Law enforcement is not the career for everyone and is full of all sorts of pitfalls which can damage your home life, personal happiness and even your health. But no matter how hard you may find the long hours, changing shifts, and the horrific side of humanity you encounter day to day, the biggest danger your career faces is the loss of your own personal integrity.
With the advances in technology, and especially its widespread use by Hollywood, the majority of those outside law enforcement think that every case is a matter of simply calling in CSI. But, guess what? Most cases never involve fingerprints, fiber analysis or testimony of expert witnesses. Even major cases which may be lucky enough to include forensic evidence usually boil down to old fashioned investigation. In the end, the case hinges on one important aspect – the testimony of the arresting officer or the investigating detective. In the other words, the jury is being asked to believe you rather than the citizen on trial.
Some of you are probably thinking “So what? The jury has to believe you. You’re the police after all.” Well, in case you do not watch the news or read the papers, that is no longer good enough. The public, aka potential jury members, are no longer willing to simply accept you at your word because you are the police. Instead, they want to be convinced that they should accept what you say because of who you are as a person rather than as an officer.
Don’t think it matters what you do when you are not working? How about the following cases:
- Oct 2014 – Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice removed from the bench after being linked to porn scandal, even though he reportedly sent the emails from a home computer and defended his actions by stating he was simply an old Marine and cop and that course language or vulgar humor are a part of who he is.
- March 2013 – Three N.J. officers were investigated following their appearance in a rap video in which the singer, also an active officer, recites such lyrics as “felon for life” while pretending to shoot the camera.
- July 2013 – Illinois police chief resigns after it is uncovered he lied about his military service, including claims he had been a U.S. Navy SEAL.
- Jan 2013 – two Boulder Colorado officers resigned after being charged with multiple wildlife violations in connection with their plans to illegally kill a trophy elk.
As you can see none of these cases directly involved the officers’ official duties; there were no claims of bribes or corruption, but all called into question their integrity. This in turned called into question their ability to carry out their official duties. After all, even if they were allowed to continue to carry a badge, it would be tarnished forever.
So, the best advice I can give to young officers is, “If you ever find yourself risking your integrity, remember you might also be risking your career.”
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