Ethics and The Oath

The Law Enforcement Oath and the Code of Ethical Conduct

Law enforcement oaths and professional codes of ethics are the highest ideals of American Law Enforcement. They are sacred promises to our democracy. They are the most fundamental conditions of employment that we require of our peace officers — and also the most difficult.

Violations of the Law Enforcement Oath or the Code of Ethical Conduct are practically treasonous.  Cops who violate them betray the people who employ them. They betray all of us, tax payers or not, citizens or not. They betray our democracy, and they betray their fellow cops.

American democracy requires every peace officer to use excellent judgement in upholding their oath and their code of ethical conduct.

We expect this excellence not only to the letter, but also, and more importantly, in spirit.  That’s where an officer’s judgement can’t just be “good enough.” That’s where we require excellence, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Even in their interactions with the most repugnant criminals and the monsters who stalk us.

And not only in every contact with the public, but in every report they write and every testimony they give. In all of their professional conduct, all the time.

And, not only on duty, but off duty as well.

Just as peace officers are “always on duty” in the sense that they are authorized to carry and use lethal weapons when they’re “off the clock,” so too does the public require them tp represent the best of American citizenship 24 x 7 x 365.

We hire people to be peace officers on the condition that they promise and agree to uphold these ideals — to be model citizens — all the time. Every cop accepts these conditions of employment when he or she takes the oath.

And, whether or not they realize it, as much as the stress and danger of being a cop, it’s these burdens — the burdens of the Law Enforcement Oath and the Code of Ethical Conduct — that makes the job so difficult.

These burdens are so demanding that few people can uphold them for an entire career. I couldn’t.

America needs cops. And we need the best and the brightest that America has to offer. Step up and become cops. Good cops. Peace officers. Guardians.

And we need all cops (young and old) to be more introspective (self-assessing). We need cops who can be honest with themselves, and recognize when they’re falling short of their promises to us. Cops who have the integrity to admit to themselves and to their colleagues when they have to do better. Cops who have the courage to ask for help when they need it.

We need peace officers who hold to their ideals throughout their careers. Peace Officers who continually strive to be better.

I’m not talking about the usual cop measurements of “better.” I don’t mean ‘better at the usual cop training.’ I’m not talking about being better at procedures and tactics. I’m not talking about promotions.

“Being better” means, being better at being compassionate. Better at recognizing when step back. Better at de-escalating conflict. Better at not creating it, and at limiting their contributions to it. Better at being part of the community you police. Better at not being warriors. Not being commuter cops. Not being occupying forces.

These are the cops we need as role models. For their colleagues, for their superiors, and for new recruits.

And we need peace officers with the integrity and the courage to risk their careers. Cops who will identify and stand up against the misconduct of their colleagues. Officers who don’t look the other way. Officers who take formal actions against other cops who violate policies, or The Oath or the Code of Ethical Conduct.

We need cops who will be activists in their own organizations (agencies, offices, unions, and associations), throughout their careers. We need cops who will make it a personal career goal to leave their profession better off, more respected, and more worthy of respect, when they retire.

We need them to live their Oath and their Code of Conduct. Just as they promised they would, when we hired them.

Unfortunately, most cops don’t see things like this.  Most cops, like most other public employees, don’t seem to give much thought to the weight of their oaths when they take them. Swearing in is just an empty ritual. Or, its import gets lost over the course of their careers.

For too many cops, the Law Enforcement Oath and the Code of Ethical Conduct are merely policies for union lawyers to wrangle over in disciplinary hearings. Words to split. Legal contracts.

But to America, these aren’t merely legal documents. They’re a sacred trust.