Author: Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D.

I worked as a pharmacy clerk in high school. While the pharmacist was showing me how to operate the register and deal with transactions, a customer came up to ask for a package of condoms. Back in that day, all the “personal” items were behind the counter. With a straight face, the pharmacist asked, “Will that be small, medium, or large?” After an awkward pause, the customer said “…uh, medium, I guess.” He took the package, paid and left with a reddened face.

The pharmacist always got a good chuckle out of the moment of embarrassment for the customer, but it made me wonder what the future of my experience with this guy would be. On one hand, he obviously found a way to enjoy his day. On the other hand, people that come to the pharmacy expect to be treated with respect, confidentiality, and a high level of competence and professionalism.

Should citizens expect any less from their police officers?

Making an arrest on the flip of a coin

Officers in Georgia are accused of acting flippantly – pun intended – in a video obtained by an Atlanta newspaper showing officers making an arrest decision based on a coin-flip. An internal investigation now threatens the careers of two officers of the Roswell Police Department.

A video from an officer’s body-worn camera shows a discussion of whether the lack of a radar reading would jeopardize the case of a speeder stopped for reckless driving on a rain-slicked street. Out of the sight of the camera but heard on the audio, the sound of a coin toss app can be heard as one officer says “‘A’ for heads and ‘R’ for tails” as the basis behind their decision to arrest or release.

A camera is always on

Even before the Rodney King arrest played across the country in 1991, police officers were being taught in ethics class to assume everything they did was being videotaped. Now that this is literally true, it seems it is easy to forget. This video would be an excellent roll call training and discussion opportunity.

These officers’ actions were not the kind that generate riots. They make fun stories at briefing. We all acknowledge that a certain amount of levity makes the job bearable. But watching the whole video including the repeated lecturing of the speeder, the dance moves of an assisting officer, the cluster of police cars at the scene and the joking apparent reliance on dumb luck to determine a citizen’s fate leaves a cloud over the credibility of these officers.

Give a little respect

As every business knows, a good customer experience will get good recommendations, but a bad experience will be known far and wide and for years to come. It was true before social media and viral videos and is amplified today. Police officers will never be perfect, and they will never make everyone happy nor should they be expected to. But officers can never forget that enforcement actions have a profound effect on our citizens. Stopping a dangerous driver is an important part of the job. Treating that driver with appropriate respect is an important part of being able to do our job in a community that respects the officers in return.

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