By Chief Adam Colon, Franklin (OH) Division of Police
Most if not all law enforcement officers in the United States have heard of, been required to memorize, and in many cases required to sign the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics, which was adopted in 1957 by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The code of ethics stands as the preface to the mission and commitment that law enforcement agencies make to the public they serve.
The first few sentences have carried much weight for me: “As a law enforcement officer, my fundamental duty is to serve the community; to safeguard lives and property; to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation and the peaceful against violence or disorder; and to respect the constitutional rights of all to liberty, equality, and justice. I will keep my private life unsullied as an example to all and will behave in a manner that does not bring discredit to me or to my agency.”
The last sentence from above is very important given the public fishbowl in which law enforcement exists. It seems to be forgotten that the actions of law enforcement professionals, even in their private lives, can have repercussions in their professional lives. Fair or unfair, law enforcement is held to a higher standard. It is what the public expects, rightfully so. We are the twenty-four/seven representatives of local and state government. We are always on duty, patrolling with vehicles displaying who we represent. The law enforcement profession comes with many benefits and can be very satisfactory and rewarding. It is also a very dangerous and stressful profession that can take a physical, mental, and spiritual toll. It is not for all and that is why many do not embark on the law enforcement journey.
The topic of fraternization in law enforcement has been a focal point recently. Many know of the recent sex-related scandal that occurred with the LaVergne, Tennessee Police Department. The incident revolved around eight police officers, three of whom were suspended and five who were fired for various incidents of sexual activity to include on- and off-duty conduct. The focal point of the incident was one female officer who had relations with multiple male counterparts. Unfortunately, two of the involved officers who were fired held the supervisory position of Sergeant in the department.
The departmental investigation concluded that officers were engaging in unreported sexual relationships, having sex on duty and on city-owned property, and committing sexual harassment by sending explicit video and pictures to each other. There was also reported acts of workplace violence and untruthfulness during the investigation.
Although the Police Chief of the department voiced powerful repulsion for the unacceptable behavior of the involved officers and made clear they did not represent most of the department, he did not survive the scandal and was also fired. The third-party investigator that conducted the investigation found that the Chief was aware of the sexual misconduct within his department and never reported or disciplined any of the officers involved. He was also found to have impeded the initial investigation into sexual misconduct.
His firing stands as confirmation that executive police leadership cannot turn a blind eye to what is occurring in their agencies. It is well established that police supervisors, including the Chief of Police, may be vicariously liable for what subordinates do due to negligence in training, hiring, assignment, supervision, direction, entrustment, and retention. To break it down, did you know, or should you have known that an act was occurring or not occurring? When members of law enforcement agencies stop bringing their problems to leadership, you can be assured that the leadership of that agency is no longer leading.
The aftermath of these types of police scandals causes the “Esprit de Corps” to dissolve. When a supervisor is involved in such action the chain of command structure is dramatically diminished. The public’s already tainted perception of law enforcement is only worsened. The media who thrive on stories of sex and scandal will be more than willing to latch onto it even more so when it is sex, scandal, and police.
These types of incidents also damage the home lives of officers who are not partaking in this type of behavior. The national average of marriages ending in divorce is 50%, while some statistics show that the divorce rate in law enforcement when one or both members are officers can be as high as 70%.
It is advisable that all law enforcement agencies self-evaluate their own internal policies and procedures, including the investigation of employee misconduct when dealing with issues of sexual activity that is noncriminal in nature. Adopting fraternization policies that clearly define what type of relationships of a romantic nature are permissible might be a best practice. Establishing prohibitive policies that restrict any type of romantic relationship between supervisors and subordinates may be necessary to prevent similar incidents.
The common-place culture of these types of activities occurring in the law enforcement world must come to an end. When challenged on why the inappropriate behavior was allowed before the answer should be “it was not right then, and it is not right now!”
Remembering another line from the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics may help someone find true north on their moral compass: “I know that I alone am responsible for my own standard of professional performance and I will take every reasonable opportunity to enhance and improve my level of knowledge and competence.”
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About the author:
Chief Adam Colon began his law enforcement career in 1999 when he enlisted in the United States Army as a Military Police Officer. He served as a Patrol Officer, Military Police Investigator, and earned the rank of Sergeant before leaving the military. Chief Colon was hired by the Riverside Police Department as a Patrol Officer in 2006. Chief Colon served as a Patrol Officer and Evidence Technician. In 2012 Chief Colon was promoted to the rank of Sergeant where he was a Road Patrol supervisor. In 2017 Chief Colon was promoted to rank of Major with the Riverside Police Department where he was the Commander of the Criminal Investigation Division and administrative staff. In 2021 Chief Colon became the Road Patrol Commander for the Riverside Police Department, supervising the Road Patrol Sergeants and Patrol Officers.
In September of 2021, Chief Colon was selected to be the Police Chief for the Franklin Division of Police. Chief Colon believes that the Police Division and Citizens of Franklin form a collaborative team to better the community.
Chief Colon has earned an Associate’s Degree in Justice Administration from Hawaii Pacific University, Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Indiana University, and two Masters of Science Degrees, one in Homeland Security and the other in Criminal Justice, both from Tiffin University. He is a graduate of the Supervisory Training Education Program, Police Executive Leadership Course, Certified Law Enforcement Executive course, and FBI National Academy, Session 284.