be no retreating from the ethical standards set by Jesus Christ.

I have lost some of those battles myself so I am not just the guy who stands outside the glass house throwing stones. It's not easy to talk about some of the tough ethical battles I have fought during my law enforcement and military careers. While they should all have been easy to win, I know I have diminished, in my mind at least, a lot of the bad choices I made in direct support of a more pleasant and acceptable memory. That’s because it is so easy and, according to the grapevine, acceptable in our society to get away with it. However, in truth there are a number of choices I have made that still come back to “haunt” me to this day. One of my earliest memories as a police recruit occurred when I was the young naive officer who watched my training officer manhandle a drunk in public suspect who was simply disturbing the peace. I really showed how tough I was, watching that officer issuing some street justice. The only one who was tough was the drunk, he also never said a word and he was on the receiving end.
I learned something about myself from that drunk that night; he taught me that I was weak because I didn't have the guts to intervene with my training officer. I'm sure I taught that young man something I shouldn’t have too: that cops are and condone brutality and stupidity personified. That suspect will never change his attitude about cops after that incident. His family and friends most likely feel the same way. A big transition in my character took place that night. I swore I would never remain on the sidelines like that again. I began to feel like I let down all the officers that were trying to live up to the “Code of Ethics of a Law Enforcement Officer” that all my academy classmates and I had memorized before being commissioned by our city in California. I also felt like I had let down the Marine Corps, since they taught me prior to my entering law enforcement to exercise good leadership and accept responsibility for my actions and my lack of appropriate action. This is something that needs to be taught to all entry level individuals, no matter what their organization. Somewhere along the way folks have succumbed to the idea that if they should stand up for what they think is right and their values seem to differ from those of the majority then they need to exercise loyalty over moral courage. When that occurs then that particular ethical battle has been won by “false loyalty,” and false loyalty is the archenemy of personal honor and integrity.
I made plenty of other mistakes during the 35 years I spent being paid to do a job I loved, but standing by and ignoring my ethical responsibility was never one of them.
Almost forty years later, as I sit down to write this article on police ethics, I think about that incident and I want to write something that will help all officers make better choices than that one that I made so long, long ago. (and far, far, away)
So I an going to tell you that in situations like that you need to step in and restrain another officer whose conduct gets out of line. Condoning unethical conduct will ultimately result in the involvement of Internal Affairs, Office of Professional Regulation or a Civilian Review Board. I have never forgotten how hard it can be to take that kind of action. It takes courage to ignore the tradition, power, prominence and popularity within the “Brotherhood of Blue” in favor of the moral and ethical “right thing to do”.
In my time I have seen officers of all types. Most seemed full of energy and ready and ready to take on the world. Sometimes they let that enthusiasm turn to arrogance and they begin treating the public like… well you know what they treat them like. This treatment only serves to make the public angry and diminish the image of law enforcement in their eyes. It seems like a small thing really, especially if the folks we are talking about are criminals or even hardcore gang members. They’ve been through the system before and that type of treatment should come as no surprise to them. The way an officer responds to whomever and whatever they encounter is reflective of their training, leadership, personal integrity, and the community they police. Verbal incitement and bullying by an officer seems like a minor incident, but cancer starts with a small growth and can eventually kill a man. Ignoring a chance to step in, do the right thing and make a small difference can haunt you forever.
Don't get me wrong. I am not in the business of making life comfortable for Criminals and “scoff-laws” that are on their way to their next prison cell. But, antagonizing suspects just because you can, is also an officer safety issue.
I hate to think of the potential problems an officer or jailer will face when they face the people who are all riled up and those folks start taking out their anger on someone else just because an officer felt it was necessary to demonstrate that he or she was in control
But the question I need to ask you is, "Are you able to challenge another officer immediately when the bad behavior occurs?" That's what I mean when I speak about moral courage. It should be easy, but we all know it isn’t. When it comes time for the rubber to meet the road, as we say, a lot of us will hesitate. I am constantly reminded that it's hard to step in like that, even on relatively minor issues. Maybe that's our problem. On big, clear-cut, in your face, go-to-jail or lose-your-job issues, the decision to step in is a great deal easier; in fact it is almost made for you. It's the smaller incidents that we feel safe walking away from. We think we can justify them and that they are no big deal, because no one is really getting hurt and it's just a whole lot easier if we don't confront our brother officers. They might call us “social workers” or “wimps”.
Well, you don't develop moral courage by walking away. Like the Kevlar vest you wear with your uniform, your moral body armor is made up of many very small threads of character, woven in a special pattern. It's a pattern that you weave and create each and every time you take on one of these small issues. And likewise, every time you walk away, a thread goes missing from the pattern, and you are the weaker for it. Doing the right thing is hard and it can be especially hard with the smaller issues, because they are the easiest to walk away from. Think about the pattern you are weaving with your life. Weave a pattern that matters.
Thomas Jefferson once said, “In matters of fashion, go with the current. But in matters of conscience, stand as firm as a rock.” Or as I heard when I was serving in the Persian Gulf, “When you came into this world, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you leave this world, the world will cry and you will rejoice.”
God Bless
Chaplain Fairman

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