Police ethics rules require ‘respect of constitutional rights’

Chattanooga police department officers in a huddle. (Photo Wdef.com)

Chattanooga police department officers in a huddle. (Photo Wdef.com)

But commoners would fear the officer’s approaching cruiser less if they could learn about the ethics rules he swore to uphold — and trust that he would obey them. And possibly remind him, as he reaches for his citation booklet or his club, of his oath.

By David Tulis / Noogaradio 92.7 FM

A policy document from the Andy Berke administration speaks of the officer’s duty to respect constitutional rights, to protect the weak and the peaceful against the violent and disorderly. Officers vow to be exemplary in obeying “the laws of the land” and the rules of the department and not let personal feelings interfere with the administration of justice or the enforcement of laws.

The police department is a political organization that serves the mayor — the executive branch of city government. City corporations also have the two other branches of authority familiar in the U.S. system. That is, a legislative (the council) and judicial (city court).

‘Mindful of welfare of others’

Mr. Berke’s employees swear to be “constantly mindful of the welfare of others” and to act in a respectful and proper way, remembering “the limitations of their authority.” An officer gets ethics training once every two years.

Our reporting indicates officers use profanity in public. Using the Lord’s name in vain and using words such as f–k, shit, goddam, damn and m—–f—-r are implicitly forbidden, however.

“I will enforce the law courteously and appropriately without fear or favor, malice or ill will” while living a private life given “to self-improvement” as “examples of good citizens.”

Officiousness is a vice in which one is objectionably aggressive in offering one’s unrequested or unwanted services. Such an attitude is forbidden as it implies an exercise of “personal feeling, prejudices [and] animosities.”

The 2011 document seems two-tongued on what may be an important point — that claim that policing is equal to constitutional limits, that these are of equal weight or authority. “Employees shall bear faithful allegiance to our constitutional form of government and be loyal to the profession of law enforcement.” The cop accepts his badge as “a public trust” to be held as long as he is “true to the ethics of the police service.”

City employees in this department, thusly, swear to uphold the Constitution, but have crossed fingers behind their backs.

Profiling as a tool

The department sees a benefit in general profiling of members of the public. But the department does not allow what is called “bias-based profiling.” That would be profiling a member of the public or “subject” based on race, ethnic background, sex, sexual orientation, religion, economic status, age or membership in a particular cultural group.

The poisonous fruit of bias-based profiling, the Berke administration warns, is the alienation of the citizens, distrust of law enforcement and invitation of media scrutiny.

But elements of the exceptions to the profiling rule comprise much of the key indicators giving grounds for the officer to be suspicious and to conduct his field interview or arrest.

The policy requires an astute attention to actual crimes and the limits of police authority, namely probable cause or articulable suspicion.

‘articulated facts’

Cops “shall focus on a person’s conduct or other specific suspect information” and the officer must have “reasonable suspicion supported by specific articulated facts that a person detained regarding identification, activity or location has been, is, or is about to commit a crime or is currently presenting a threat to the safety of themselves or others.”

The “sacred obligation” of the Chattanooga police officer is outlined in the first paragraph.

As a law enforcement officer, my fundamental duty is to serve mankind; 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 men to liberty, equality, and justice.

The police reform movement emphasizes four areas of change in training of officers. These include use of time, space, cover and de-escalation. This important trend reduces the military and violence threat of police officers and makes them more willing to treat with people who are often acting irrationally or under some kind of psychological or mental strain. It gives officers a local economy perspective and enhances the value of human life of each person the officer encounters.

The trend reduces the demand upon the officer that he impose brusque, quick human management techniques (continuum of force) on members of the public that across the country have occasioned summary extra-judicial executions of hundreds of people who have done nothing worthy of capital punishment.

The Chattanooga ethics rules would seem to have the authority to further that increase of grace among the department’s officers, and a reduction of threat, wounding and physical harm to members of the public for which police have become famous.

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