It Starts At the Top: Ethics in Policing

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The person who holds a supervisory position in a police department holds so much power to influence the direction that the department goes in. An ethical leader will run an ethical department, and an unethical leader will run a department rife with corruption and misconduct. Unfortunately, the system is setup to reward and promote officers who are corrupt over ethical and principled officers. This idea is outlined and discussed by numerous theorists and academics, I experienced on the street as an officer in Lowell, Massachusetts working under the command of Ed Davis.

When I was a police officer, I saw so many recruits come in who were eager to do a good job, full of hope and excitement, and overflowing with visions for how they could contribute to the greater good. Unfortunately, more of them fell into the cesspool of corruption that existed in Lowell than those who did not. The problem didn’t just start with Ed Davis, although his leadership methodology certainly contributed. It didn’t end with him either, he has been gone from Lowell for several years now, but the legacy of corruption has continued.

When I worked in Lowell, command staff openly discussed the crimes they were committing, with no fear of retribution. Why? Because if you were one of the “royalty” members of the Lowell Police Department, then you were above the law. This was, in my opinion, a major factor in the rapid decline of the values and morals of some of the promising new recruits that came in while I worked there. Most people can only witness fellow officers committing crimes and getting away with it so many times before they become tempted to do so themselves.

The “royalty” class of officers in Lowell was made up of officers who were somehow connected; men and women who had friends and family in high ranking positions in a local police department or city government. They were not necessarily skilled officers, and they entered the police force knowing that they would rise in the ranks quickly, with minimal effort.

This is why the cycle of promoting officers who are connected, or from “police families” needs to stop. Until the men and women in supervisory positions are there because they are the most qualified and ethical person for the job, police forces across the United States will continue to be plagued by stories of corruption. This degrades public trust in the police and makes it harder for ethical cops to do their job. It’s a vicious cycle, actually, that ultimately turns ethical officers into unethical ones over time which then leads to more temptation for officers who enter the role with good intentions.

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