Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

A badge is a burden, not a backstage pass

Post by Brian O'Neill on Aug. 9, 2013 at 8:44 am with 1 Comment »
August 9, 2013 4:29 pm

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.

Picture courtesy of komonews.com
Picture courtesy of komonews.com

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.

Leave a comment Comments → 1
  1. smokey984 says:

    Sorry im late to the party here….but

    One of the directives ordered by Judge Scheindlin in her decision declaring New York City’s stop and frisk program unconstitutional was to equip NYPD officers with body cameras. Mayor Bloomberg treated this suggestion derisively during his post-decision press conference apoplexy, as he sarcastically channeled the “common man’s” complaints about cop-operated cameras.

    A camera on the lapel or hat of a police officer… He didn’t turn the right way. My god, he DELIBERATELY did it. It’s a solution that’s not a solution…

    For a guy who really seems to love aiming cameras at civilians, Bloomberg sure isn’t much for aiming any at his “personal army.” I’m sure it galls him that his NYPD (and that’s how he thinks of it — his) might have to be subjected to extra scrutiny and accountability, like some sort of common police force in Podunksville, USA (read: anywhere other than NYC).

    The thing is, the evidence (what exists of it) shows body cameras are a net gain, both for cops and civilians. As Hephaestus pointed out in his comment on another cops-and-cameras story, Rialto’s (CA) police department saw significant improvements in a couple of problem areas as a result of department-issued body cams.

    When cops in a Rialto, California were forced to wear cameras, their use of force dropped by over two-thirds. Additionally, the officers who were not made to wear the cameras used force twice as much as those who did. This strongly suggests the majority of the time police use force is unnecessary. In other words, the majority of the time these officers used force they were simply committing acts of violence which they don’t feel comfortable committing if it’s captured on film…

    The Rialto study began in February 2012 and will run until this July. The results from the first 12 months are striking. Even with only half of the 54 uniformed patrol officers wearing cameras at any given time, the department over all had an 88 percent decline in the number of complaints filed against officers, compared with the 12 months before the study, to 3 from 24.

    A better behaved police force is a more effective police force, one that’s not bogged down in departmental paperwork, internal investigations and court battles that the deployment of excessive force tends to bring with it.

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