Dec 01, 2020 Letters
I recently read an interesting article in the print media purportedly written by Jai Lall under the caption, “Police officers should be role models in society.” I agree with the title but not with all of the contents of the letter. Many of the issues and concerns posited will promote lively conversations. However, one sentence titillated me. Here is it: “Unfortunately, only one rotten apple spoils the barrel.”
Please permit me to repeat some issues I raised some time ago and introduce some new concepts of thinking about law enforcement. This missive has a law enforcement bias but it could be equated to some other government departments, the private sector and some other organisations in Guyana.
The vexed question is: Is it the apple rotten or the barrel? Often the argument is heard that just a few “bad apples” can ruin the entire barrel, so a few bad cops can ruin the entire department. Trautman (2000) contends, “The ‘ rotten apple’ theory that some administrators propose as to the cause of their demise is usually nothing more than self-serving, superficial facade, intending to draw attention away from their failures.” Swope (2001) believes, “It is the unethical breeding environment of the barrel that generates the major difficulties. It is the barrel, the culture of police organisations, that can cause the root shaking scandals that periodically face some police organisations.” Swope also believes that an officer’s behaviour is influenced more directly by the actions or lack of actions in response to ethical shortcomings of his superiors than by the stated directives or written ethical code of an organisation.
Perry (2001), likewise, suggests examining the barrel: “The rotten-apple theory won’t work any longer. Corrupt police officers are not natural-born criminals…..The task of corruption control is to examine the barrel, not just the apples, the organisation, not just the individuals in it, because corrupt police officers are made, not born.” If I can add, we may have to change some of the hoops and staves that make up the barrel and also look at the quality or lack of quality of materials that we utilise to make up the barrel.
Perry contends, “Those who serve the public must be held to a higher standard of honesty and care for the public good than the general citizenry. A higher standard is not a double standard. Persons accepting positions of public trust take on new obligations and are free not to accept them if they do not want to live up to the higher standard. “Managers must examine their departments and find ways to promote integrity and ethical behaviour that adheres to this higher standard.
All is not lost. A good starting point to promote ethical behaviour and integrity is to eliminate the code of silence: “The code of silence encourages people not to speak up when they see another officer doing something wrong.” Fulton (2000) stresses: “Police commanders must exemplify the honesty and integrity they seek in their subordinates.” In addition: “Ethical mentoring and role modeling should be consistent, frequent and visible.”
What can be done to prevent unethical behaviour and corruption? Wayne W. Bennett and Karen M. Hess present seven steps that can help prevent unethical behaviour and corruption: “(1) Recruit with great care. (2) Establish appropriate policies and put them in writing. (3) Adopt a good employee evaluation process. (4) Make sure your sergeants share management’s values and philosophies. (5) Develop operational control. (6) Perform regular anti-corruption inspections and audits. And (7) Implement ethics and integrity training into every training activity.”
The movers and shakers of law enforcement are apparently nibbling around the edges. What is required is a holistic approach, a comprehensive plan to deal with the situation. Piecemeal methods will definitely produce piecemeal results. Let us stop concentrating on the fruits. Shift the heavy concentration on the root not the fruits. Cut the main root and the tree dies.
Assistant Commissioner of Police (Retired)
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