Photo courtesy of William Harvey.
The first segment of this series covered some of the basics of how to get your career into a whirlpool of departmental and legal troubles. But that wasn't a complete list. Here I'll share still more that can haunt you.
Again, I am not trying to take all of the fun out of Policeland; I'm only trying to keep you out of trouble and maybe save your career.
Freebies and Kickbacks
Probably one of the first career dangers you were taught about was freebies. Police officers have been getting free coffee and half-priced goodies for years. I do not know how it is where you are, but in some places this practice is unheard of and in others it is rampant. Most departments have a policy touching on this very topic. I am going to be honest; yes I have done it, but I try to avoid it.
I'll share with you one of the worst stories I have ever heard about this type of thing. There was a restaurant that sold everything for half price to all the coppers. You signed the ticket and paid a pittance for a meal. Finally, the proprietor's family member got a traffic ticket and he asked for the agency to void the ticket. Of course there was no voiding this ticket. Seeking retribution, the proprietor took out a several page ad in the local paper with officers' names, dates, and amounts of them eating on a discount. Let the public scrutiny begin. Don't fall into this trap.
Opportunities for kickbacks are always going to exist, and you must be ready to resist. With the competitive businesses we work around, there is always an opportunity to avail itself. Towing companies offering a cash incentive for tow call-outs is pretty normal. The towing business and crash repair industry are very competitive, so this may be a good business practice for them, but any involvement is a violation for us.
This is the reason most police departments have controlled towing lists and approved contractors to regulate this industry. Taxi drivers and tour guides in metro areas are also prone to give you a reward for throwing business their way. In your rules and regulations this practice is covered as a violation. Every department has a cautionary tale about this, so there's no need for me to share mine. It's simple: Don't get into this trap.
Once you start lying, you're on the road to becoming a Brady Cop. I'm sure your academy taught you well about the cases of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963) and Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150 (1972). If not, call up your prosecutor's office and have them give you their spin on the matter.
In a nutshell, if you have lied in your police career and it is known, the details will have to be disclosed at all trials. There are entire books on criminal procedure written about this; it is that important.
If you are a known liar, your word is worthless; your truth and veracity is no more. To most, you have been eviscerated as a cop. Be truthful in all actions, reports, testimony, and court actions, including any dealings with evidence. All of these are important; they all matter.
I recently read of one department where two of their officers' cases are no longer accepted by the federal prosecutor's office due to this. In some states, this can be a reason for dismissal for you can no longer properly perform your duties as a police officer.
Abuse of Office
The abuse of office often evolves from where your duty assignment is and what areas you oversee. Maybe you are working with gun permits or concealed carry permits and you let a friend pass through the process even though he doesn't qualify. Or you are working traffic/construction details and let the parking permits or meters go by without ticketing as a favor to the boss. Maybe you're working a special event or off-duty gig and letting some pals in the back door or waving off their entrance/parking fees. None of this is OK.
Sooner or later, you are going to get caught and sooner or later it is going to cost you. Special duty assignments are fraught with new perils for a police officer. One case that I recall involved an officer taking up admission at the back door of a concert and pocketing the cash.
There must be a warning about off-duty soirées or off-duty misadventures. Every department has at least one story of a police party that got out of control; there are too many bad stories that could have been avoided. First rule, you have got to have a sober safety officer(s) to monitor the adventures of the group.
I have told most that guns, edged weapons, and egos needed to be checked in at the door. Have an exit strategy, in other words, for a sober and safe passage home. We work hard, we train hard, and therefore we need to de-stress hard as well. Do it sensibly, safely, and with a plan to get everyone home safe.
It is incomprehensible to me that any cop would have a party or get together without some safety plan built in; you owe it to your brother and sister officers. You trust your life with them; you need a plan to protect their professional lives as well.
Have I covered all of the perils of Policeland? No way. There are so many low hanging fruits of the poisonous tree of police peril. Some are hard to reach and others fall in your lap. We have all worked hard to achieve a place in our chosen career.
There are many things at risk - your job, for starters. The collateral damages affect family, friends, and financial stability. To lose the job is one thing, but to endanger your family over these issues is far greater. Always ask yourself three things. Is what I am about to do legal? Is what I am about to do fair to others or moral?
And finally, How would I explain this to [fill in the blank]? How would you like to explain this to your kid, spouse, mommy, or whomever is important in your life? Train to survive all of the dangers out there. You are a member of this profession. Keep it that way.