If mad computer skills are the coin of the realm in Silicon Valley, then what is the most important attribute for a professional law enforcement officer?
Defensive tactics? Legal knowledge? Communication skills? While these are all essential tools for a cop on the beat, the answer is far more basic.
The answer is integrity.
To prove the point, consider the performance of a police agency which fails to stress this trait. Department standards will be ignored. Crimes will be enforced haphazardly. Criminals will be more likely to run away or fight. Victims will stop calling. Juries will stop believing officers’ testimony. The lack of trust in police officers will eventually lead to a wholesale break with the community.
That describes the conditions in places like Egypt, Mexico and Russia (here in the U.S., consider the tarnished reputation of the New Orleans Police Department in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina). In such an environment, would it matter if a cop had, say, a black belt in karate, a law degree or a silver tongue?
The answer is a resounding no.
If integrity is indeed the currency by which police officers retain the authority granted them by law, then what does that say about the wholesale cheating recently reported at the state police academy in Des Moines (TNT 10/28)?
Last Thursday, a police recruit reported that a widely circulated study guide contained actual test answers. Though it was unclear how many recruits accessed the material, its presence “deeply disappointed” former King County Sheriff Sue Rahr, a seasoned and capable police veteran and the academy’s current director.
The fallout was immediate – all tests were considered compromised and recruits were required to retake tests to graduate.
The most disturbing aspect of this violation is not that young men and women would stoop to cheating (stellar institutions such as the nation’s service academies have struggled with this issue for years). Instead, it is the issue of leadership.
The police academy in Burien is an institution devoted to providing the formative education for future police officers. Its purpose is to transform individuals into public servants over a five month period, not only by teaching them the police trade but by hammering into each and every one of them that their integrity is equally as important as their Taser, their firearm, their body armor.
Without integrity, they have no purpose.
There will always be a few recruits whose ethical standards do not match the job requirements. In this case, however, it appears that the problem is endemic. That suggests a void in leadership. To her credit, Director Rahr understands that the scandal “tarnishes the integrity of our profession and damages public trust.”
Let us hope that Rahr also understands that the instructors, staff and, ultimately, the director of the state police academy bear responsibility for creating the environment where the cheating occurred.
Let us also hope that the recruits who chose to trade in their integrity for a better grade understand that they have failed the most important test of their career.