When friends ask me about my days back in uniform, I like to tell them that being a cop is like having the ultimate backstage pass. Everywhere you go, doors open, and people beckon you in.
It can be an empowering career, but for those who don’t accept the accountability that comes with the job, it can be a short one.
A recent TNT story about a Federal Way police officer is a classic example (TNT 8/8). The article described the officer’s recent resignation amidst allegations of inappropriate interactions with a woman previously arrested for assault. The tawdry details are familiar but ultimately less important than news of another cop’s unwillingness to recognize the responsibility that comes with the badge.
When cops are fired, or more often “resign in lieu of termination” for alleged abuse of their position, the underlying narrative carries a familiar theme: (with apologies to rock and roll) It’s all about sex.
Or as Oscar Wilde put it, “Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.”
Over the years, I have watched many fellow officers make this mistake. Aside from this egregious exception, all seemed like good guys (all were male, at least in my experience). Many were good, even great cops. A few were friends. To some degree, however, all made the mistake of confusing their authoritarian role for a larger than life charisma they did not possess.
Most paid the price. Bright futures were put through the grinding internal investigation process, which spat out humiliating demotions, quiet resignations or loud terminations. One or two had their cases referred to the prosecutors office for charging.
These outcomes were usually met with a weary acceptance by their peers. The Job, one learns over time, leaves little room for mistakes and has even less patience for human weakness.
Sure, some people complained about hasty, even hypocritical decisions. Perhaps they were being loyal friends; perhaps they saw their own behavior exposed for all to see.
In the end, when credible evidence exposes police officers who abuse their power, thinning them from the ranks is the only way for a police agency to retain or regain the public’s respect. As Federal Way Police Chief Brian Wilson stated, “The violation of trust is on many levels, not only for his peers, for the law enforcement profession, [but] for the community.”
So, yea, these guys made stupid mistakes and it cost them. Hard to feel sorry for them in the end, right? Still, I do.
I wonder what would have happened had they not chosen a profession with such an alluring mixture of authority and opportunity. And I wonder why men in other fields, especially the politicians who often sign officers’ termination notices, can make similar mistakes with impunity (that list offenders is too long for this space).
Frustrations aside, there is no way to salvage a police career that has been tainted by the abuse of authority. There should be no opportunity for redemption when one distorts the badge’s value until it is nothing more than a backstage pass to personal gratification.
Maintaining the public’s trust is one of the most important aspects to police work, and all the punishments, resignations and terminations handed down for sexual improprieties are a reminder that police officers must earn that trust everyday.
The Job demands nothing less.