Why is honesty so important in Law Enforcement?
What to many seems like common sense (i.e. why would honesty be an important characteristic of a law enforcement officer, or a LEO applicant) is often seen through an entirely different perspective by some LEO applicants who post in the Ask-A-Cop forum. I’ve seen countless threads started on realpolice.net and in the Ask-A-Cop forum asking about past criminal activities, past drug usage, past issues that would negatively impact ones chances in becoming a LEO, etc., and one thing I see more and more often is that some do not understand why it is important to honest and truthful as a LEO (particularly during the application process). So, I will attempt to spell it out in plain English, so to do away with further confusion as to why honesty is not only important, but a mandatory requirement in this profession.
Thinking about lying on that job application?
Those who have committed a crime in their past (whether a misdemeanor, a felony or simply a traffic violation) will feel some guilt and uneasiness when documenting such on their background investigation paperwork. Some will be found to be within the hiring parameters of the department, and will be scrutinized further to verify the information they’ve reported, while others will be disqualified. Some who continue pass this point may have chosen to be dishonest about their responses, and thus, lie about their past criminal activity or past drug usage. Why? Because in their eyes, becoming a “cop” is their dream (for numerous reasons, whether it be to help others, experience excitement, or simply have power and authority over other people), and their willing to do whatever is necessary to get there. Before you decide to intentionally leave any information about your past behavior or past offenses out of your background investigation paperwork, consider this:
Honesty in the Justice System
Our legal system is based on a system of justice. In order for justice to work, the system must be based on strict adherence to honor and honesty. There is no justice if the guilty are allowed to go free (note that there is a difference between being allowed to go free, and being found innocent of charges by a jury of your peers), nor can their be justice if the innocent are made to pay for crime they never committed. In order for this to occur, our legal system must be one that demands absolutely honesty (hence oath one takes on the stand, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”). If false accusations and false evidence are presented against the innocent, they will be punished as if they are guilty. This was the experience many of the American colonists encountered by their British oppressors before the Revolutionary War.
Just as important as it is for witnesses to be honest, it is even more important that the officials within the justice system be of the highest caliber in moral and ethical behavior. As the enforcement arm of our legal system, LEOs take a front-line role in activating the laws our legislators create. If they arrest those they know are innocent, create fake evidence against the innocent, or otherwise undo the requirement of honest and honorable behavior, they undo the processes of the justice system from the very beginning, and therefore corrupt the whole process.
So, what does having an honest justice system have to do with lying on one’s job application? How is omitting to admit to previously trying cocaine a few times equivalent to later creating false evidence against a defendant? The fact of life is there is no foolproof way to determine what one’s future behavior will be (psychics don't work, and neither do crystal balls). The best measure we have is to look at one’s history, and then predict what their future behavior and decision-making skills will be.
Can lying about something on a job application really affect me in the future?
You better believe it can! If it’s discovered that you lied on your background investigation paperwork during the hiring process, you will be disqualified for such. No second chances, and no excuses. Your application records will be maintained, and if you apply elsewhere, they have the ability to check these records and find out the reason why you were disqualified (which will likely result in another disqualification for lying to them). In the criminal justice system, your past follows you, and your integrity WILL be called into question. Witnesses on the stand are evaluated by prosecuting and defense attorneys to determine if they are reliable witnesses. The same is true for expert witnesses (ex: LEOs). If you’re found to be dishonest, your career is over. Look at former LAPD detective Mark Furman. He lied on the witness stand during the O.J. Simpson trials about using the racial “n-word” slur, and this ended his career. Why? Because once it is found that you are not a credible witness, you cannot serve as an expert witness during trial. Enough reasonable doubt was planted in the jurors minds to help them believe that if Mr. Furman was able to lie about using the racial slur, perhaps he was also motivated to plant fake evidence against Mr. Simpson. The very role you are supposed to serve would be forever tarnished, and that is something you cannot undo with time or goodwill efforts. So, if you lie on your background paperwork, and somehow it is not discovered during your application process, it can still be uncovered down the road in your career and ultimately end it.
So, what is suggested for one to do?
Be 100% honest and forthcoming. Tell everything and let the chips fall where they may. Don't wait until the polygraph to come clean, do so from the very beginning when you're filling out your original paperwork. If you are disqualified by your past behavior, speak to the officials at the department/agency to see why you were disqualified. Was it an automatic disqualification that can never be overlooked, or is it something that with time and a good work and behavioral record you can overcome? If you can’t get these answers, you can apply elsewhere and hope for the best, or find another profession that is rewarding to you. The system is set up to work against those who are not honest and honorable people for a reason, and it will forever work against you if you choose to be dishonest.
Last edited by Drew27k9; 01-02-07 at 02:36 PM.
Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.
My new hero
Excellent Post. Made into a sticky.
Last edited by Drew27k9; 01-02-07 at 02:37 PM.
I going to add something I've personally witnessed, hopefully to serve as a warning to others who read this and have aspirations for working in LE.
I'm currently in an academy for my second LE department. We had two individuals in our class who were kicked out, and fired from LE to boot, due to cheating. Cheating is seen as no different than lying, and it CAN and WILL be a career killer if you succumb to it.
These two individuals were fixing each others grades on weekly pop quizzes. These quizzes counted a fraction of the amount of our weekly tests (which are written on scan tron and computer graded), so the benefit they received from this was minimal, but when it was discovered, these two individuals were sent packing before our lunch break that same day.
If you are not an honest person, or don't see the importance of being a moral person of integrity, you will not last in this job field. It will come out, one way or another, and it can be for something as seemingly "mild" as cheating on a pop quiz. Both of these two guys are now looking for jobs elsewhere, with probably no realistic shot of ever working in LE again. Honesty is taken very seriously due to the amount of trust given to us by society, and the need for our word and oath to be absolute in a court of law. If this is too much for you to handle, you need to seek employment in another field.
Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.
My new hero