Sunday, March 11, 2007

Ethics Training, Lessons Learned From History

The headlines are becoming common place, the accusations of police officers abusing their authority work to create an insurmountable divide between the police and those they are sworn to "protect and serve".

  • In the aftermath of Katrina, we watch as the police forcibly disarm free citizens, leaving them at the mercies of the roving gangs and other goblins.

  • From Atlanta we hear of an elderly woman who died in a gunfight with undercover officers serving a "no knock" warrant looking for drugs. During the investigation we learn that the officers lied to get the warrant, continued to lie after the shooting, and forced their informant to lie for them.

  • And then there are the cases where we read of officers using their positions of authority to insure they are not charged when committing crimes, or to get sexual favors from prostitutes or even the law abiding citizen who gets pulled over in a traffic stop, or any number of other unethical practices that they feel they can get away with just because they are police officers.

The good news is that these officers represent a minority of the police who serve the community. I firmly believe that the majority of those who wear a badge are decent individuals who do their best to perform a difficult and often unappreciated job. But, as we saw in the Katrina aftermath, it does not take very much for those in a position of authority to turn against the very people they are sworn to protect and serve.

Here in the DFW Metroplex, a program has been developed to give our officers the tools to make ethical decisions in situations like the Katrina aftermath.

From the Dallas Morning News:

By Jeffrey Weiss.

Police officers find ethics lessons in Holocaust stories

A Plano police academy uses the lessons of the Nazi Holocaust to teach ethics to modern police officers.

Mike Jacobs, a death camp survivor and the founder of the Dallas Holocaust Museum, tells his story to the visiting police academy class. Mr. Jacobs said he hopes the officers learn from people who were in similar leadership positions during the Holocaust. Here's one of the lessons: What could it take to turn a beat cop into a mass murderer? Not as much as you'd think.

The disarmament of free citizens in New Orleans is only the most recent incident where those in authority have misused their power. Granted, disarmament pales in significance compared to the extinction that occurred in Josefow. This incident only goes to show how easily something like this can still happen.

Then Mr. Dlin told the students that police have a special ethical obligation. How police treat civilians is a good index of the real values of any society, he said.

And the Nazis recognized that, he added. The brutal Gestapo and the SS started as special police units.

But Reserve Police Battalion 101 started as a regular bunch of cops, not hard-core party members. They were members of the Hamburg police force who joined the battalion as an alternative to regular military service. In July 1942, they were sent to Poland.

The Final Solution was in full swing, and Nazis were loading thousands of Jews onto railroad cars every day and sending them to the death camps. But that July, in a Polish town called Josefow, there weren't enough trains.

Only three weeks after it left Germany, Battalion 101 was given what its commander called the "unpleasant task" of emptying the town of its 1,800 Jewish residents. The 300 strongest men would be sent to a work camp. The other 1,500 – men, women and children – would be marched into the forest and shot.

One lieutenant refused to take part. About a dozen other officers also refused. During the long day of killings, about 20 percent of the unit eventually stopped shooting.

By teaching from the past, maybe incidents like this can be prevented in the present. This course is being given to senior officers of the various forces in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. In my mind, this is a very good use of my tax dollars.

Jennifer White, 34, a lieutenant for the Arlington Police Department, said the session was a good reminder that police officers need to be constantly aware of the ethical issues that confront them – as does every citizen.

"They didn't start in 1942 with the mass killings. Things added up," she said. "We can't let the little things happen."

Herbert Ashford, 41, is a lieutenant with the Dallas Police Department. In his 20 years on the force, he's seen the power of peer pressure, he said.

"It's just human nature," Lt. Ashford said.

But the session at the Holocaust museum was a good reminder that he and his fellow officers have a higher responsibility.

"Throughout history, a few people stand up for what is right," he said.

The ethical lessons of that day would be reinforced in other classes at the Plano academy, along with discussions about Aristotle, Locke and Machiavelli, Mr. Carlson said. The eight-week course is designed to help police commanders deal with issues of ethics and leadership.
Maybe, just maybe, courses such as this will help keep our police from becoming the "only ones".

1 comment:

Fits said...

Sad that men and women need be taught how to act civilized.

To Serve Man is not a cookbook.