Just about every law enforcement officer when going through training will at some point have to memorize the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics. The code was adopted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police way back in 1957 and serves as a reminder to all the men and women in law enforcement to maintain their personal integrity and that of their agency.
One sentence in the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics reads, “I will keep my private life unsullied as an example to all and will behave in a manner that does not bring discredit to me or to my agency.”
When cops behave badly it resonates with the public in ways in which few other professions can relate. This bad behavior doesn’t just bother the public, it bothers the heck out of the vast majority of police officers who are doing their jobs with integrity.
The expectation is police officers will conduct themselves in a manner that is above reproach, even when they are off duty.
Few jobs can make that requirement of their employees. In police jargon it is called “conduct unbecoming.”
A viral video was recently distributed that reflected badly on the police officer, his department, and the profession of policing. The video, although part of a personnel investigation, was released in accordance with the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.
In Arkansas, an off-duty Conway police officer was caught on video in a nightclub dancing naked to the music of Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing.’ No, he wasn’t working extra duty as a male stripper. The video shows the obviously intoxicated officer nude, stumbling, and surrounded by club patrons. Security guards escorted him outside where he dressed and was eventually driven home. This too was captured on video.
As a result of his antics the officer was suspended for 30 days. In his suspension letter Chief Jodi Spradlin wrote, “Your actions have brought discredit and embarrassment upon the Conway Police Department and could have resulted in your arrest for Public Intoxication…”
The officer was lucky it was just a suspension.
Police officers across the country just have to shake their heads in embarrassment and disgust at this kind of behavior. There isn’t a single police officer I know who would excuse what he did. For the tens of thousands of police officers who never get in trouble their entire career there is a sense of disappointment and betrayal. Police officers are very aware of how the public judges the profession through the lens of collective guilt.
The officer’s drunken behavior feeds into the stereotype that police officers are a bunch of hard playing, hard drinking good old boys who are above the law.
We all have to admit police officers do behave badly at times. That behavior is the exception, not the norm. It is the result of hiring human beings with all their messy baggage and shortcomings.
In those cases where officers do behave in a way that discredits themselves and their departments, discipline should be rendered justly and in accordance with the severity of the behavior. The overwhelming majority of police officers have no problem with that whatsoever.
Joe is a retired police captain. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.