The unthinkable has happened again in a community close to mine. A young rookie LEO (on probation) was terminated for engaging in what I refer to as stupid behavior. This officer was running a license plate seeking information on a woman he wanted to date. The officer was ON DUTY, inside the complainant’s place of employment, a licensed establishment that serves alcohol. Where did we go wrong? Yes, we as a profession.
While attending the 2014 ILEETA (International Law Enforcement Educators and Training Association) conference, I spoke with Ephrata, PA Police Chief Bill Harvey. He is a very well-known and respected law enforcement trainer as well as an ILEETA Advisory Board member.
Chief Harvey was preparing for his presentation entitled, “Things Your FTO Didn’t Tell You.“ My first thought was that Bill was going to point out little extra tips to do on the job. As he was highlighting his presentation, it struck me that his class was about STUPID BEHAVIOR. The Chief looked at me with a grin and replied, “exactly.”
We are not mentoring our fellow LEOs, especially our younger officers, to behave honorably and ethically. In my 29 years as an LEO, I made missteps that I have deeply regretted and have been penalized for professionally. My role as a supervisor is to ensure that my peers do not make the same mistakes.
We’ve all read the stories about LEO corruption, law-breaking, and other acts of impropriety. It is the other sorts of issues we sometimes pretend are: o.k.; none of my business; they’re not hurting anyone, or some other sense of entitlement attitude that some LEOs develop.
Several years ago, a friend left a nearby agency to become the Police Chief in another agency which was rebounding from long-term corruption and total organizational disarray. Within weeks he had his first challenge as the new Chief.
A young officer on duty went into an adult entertainment establishment in the jurisdiction to visit and get his photograph taken with an adult film star. This act of Stupid Behavior got the officer: FIRED from a Civil Service position. This embarrassing incident was published in the media.
Little things from the past that may have been ignored, over-looked, or squashed are being noticed today in our changing world, which is seeking transparency.
I recently observed a group of uniformed LEOs heading to their post in a city that I was visiting with my wife. As we walked past them, one brother LEO with his booming voice was engaged in a story when out of the blue, an F Bomb was used as an adjective..
I’ll admit that I also use colorful language at certain times with certain audiences. As I continued walking at 0800 on a beautiful sunny Sunday morning, my wife looked over at me with a look of disappointment on her face. She didn’t say anything, since she knew I was already embarrassed enough by this guy’s conduct.
I shared this story with you to remind all of us that we are held to a higher standard of conduct. We need to be discreet especially in public and conduct ourselves professionally with dignity and honor. If you still have any doubts about his, take then another look at your agency’s policies which spell out the proper expected behavior.
The most significant change I’ve experienced in my 29 years of policing is the advancement of video digital technology. Surveillance cameras and people with cell phones are audio and video recording any situation, any conversation, and any action by anyone. LEO activities are the most popular choice. People want to be the first to post it on the Internet. They are filming us legally in public, so you need to get used to it.
Let me reiterate a point: If you want to be the latest Internet sensation, go engage in some Stupid Behavior on or off-duty. It will be on the Internet before the professional standards complaint is filed with your agency.
As a profession, we need to conduct ourselves in a proper manner both in our behavior and our attitude. This goes for social media postings and comments which may hurt you professionally.
As we gain experience as LEOs, we need to enhance the role of mentoring our peers, especially our younger and less experienced ones. You do not have to be a supervisor to help maintain good order within our profession. It is up to us, individually and as a group, to set the high expectations of honor, integrity, and pride within the law enforcement profession.
Chief Harvey brought up some excellent points in his presentation. Good, hardworking LEOs need to speak up to educate, guide, and mentor our peers when we observe them engaged in bad behavior or doing something unsafe. It is peer pressure and expectations that enhance the esprit de corps which is declining within our profession. If these actions continue, then we have a responsibility to notify our superiors to ferret out these individuals for corrective re-training, discipline or dismissal.
Our profession is damaged every time we allow bad behavior within our ranks to grow into a scandal which hinders the respect and trust that all of us have earned within the communities we serve. You and I as professional LEOs, along with our communities, deserve and should expect it.
REMEMBER: WE ARE THE HONORABLE PROFESSION!
Stay safe and be well!
Sgt. Mark St.Hilaire is a wellness contributor to L.E.T. He is 29-year police veteran working in a busy Metro-west suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. He is a volunteer peer with a regional CISM Team. He is a member of ILEETA. You contact Mark by confidential email:[email protected] You can visit his site: www.rescueteamwellness.com or follow him on Linked-In or Twitter: @NPD3306.