Originally published May 25, 2016
I would like to coin a new word—Poliganda. Politics + propaganda = poliganda. It means the practice of politics combined with propaganda that perpetuates a lie. In some cases it leads to the vexatious prosecution or disciplinary action against a public servant. The prime example is Ms. Mosby vs. the Baltimore Six!
This week we learned that Mosby is 0-2. And for good reason. She doesn’t have a criminal case! She’s engaged in POLIGANDA and I hope someone is able to take her to task over it!
Late in my career I was assigned a role that most cops abhor. I handled the major Internal Affairs (IA) investigations at my department—not the run of the mill complaints, but those that could lead to severe discipline or termination.
I did not enjoy the experience, although I took it serious. “Keep us out of the PORAC Magazine,” was one directive from the chief when I assumed this position.
“So you want me to be fair and impartial while acting reasonably?” I mockingly responded to my good-natured boss.
“Exactly,” he said. “I want facts. Leave conjecture and personalities out of it.”
“Good,” I thought. “We are on the same page for this dreadful, yet necessary, assignment.”
The Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC) Magazine is a publication distributed to members of law enforcement associations (unions) in my home state. They publicize overturned personnel investigations. Since the articles are written from the perspective of the labor force, the tenor of each one articulates why the disciplinary process maligned peace officers. I recognize there is some posturing in each commentary, but the facts remain that discipline is overturned.
Several years removed from this position, and living in another state, I read through recent copies of the PORAC Magazine. While reviewing the legal cases, I continue to be amused at the reported facts that have led to the reversal of punishment. There is one organization after another hitting their thumb (reputation) with a hammer (personnel investigation) that is aimed for a nail (accused officer).
These are some of the common threads:
- Compromised ethics due to flawed pubic opinion
- Officer is a sacrificial lamb due to politics
- Opinions get in the way of facts
- Personnel investigations are driven by personalities, not truth
- Perceived promotional aspirations
- Perceived retribution
- Inflated view of questionable behavior
- Excessive punishment for minor acts of misconduct
- Self-righteous opinions condemning questionable split second decisions
- Questionable investigative integrity
Combine various elements on this list and you could have poliganda from people who should be the caretakers of our organizations! Ethical leadership demands that we combat anyone pursuing unjust punishment regardless of his or her position of trust.
While the rank and file may not like personnel investigations due to complaints or other manner of discovery, they are necessary to maintain the good order of a healthy organization. I’m not trying to play both sides of the fence. For me there is only one side, and my teammates include truth, honor, integrity, courage, and accountability. If the agency does not keep its’ nose clean, there are other painful remedies to do so, and no one wants to be subjected to civilian review or commission mandates. Ask those who are!
My department has four options to dispose each personnel investigation:
- Sustained – The allegation of misconduct could be proven
- Not-sustained – The allegation of misconduct could not be proven one way or the other
- Unfounded – The allegation of misconduct was proven to be false
- Exonerated – The allegation of misconduct was actually lawful and justified action by the officer
Ironically, most of the major investigations I handled resulting from citizen complaints were exonerated or unfounded because the public generally does not understand policies and procedures, let alone criminal law. It was the avoidable misconduct, discovered internally, that was typically sustained.
Department heads cannot avoid the political climate in which they operate. But they can govern their response to inappropriate demands. As I read the daily news, I applaud some chiefs and sheriffs tackling the ignorance of their accusers, while I cry foul when others bite their quivering lip and cower. Appropriately, those educating their complainants seem to maintain employment more frequently than some high profile police commissioners (Baltimore for instance) with a trembling lip. Because truth matters!
Let’s face it, we hire from the human race. Cops are fallible people who will mess up on occasion. When this happens, we need to clean up the mess as ethically, morally, and legally reasonable people. But every cop should be given the benefit of the doubt until there is no doubt that he or she is unworthy of the benefit. Any leader who discounts this philosophy will not have a trail of loyal followers, but a select few appeasers that are generally untrustworthy.
Law enforcement is operating in a bizarre political climate. I don’t want to tar and feather the overwhelming number of good prosecutors in our country, but poliganda is real. For the good of our communities, and the morale of each organization, we need to stand firm and remain unyielding to the persuasive power of noise—ignorance with a microphone! In the social media circus that misleadingly dictates right from wrong, courageous and ethical leadership need to be trending values Combating Poliganda!
Jim McNeff served on a presidential support detail in the United States Air Force before transitioning to civilian law enforcement. Once his combined service exceeded thirty-one years, he retired as a police lieutenant from Orange County, California. Jim authored Justice Revealed (CrossLink Publishing, 2016), The Spirit behind Badge 145 (WestBow Press, 2013), and contributes articles to various publications. His website, www.badge145.com, is designed as a form of outreach to the law enforcement family.