Cops who break the law, just like the rest of us, should face consequences for their actions.
And they do.
Based on the Star Tribune’s own research (“Shielded by the badge,” Oct 1-4), fewer than 5 percent of Minnesota police officers since 1995 have a criminal conviction on their record. (For the sake of comparison, about 1 in 9 Minnesotans, or 11 percent, has a DWI on record.) The majority of Minnesota’s nearly 11,000 police officers are law-abiding citizens who serve with courage and integrity.
Police officers represented by Law Enforcement Labor Services are not above the law and are held to a higher standard in upholding the law.
In addition to any penalties or restrictions imposed by the court system and the Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, officers who break the law are subject to disciplinary actions from their employer. Those actions can include duty restrictions, demotions, suspension without pay and termination. Transgressions are recorded in the officer’s personnel file and can hinder his or her ability to find future employment.
Unions representing law enforcement are often criticized for defending officers who are accused of wrongdoing. In America, people accused of crimes have a right to due process. Police officers are no exception. Law Enforcement Labor Services advocates for officers to ensure that any disciplinary action imposed by the officer’s employer is based on a mutually agreed-upon set of criteria.
Those criteria, known as “just cause,” establish, in part, that any discipline imposed is based on a fair and objective review of the facts, that evidence of a violation exists, that the employer’s policy in this matter is fair and consistently applied, and that the discipline is reasonable and proportional to the offense. An officer’s years of service and the overall quality of the officer’s work may also be considered.
Our society and our justice system are based on the notion that when a person is convicted of a crime, that individual should pay an appropriate debt to society, learn from that experience and, except for the most egregious of crimes, be given an opportunity to return to normal life. Officers are human beings and are subject to the same flaws, weaknesses and imperfections that all of us have.
In cases of domestic violence or other behavior that brings an officer’s fitness to serve under scrutiny, any actions taken should be made in the best interests of those most affected by the officer’s behavior. Looking the other way or staying silent is unacceptable.
Police officers receive extensive training to earn the right to wear a badge. They face unique pressures and navigate risky situations every day. They are asked to put their lives on the line to keep us safe. As a result, police work can take a serious toll on the physical, mental and emotional health of an officer. Marriage and family difficulties, relationship problems, alcohol abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder are not uncommon.
We ask officers to intervene and protect others in times of crisis. We owe the same to the officers, their families and loved ones to provide the support they need when they need it most.
Cops who break the law do face legal, professional and employment consequences for their actions. However, they should have an opportunity, like those in other professions, to be rehabilitated and return to their profession.
Sean Gormley is executive director, Law Enforcement Labor Services.