By Stephen Owsinski:
The long-arm of the White House reached to every single one of roughly 18,000 law enforcement agencies in America and unleashed a bark.
As part of his Advancing Diversity in Law Enforcement doctrine, outgoing-President Barrack Obama disseminated directives across the American landscape, compelling every police agency to restructure written and physical agility testing, as well as overlook drug use and criminal histories, so minorities have a better chance of joining police ranks.
Drowned-out by the November 8 election-hubbub, this Obama Administration directive floated without much wake.
Even before casting this directive to diversify, a few police departments obliged the notion of lowering standards pertaining to police hiring processes. Louisville PD is one, Dayton PD is another, and one NAACP leader candidly acknowledged the inherent flaw in this practice. Do we supplant safety (integrity) for diversity (lowering standards)?
An FBI-led study (2011) analyzed key tenets regarding mainstay professionalism in police entities, underscoring ethics and morality among cops, pillared by law enforcement executives who oversee police forces. Among its content, the study harps on high standards, made clear in the following excerpt:
“A major consideration in rooting out misconduct is not hiring unethical individuals. Agencies adequately must screen candidates and hire the most conscientious ones because they have a higher degree of integrity. Conscientiousness can be assessed through conduct…”
Inviting mediocrity begets mediocre outcomes, and Americans deserve better—no exceptions. (If you are reading this in another nation, same principles apply.) Avoidable mistakes can be costly in terms of reputation and tax dollars doled-out, especially when an institution assumes liability by misguided decisions (directives to lower standards).
During litigation against police officers and their respective agencies, liability is sometimes bandied about in the form of incompetency, poor practices, deviation from protocols, dereliction of duty, and rogue behavior. Conjoining police ranks with under-qualified applicants—of any pigment—is nothing shy of gross malfeasance. Ultimately, tax payers shoulder the economic burden of settling otherwise avoidable lawsuits stemming from counter-intuitive practices. A bad hire is a bad hire. Police administrators know better and, as part of their Oath, must hold the line.
Liability is ubiquitous in police work. Why taunt it by needlessly opening the door? Why throw tax dollars at it, recklessly?
Diversifying police departments is not something I oppose; quite the contrary. It is not about the composition of a police force, it is about its tight-fitting building blocks and empirical ability to carry out its mission, exactly what constituents expect and respect. Just as Americans are conscientious about the caliber of their cops so, too, should those who aspire to typify virtues of a law enforcement officer.
Professionally, I welcome the most-competent, duly-qualified persons for the role. However, reducing standards and turning a blind-eye equals misrepresentation and abdication of fine character. Applicably, the oft-repeated argument that we hold our nation’s cops to “a much higher standard” has tremendous value. Betray that mantra and suffer the consequences. But, prevention precludes debacles.
It is natural to seek, screen, and employ only the finest society has to offer. Just like the White House , right?
Handshake, or Just a Shake?
If something is not seemingly attainable, it is incumbent upon aspiring candidates to fashion themselves accordingly, unwaveringly, and without circumventions availed by others.
Bondage to the federal government by way of do-that-and-we’ll-give-you-this is anathema to city and county sovereignty. It’s also rife with complicit connotations. As one of my OpsLens cohorts, T. B. Lefever, eloquently delineated recently in one of his thought-inducing articles:
“…agencies should never become dependent on the Fed’s dollars to the point that they cannot operate without it. We have seen the Obama Administration effectively take over supervision of local PDs by filing civil rights violations against them through the Department of Justice. When an agency buries itself in federal money and cannot wean itself, no adverse court ruling regarding these DoJ charges is needed for them to be at the mercy of the Federal government. The Fed can ultimately leverage them to accept Federal supervision at the risk of losing the funding they need to keep the wheels turning.”
That hit the nail squarely on the head, and the implication is crystalline.
Each police jurisdiction should harness its tax base and judiciously allocate funds for usable resources it genuinely needs. Reliance on federal funding has its drawbacks; that brand of bondage sharpens the thorns inherent in give-and-take political mentality. Some label that “diplomacy,” others call it extortion.
A friend of mine called this directive “a ruse” to further Obama’s mission to federalize our police force.
So, while Obama sought to propel one last shot into the integrity of American law enforcement, he fired a dud.
To police executives and managers, encumber not yourselves and your agencies by bowing to the whim of anyone who seeks to strong-arm the criminal justice system with unsustainable directives and flawed reasoning. Lowering standards was never the way to go, not historically, not presently, never. To do so is to devolve when we are eagerly striving to evolve.
“When they go low, we go high.” Right?
Stephen Owsinski is an OpsLens Contributor and retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer.