Do You Have Integrity?
By Thomas Shea, D.Sc., CPP
Think about that answer for a second, while keeping in mind that in the definition of integrity, words are backed up by actions. Are you that cop that, while on patrol, writes sixteen speeding tickets on one shift and later races home at sixty mph over the speed limit? Are you that Sergeant who stands in roll call and lectures all of your subordinates about work ethic and then yourself call out sick eighteen times a year? Are you the elected union leader who utilizes your position as an angle to get unjustly promoted over others whom you represent? Are you that high ranking, command staff supervisor who stands idly by, while your Chief or Public Safety Director wreaks havoc over the police department, but you do nothing because you don’t want to risk your future aspirations to that position? Are you the Chief that constantly writes up patrol officers for the most minor of infractions but then turns a blind eye to your favorites in the specialized units who break the same rules?
Unfortunately, examples such as these are not that uncommon in law enforcement. I am sure that many of you reading this can think of somebody matching these descriptions within your respective departments. If you really observe others closely, you will learn that at some point during a cop’s career, they have to face an internal, professional ‘test’ of their moral courage. The decision they make regarding this test will likely adversely affect their lives in some fashion or another, should they choose to “buck the system.” This could mean losing a benefit of some sort. Many people, not just officers, are not willing to do this; alternatively, they try to justify their choices by stating things such as, “Well, they would probably do the same thing to me.”
Judging by how much revenue it generated, the movie Braveheart appeared to resonate with the public. Many of the ethical principles in the movie, such as integrity and humility, are applicable to the point of this article. The main character, William Wallace, played by Mel Gibson, had an uncompromising conviction regarding his beliefs. This is an admirable personality trait which we all aspire to possess but in reality, is extremely rare. There is one particularly memorable scene where Wallace is bribed with titles and gold to turn against his countrymen. Wallace says, “…And then I should become Judas.” The Princess with whom he is negotiating with states, “Peace is made in such ways.” Wallace then replies, “Slaves are made in such ways!” Now, imagine the ‘titles’ are promotions in your departments and the ‘gold’ are salary increases that come with it. Would you truly turn it down if you knew that it was not the right thing to do, or would you give in, thus compromising your integrity? Keep in mind that whatever decision you make, you should probably be aware that many more people than you may realize are observing you. The respect they have for you may be diminished as a result of your choice and it will be extremely difficult to ever earn back.
For those of you who have children, you likely recognize that this is the most important job you will ever have. You are probably aware that you are the template from which they form their ethical standards. They often duplicate everything that you say and do. Many times throughout their lives, you most likely advise them on what is, “the right thing to do,” while at the same time attempting to instill in them the morals and values which you find essential in order to be a good human being. What I’m about to say is not meant to offend anyone, rather, the intent is to be thought provoking. The next time you begin to lecture your eight or nine year old, really try to consider if you “practice what you preach.” If you instruct a child about a particular set of ethical standards and then leave for work and violate them yourself, are you not being hypocritical? What if your children saw those actions that directly contradict what you taught them? Do you think that they would draw that conclusion? If the answer is probably yes, you should probably reevaluate your choices.
Thomas Shea attained degrees from Rutgers, Seton Hall and New Jersey City Universities. In 2015, he completed his doctoral dissertation in police executive leadership. He retired from the Long Branch Police Department in 2017, where he was assigned to the Patrol Division, Investigations Bureau and Street Crimes Unit, Training and Internal Affairs. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Centenary University. Lastly, Dr. Shea is a Marine Corps veteran.