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attn: california bishops

By Diogenes (articles ) | Oct 21, 2007

A thought experiment.

Suppose there exists a big city police force whose reputation has been damaged by corruption scandals, most particularly by active collaboration with organized crime. Suppose too that several policemen turn out to have direct ties to Cosa Nostra families and, after being convicted at painfully public trials, are serving prison terms for crimes committed on duty; many more -- some convicted, some not -- are known to be "associates" of organized crime syndicates, or else known to be on the take. One of the prominent lieutenants in charge of an anti-racketeering squad is himself indicted for racketeering, and even a precinct captain is forced to resign when it transpires he was extorting payments of cash and cocaine from a drug runner. The general public is shocked and bewildered; confidence in the police force is at an all-time low; most citizens trust only those individual cops they have reason to believe are exceptionally independent.

Now suppose you yourself are a precinct captain in this force, and that you're saddled with the unenviable distinction of having taught at the Police Academy that served as a breeding ground for the corruption, having been deeply if not totally infiltrated by mobsters. In the wake of so much malfeasance by your colleagues, and in face of so much public suspicion of local law enforcement, it's your clear duty to help restore trust, and that entails taking extraordinary measures to distance yourself in every obvious way from corruption and the appearance of corruption.

Here's the point: given this crisis of public mistrust, and given your high-profile role as a precinct captain, you don't show up at a Mafia wedding.

It's not a tough call. Granted that the betrothed couple has a right to marry and granted that the wedding is legal in itself and granted that citizens commit no crime by attending, it's still the case that you, as someone who represents the integrity of the police force to the public, have to stay away. By the same token, you don't hand the bride's father an envelope stuffed with cash. Because giving gifts is bad in itself? No, because you have public responsibilities in the matter.

Suppose you, the precinct captain, attend the mob wedding anyway. Suppose you're photographed at the reception passing the wedding present to your host and the photos make it onto the evening news. Are your fellow citizens wrong to be alarmed? Are they necessarily petty or vindictive if they're suspicious of your motives? Is it pharisaical of them to blame you for giving comfort to those who deserve chastisement, and distress to those who deserve reassurance? Even if -- for purposes of argument -- the harsher suspicions are false, is it your censorious fellow citizens who have failed in their responsibilities, or you who have failed in yours?

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Show 2 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Oct. 21, 2007 5:27 PM ET USA

    Not an exact "analogy". But a very good thought experiment - especially for any "captains" you might (or might not!) be referring to.

  • Posted by: - Oct. 21, 2007 9:35 AM ET USA

    The obligation is on the "precinct Captains". For nearly 50 years law enforcment officers in the USA have, at the outset of their careers, sworn to uphold the Law Enforcement Officers Code of Ethics. It says, in part, "I will keep my private life unsullied as an example to others". Many have lost their positions of trust for violations-several just recently in my home state. The profession has mechanisms for enforcement. So does the Church if it will only exercise it.

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