In light of the recent conviction via plea agreement of an SLPD officer for stealing and distributing pot, this topic seems most appropriate for this week.
It’s a question that seems simple enough but in reality I hadn’t given it much thought. Where do they begin, what are the limits of what you can do for an officer to “thank” them for their work? Is it crossing a line if let’s say, a convenience store offers cops on the midnight shift a free $1 cup of coffee? These questions and more were fired off at SLPD Sgt. Mike Sobek. In particular, we looked at the “free coffee” question…
At first glance, if a shop owner wants to kick some coffee as a "nice gesture" to officers, most everyone in the room thought, "Sure, why not? As a citizen I don't care, that's a good thing, right?" It’s a cup of Joe, the black-gold of the graveyard and morning shift, instant happiness on a cold and rainy night! However, the fallout can actually be far reaching and serious, especially if the Watch Commander or your Sergeant finds out about it…
Let’s say someone is assigned to a beat 2 miles away from the store that gives cops free coffee during the graveyard shift, and they leave their beat for a free 20 ounces of that wonderful beverage… it might take them 5 minutes or more to get to a “hot call” (think life or death incident) on the far-side of their assigned patrol area if all hell breaks loose while they skip past 10 other late-night coffee stops, just to save themselves $2.
Also, the store giving away the coffee have what could be considered an unfair advantage over other late-night businesses- more cops essentially patrolling their area simply by virtue of increased police traffic to and from their store. If I’m a thinking criminal, I’m less likely to hold up a store with police cruisers coming and going all the time, if 1 mile away there’s a less-patrolled mini-mart.
I have to say, I never really thought about it that way. If I owned a coffee shop I'd offer coffee to Police, Fire/EMS on the house, but to be nice, not for special favors. The fact that I might actually be causing an ethics issue, I just never really thought about it.
Recruiting (and Ethics cont'd)
Don’t look for an ad that says: "Searching for a hybrid of Elliot Ness, TJ Hooker, Hunter & McCall, Cagney & Lacy, & Sherlock Holmes (and maybe a dash of Harry Callahan & Andy Sipowicz)"
Here’s the short list of items called out by the attendees that would make the “perfect cop”- Brave, honorable, disciplined, fast thinker, great people skills, great marksman, integrity, superior work ethic, physically strong, intelligent, book-smart, street-smart, empathetic, political/media relations acumen… That’s right, you’re looking for a real-life Jack Ryan (from the Tom Clancy books/movies- Hunt for Red October, Clear and Present Danger, etc.). Actually, you’re looking for about 90+of them, for San Leandro alone.
Is it unreasonable to think you’ll find that? In a word- Yes. That doesn’t mean The Chief and recruiting/training officers won’t do their best to find people that are as close to the “perfect” officer as possible. The process is long, difficult, and from what I hear, the most nerve-rattling part is the Chief and Captain’s interviews. Currently the department looks for “lateral transfers”, in other words current cops from other departments. It’s a very expensive process to hire non-officers and train them up, so SLPD doesn’t currently engage in new recruit hiring.
When you do end up with a bad apple, what comes next? The Internal Affairs is called in.
IA (or IAD), the police of the police. I would never want to be on the business end of an IA investigation. I’ve seen the investigative process in my Search and Rescue organization and that’s plenty. We use Air Force structure and procedures to model from for our internal investigations. If someone stubs their toe, one of our planes has a damaged a tire, or there’s an ethics/conduct complaint, a form is required to be filled out that starts a process where people are “grounded” or suspended automatically for some safety items and an Inspector General selected to investigate if the issue is deemed serious enough. The process is transparent, you know an investigation has started. For police, they don’t get that same notification obviously if it’s a criminal matter. If you break the law while wearing a badge, you’ll never see them coming. The details on how the investigations work is too varied (by type of incident) and detailed for a blog post, take the academy class if you’re interested in knowing more or send in questions via comments, I’ll relay them. How well it works depends on how you want to measure it. My take-away on the basic purpose of IA is to investigate serious allegations and remove officers that are breaking the rules/law, or harming the public trust. My opinion, yes it works. What happens after an arrest or removal from duty, that’s another matter entirely.
Post-arrest, the DA’s office
Police present evidence to the District Attorney’s office (the DA). The DA decides what they can and cannot do with the case. They control everything from the actual charge that will be filed with the courts, plea agreements, etc. It’s NOT a police function. It’s completely separate from the police investigation. The police, whether it’s regarding internal or external investigations gives the DA all the collected evidence, reports, etc. The DA then has the task of determining what charges the evidence will support and runs with the ball from there. An unfortunate truth is that some people hide their tracks well, and don’t give you much to use against them. Others have a spotless record and have made their first “big mistake” of their lives, or at least the first one they’ve been caught making. Some crimes have no real “victim” or are non-violent while some are rapes, murders, the worst of the worst. All aspects of a case are taken into account by the DA before moving forward, whether it be to throw the book at someone (like the triple-murder case from the tattoo party shooting), or a plea that lets someone off with a slap on the wrist (distributing drugs while being a sworn police officer).
The recent plea agreement
If you’re wondering what my opinion is of the plea agreement for former SLPD Detective Jason Fredriksson here’s my $.02- Until I know what the DA was faced with if they went to trial, I’ll assume in good faith for now that the case wasn’t very strong and they’d rather get at least a misdemeanor conviction versus a risky trial in which a jury may have let him go completely free (or a summary judgment dismissing the case). You can bet my curiosity will prompt me to ask more questions tonight.
What I think is just my opinion. If you agree, fine- if not, fine. I’ve seen a majority of comments on Patch basically saying, “…they’re protecting their own…” I cannot disprove that, perhaps the DA took previous service into account in offering what I personally thought was a pretty light sentence. The cops I’ve spoken with about this really hate the damage that someone going rouge does to their reputation- it gives them all a black-eye. One person has effectively ruined the good work of 90+ officers (not to mention civilian employees that assist sworn officers). They’ve solved/cleared multiple homicide cases in the past few months, seized major illegal marijuana grows and taken some serious assault weapons off the street… But that’s all trashed now at least in the short-term, and the thought of someone having done that disgusts them. In my dealings with SLPD, they understand the foundation is public trust. It’s everything to the leadership and that does roll down to beat officers.
So how did IA do? They DID get rid of a bad apple. What happens once it reaches the DA’s office, that’s not their call.
A great line from Backdraft spoken by the imprisoned arsonist Ronald Bartel (played by the awesome Donald Sutherland), “The funny thing about firemen is... Night and day, they are always firemen.”
It’s true for most in professions like that. I’m an EMT on vacation driving down the highway, or running a medical unit at a search-mission base. A cop is a cop, at home or on the beat. A fireman is always a fireman, even when they’re putting their kids to bed. There is a bond between people in public service (especially those that sometimes come under lethal threat while performing their jobs). Law enforcement, fire/EMS, military, and many other public service organizations at their core believe in service, doing their duty, and honor. You can call them a family, and it can be a very protective family. I accept that it’s human nature when you deal with some very bad scenes and experiences day in and day out. But what I’ve learned is that those same people understand that their first duty is to the truth and to preserve the public trust, even if it hurts. It’s the foundation of the power citizens’ grant to government agencies to police the public. When that trust is gone, we’re back in the wild-west days where we for the most part settle our disputes on our own, by any means necessary. Just look south to Mexico for a glimpse of a complete breakdown in ethics and the fallout. They are human beings, just like us, and are killing each other by the dozens. Our ethics and willingness to stand by them keep the U.S. from turning into a warzone just like that one.
People make bad choices. Bill Clinton, Rush Limbaugh, John Edwards, Jason Fredriksson, Michael Allen (me), Hines Ward, Barry Bonds, you… We have all made really bad choices at some point. How much trust we compromised and how far-reaching the consequences are varies. If it’s professional in nature and involves the public trust, how that employing agency reacts tells you a lot about their character and leadership and what’s important to them. When looking at SLPD, in my opinion they made the right choices when the allegations were made and are trying to earn back the trust that was damaged by this incident with programs such as the Citizen Academy, Coffee with the Cops, and more. They know they are always on trial in the public eye. That’s reality when you’re a public safety agency.
The Law Enforcement Code of Ethics- http://www.dps.unc.edu/DPS%20Policies%20&%20Procedures/Appendix/3LawEnforcementCodeofEthics.pdf