For many years the armed services have recruited young men and women with the promise they will learn a trade or a discipline that will serve them throughout life.
As I type this column, I am reminded that the claim is true. I took typing in high school and then advanced training in the Army in written communications. At times when I was in Vietnam, we operated out of a big trailer on the back of a truck. This was when we were out in the field.
We would send and receive secret messages about battles and casualties, etc. The machine we typed on printed out a tape with little, Braille-like dots or holes that were fed into an encoding machine. We would receive messages the same way. Of course, things of importance made their way to the brass.
It seemed our body count of losses was always higher than what was later reported in the news.
The Army, also, built on the foundation my mother and father, the church, school teachers, and other relatives had already been building.
Patriotism, honor, honesty, integrity, discipline, camaraderie and other such values were given to me by commanders, enlisted supervisors and even many fellow soldiers.
All contributed to my enlightenment of becoming “All you can be” in being a good citizen. I am certainly grateful for my Army and National Guard experience. Some things will always stick with me; I still like to spit shine my shoes.
There are a good number of former armed services personnel who have joined law-enforcement agencies around the country. The training and strict discipline these individuals have brought to law-enforcement is a great asset.
Of course there have been some high profile failures, such as the former naval officer who joined the Los Angeles Police Department. He went rogue and killed a couple of lawmen. Then a few days later he was cornered and killed by lawmen himself. Then there was the New York policeman who was imprisoned for planning to kill, cook and eat a woman.
From Atlanta we heard a few months ago about a dozen cops being involved with protecting drug dealers. Also, in the newspaper, we learned last week that 25 cops have been fired from the Memphis Police Department for breaking the law this year. Countless others have been disciplined for offenses that were not felonies.
Closer to home we have heard of a number of agencies that have fired officers or have let them resign because of their unlawful conduct.
This kind of news seems to come to us with some regularity. It is always scandalous.
I remember several years ago tthe Memphis Police were having trouble recruiting new people to fill vacant positions. They got so desperate they talked of lowering their standards, even to the point of hiring some convicted felons. Some agencies have lowered their standards, but not to that degree. Whether Memphis actually carried through with a practice of hiring felons I don’t know.
Some police agencies as far away as Houston have recruited experienced lawmen, even from this area, that have a good, solid reputation of integrity. Also, various federal agencies cast their recruiting eye this way from time to time.
That brings us to the question “What is the distinction between law and ethics?”
This was discussed by a panel at Santa Clara University by Joan Cassman and Joanne Spears at the center’s government ethics roundtable.
Spears made the statement that, “Ethics is what we ought to do, the law is what we must do.” She explained law drafters have two tools to promote ethical behavior in public service: transparency measures and prohibitions.
The speaker went on to explain tyou cannot always write laws to prevent bad things from happening. They further made the point, “This is why abiding by the law is the minimum standard of behavior.”
At our swearing-in ceremony, after I was elected in 2010, I talked to all of our personnel stating I wanted to change the culture of law enforcement in Bradley County. My goal is to make it a top-notch agency.
Albert C. Pierce, the founding director of the Center for the Study of Professional Military Ethics, said, “Culture is very hard to change. Building any culture is a long, slow, one-brick-at-a-time kind of process.”
I have found this to be true.
I can report that we have come a long way. We still have some distance to go, but I am very optimistic. I believe it will be a win-win result. A win for our citizens, as we keep them safe and a win for our good, professional employees who get the job done every day they work.
Pierce goes on to say, “Because organizations consist of individuals, individual behavior matters a great deal in creating and maintaining a healthy culture.”
That is why we have to terminate some people or demote them. Their behavior is inconsistent with our agency’s goals.
Pierce suggests four abilities organizations should develop in individuals: Moral awareness (what is right or wrong), Moral reasoning (ability to think through the problem), Moral courage (must be able to overcome the fear of being ostracized), and Moral effectiveness (the argument should be made that everyone do the right thing at all times for the right reason).
Sorry to go on and on, but these aforementioned statements help define the problem and how best to fix it.
Also, we can expect certain rules of behavior to be maintained by our public servants and not be deemed to be narrow-minded or judgmental.
All of us make honest mistakes and come up short of perfection. That lack of perfection is not an excuse to quit striving to be better. It should motivate us to a higher moral standing.
Thanks for reading all of this.