Maintaining the Public Respect

Some Short Term Pain for Long Term Gain

A recent column by Kevin Engstrom in the Winnipeg Sun caused me to reflect on an earlier post  dealing with the issue of police retaining the respect of the public.  It fits in well with Sir Robert Peel’s second principle which says:

To recognize always that the power of the police to fulfill their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.

Retaining the respect of the public is best achieved through openness, transparency and accountability.  If the police set and apply a different standard for dealing with members of the Service than would apply to a member of the public, the Service is well on its way to sliding down the slippery slope  of ethical decay and abandonment of their sacred public trust.

Some police agencies actually have a specific section in their media policy that deals with the release of information as it relates to police members who are charged criminally.  In most instances these policies require immediate release of information such as the officer’s name, rank, years of service, the charge as well as the officer’s current status with the Service.    That removes the temptation  to withhold information or any  attempt to ‘time’ the release so as to mitigate what the organization might see as negative media coverage.  In the long run the public support and respect garnered through openness and transparency  far outweigh any potential negative consequences.  The public is generally willing to accept that there will be limited instances of criminal activity by police officers.  They do, however, want to be assured that such behavior will not be tolerated and will be dealt with quickly, openly and fairly.  In other words:  that the police service is prepared to clean its own house.

Based on  Mr. Engstrom’s example, the Winnipeg Police Service would not appear to  have the appropriate media release policy in place, that is, one that requires immediate release of  pertinent information when an officer is charged.  Conversely, if they do have such a policy but are choosing to ignore it, then their behavior is  beyond merely ‘ethically sketchy’.

Either way, it’s a problem.

The below link is to Mr. Engstrom’s column.