Law Enforcement - Interviews Term Paper

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Law Enforcement - Interviews


Interview Subject 1 - NYPD Detective Sergeant:

Sergeant, thank you for agreeing to this interview under condition of anonymity.

Could you please synopsize your law enforcement background in as much detail as you are comfortable?

Sure. I got on with the NYPD 18 years ago, worked in anti-crime units and various street crime details, among other things, before going to a precinct detective squad. In 2001 I was promoted to Sergeant and a few months later, after 9/11, I was assigned to the NYPD-FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) working out of 26 Federal Plaza where I have been ever since.

What are your main responsibilities?

I work mostly in counterterrorism, our office follows up on investigative leads, identifies potential terrorist threats and possible tactical opportunities; my particular unit cultivates and debriefs confidential informants in those areas and things like that.

Q: As an 18-year NYPD veteran, you've probably had experiences along the entire spectrum of police conduct including ethical issues.

A: Certainly.

Q: What is your perspective of the importance of personal and professional ethics and character in the field of law enforcement?

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A: Well, in my profession, it would probably be impossible to maintain modern police functions without a high degree of personal and professional ethics on the part of individual officers. As police officers, we're placed in positions of power relative to ordinary civilians simply we have the authority to arrest people and issue summonses that may cost them significant sums of money. That presents a very natural opportunity to abuse the lawful authorities of the position, whether as an expression of personal power or "ego" or as a means of illicit financial gains. In fact, going back to the Tammany Hall period of New York City history, the first few generations of NYPD officers were, in many cases, reflective of those times and no better than the corrupt politicians of that era.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Law Enforcement - Interviews Law Enforcement Interviews Assignment

Likewise, up until the latter part of the 20th century, many police agencies in the deep South of this country were complicit in racial persecution, including the cover up of the murder of blacks and of four civil rights workers from New York in 1964. At that time, it was not uncommon at all for municipal police departments in southern states to include

Ku Klux Klan members. Times have certainly changed for the better since then in terms of policing ethics. Q: Do you think that police are more ethical today, or were they more ethical ten years ago?

A: If you're asking me, specifically, about the last ten years, I would have to say that there really isn't all that much difference, necessarily, between the situation today and that of ten years ago. In my opinion, the biggest transformation in police ethics in the United States occurred a little earlier than that: perhaps in the post-Civil Rights era and the 1980s. In many respects, that was more a function of the Supreme Court's decisions in cases like Miranda and the line of related cases that followed. The issues that arise most commonly in connection with ethics in policing have to do with selective enforcement, reasonable suspicion, probable cause, lawful vs. unlawful arrest, interrogation procedures, coerced confessions, and truthful testimony at trial. In the last ten years, those issues have not changed as significantly as in the period between say 1965 and 1990. In my opinion, the other main factor resulting in positive changes in ethical police conduct relate more to technology and the fact that police procedures are now much more visible than before, to the chain of command as well as to the general public through the news media.

Q: How so?

A: Well, 30 years ago, there was no such thing as dashboard cameras that captured and preserved police activity for subsequent review and evaluation. In the old days, what happened in the streets stayed pretty much in the streets. Nowadays, many police agencies use in-car cameras that cannot be controlled or switched off by the officers and the recorder is locked into a box in the trunk that only supervisors have access to. If for no other reason that professional self-preservation, police officers know that unethical conduct is now recorded for the official record and that it will come back to haunt them in one way or another. In fact, 30 years ago, even the police radio was relatively new. It is indispensable as far as saving officers' lives and helping them on the street in tactical matters, but most police radio traffic is broadcast over the air along frequencies capable of being monitored by modern news media equipment. Except for special secure tactical channels, just about anything said between officers on the air is recorded and open to subpoena in court. That also has a lot to do with the change in police ethics since the 1980s much more so than since the late 90s.

Q: Why do you think police officers sometimes become involved in misconduct?

A: Pretty much the same reasons that ordinary civilians sometimes become involved in professional misconduct and illegal activities. Police officers are people just like everyone else and they are susceptible to the same human failings and temptations as the rest of us. Good officers sometimes take illegal shortcuts to achieve what they consider to be "justice" such as to make sure criminals don't escape punishment or to protect the innocent victims from continued victimization. Sometimes, bad people manage to become police officers too because they're skilled at hiding their bad side from public awareness. These types of so-called "bad apples" may abuse their lawful police authority from the get go, even planning to do so in advance of becoming police officers.

Q: Do you think there is sufficient training devoted to ethics at the police academy level?

A: I think there is sufficient training devoted to ethics at the police academy level in some respects, but I also think some of those efforts are less well-designed than they could be.

In general, much of the ethics training in police academies is repetitive and more likely to be effective at shaping the professional conduct of those officers already inclined to perform their police functions and duties ethically than it is likely to be effective at shaping the professional conduct of those officers inclined to do so less ethically. It is also unrealistic in many cases in presenting ideal standards of ethical conduct instead of realistic standards that are reflective of actual practices.

Q: Could you give me some examples?

A: Sure. Many police agency academies teach that accepting a free cup of coffee or a discounted meal from a local business is no different from taking a an outright bribe to look the other way with regard to serious criminal activity. In reality, that is simply not the case: police officers in uniform command both respect and also appreciation from the average small business owner and refusing a simple cup of coffee would practically be an insult. In any case, it is an unrealistic standard that conflicts with reality. By equating that level of "corruption" with genuine criminal bribery and corruption, police academies may actually be undermining the goal of sensitizing new officers to the importance of avoiding more serious conflicts of interest. Another example would be departmental restrictions about dating anyone an officer meets while in uniform. In theory, the idea is that the uniform could suggest that refusing to provide a phone number or to accept a social invitation might result in consequences, meaning that the relationship is "coerced."

Instead of telling new officers that they are never allowed to pursue a social relationship with anyone they meet in uniform, we should be devoting those efforts to educate them to distinguish situations where their spoken words or actions might be misconstrued. Again, by presenting an unrealistically high standard that may be unnecessary, we may be undermining the effort to prevent situations where a legitimate issue of social coercion may actually arise. it's not much different from the old fable about crying "Wolf."

Q: Do you think police ethics training should be offered on an ongoing basis for all law enforcement officers?

A: Actually, in modern policing, ongoing police ethics training is already offered. The problem, as I've suggested, is that most police ethics training is more relevant to the classroom than it is realistic with respect to the street. Generally, in-service ethics training simply rehashes the same scenarios presented in the academy. The officers who benefited the most from ethics training in the academy probably don't need continual refreshers because they have already made their commitment to exercise their professional duties and responsibilities ethically from the start. If anything, the same ongoing training that benefited them in the academy would be almost insulting later in their careers. Conversely, the "bad apples" who chuckled through ethics training at the academy will be even more contemptuous of in-service ethics training when they've been routinely violating professional… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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