The Best Possible Result
Becoming an Exemplary Peace Officer
This selection is reprinted from Josephson Institute’s Becoming an Exemplary Peace Officer series, a two-part resource that equips Academy students with the skills necessary to make insightful, ethical decisions in the field.
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Using our Exemplary Peace Officer model, we train officers and administrators to demonstrate leadership for positive social change. When your officers are equipped to make the best possible decisions, they will achieve the Best Possible Result.
The best possible result
An exemplary decision goes beyond acceptability and adequacy. It achieves the best possible result (BPR) by advancing as many policing mission elements as is reasonably possible under the circumstances.
A high level of professional knowledge and skill, good values and intentions, and a commitment to the mission are all essential to exemplary decisions. But they’re not enough. The essence of an exemplary decision is the ability to identify and achieve the BPR.
Let’s review the elements of the policing mission as a guide to discovering the BPR:
- Protect and serve the public. The primary policing purpose is to enforce laws, protect life and property from criminal or negligent human conduct and natural forces, and preserve peace and public order.
- Enhance the quality of life. An important secondary policing purpose is to foster an environment where people feel free, safe, secure, and well-protected by preventing or discouraging crime, reducing the fear of crime, and solving community problems.
- Generate and maintain public trust. Policing actions should be carried out in a manner that generates and sustains public trust.
- Uphold individual liberties and Constitutional rights. Policing actions that violate Constitutional rights are illegal. Those that disregard human dignity and moral rights to freedom, liberty, and privacy are unethical.
The first two elements of the mission describe the “what” of policing – the ends. The second two describe the “how”– the means. In policing, the means and ends are inextricably intertwined. A decision that accomplishes either or both of the first two mission elements, but creates widespread public distrust and disapproval because it violates either or both of the other two, is usually counterproductive.
Lack of citizen cooperation, embarrassing and career-destroying media criticism, expensive and life-ruining lawsuits, and onerous and unwise laws restricting police conduct can so undermine a police agency that it can become ineffective.
Consider, for example, the Rodney King episode where the force used in the arrest of a resisting suspect created a nationwide furor that was very destructive to police-community relations and resulted in new rules governing the use of force.
An exemplary decision-maker is always aware of potential negative public reaction. While this consideration should not dictate policing behavior, it usually should influence it.
At 1 a.m., officer Axel is patrolling an area known for its nightlife. He spots three teens he knows to be gang members. One of the boys, Carlos, gives him the finger, and the three laugh.
The officer pulls over and says, “I hope you weren’t flipping me off, punk.”
Carlos repeats the gesture and says, “You mean like this? I wouldn’t do that.”
The other two look at the policeman and say, “Are you going to take that s—t from him?”
Officer Axel gets out of his vehicle and orders all three against a wall to frisk them.
Carlos doesn’t immediately comply, saying, “This is bulls–t.”
Axel tells him he’s busted for resisting a lawful order and starts to cuff him. Carlos pulls his arms away. Axel, who outweighs Carlos by about 50 pounds, puts his forearm on the boy’s throat.
The other two shout, “Police brutality!”
Axel orders them to back off and shut up. He radios for backup.
Identify each decision officer Axel made and assess it in terms of effectiveness and ethics.