Thu, Feb. 27

Building trust all part of protecting and serving

Have you ever heard that government officials should be held to a "higher standard" because of the authority they hold and the public's expectation that they should possess a high level of integrity and ethics? I cannot speak for all government officials, but I can speak for the law enforcement profession in Arizona and give you an idea of the ways we try and meet the public's expectation of that higher standard.

There are several agencies that monitor and take action related to the conduct of police officers, especially when such conduct violates ethical or criminal expectations. The most prominent reviewer of law enforcement actions are the courts. They not only review the police cases that are brought to them to ensure that the suspect was afforded their constitutional rights but they also ensure the officer's conduct was ethical.

Before an officer can assume his position, they must meet the hiring requirements established by the Arizona Police Officers and Standards Commission (AZ POST). The Commission requires that an officer qualify in terms of education, ethical behavior, both present and past, that they are physically, medically and mentally sound, and that their honesty is measured through a very thorough polygraph examination.

Once they are hired they complete an 18 week basic training academy where they receive further training on the importance of integrity and ethical decision making. They are also informed about a court decision that requires a prosecutor to provide the defense in a criminal case with any information where the officer was administratively investigated for issues concerning their integrity. Officer conduct involving lapses in integrity may not only get an officer decertified by AZ POST but such conduct will also make them a tainted witness in a criminal case.

Through out an officer's career they are closely supervised and managed by the department for which they work. This management also takes the form of extensive policies and procedures which dictate most every action. Many actions require the concurrence of a supervisor. When an officer does make an intentional or unintentional error on or off the job their conduct will be investigated by the police department and appropriate discipline, including termination, is administered based on the severity of the conduct. Even when off-duty, police officers are required to maintain conduct that does not bring discredit to their profession or their department. For instance, if an officer is arrested off-duty for DUI, along with the criminal case, there is also a department administrative investigation to determine the facts and to pursue discipline. Such an arrest for another professional would not usually be the concern of the business for which they work.

It is also important to note that every termination or serious discipline is reviewed by AZ POST to determine whether POST rules have been violated. If so, the officer faces additional sanctions from AZ POST up to and including police officer decertification. Arizona is one, if not the only, state that will pursue decertification of an officer for misconduct, especially when unethical behavior is proven.

The actions of police officers are also constantly reviewed by plaintiff's attorneys, the media, and you, the citizen. We appreciate that review and feedback when it is impartial and fair. Considering the damage that could occur to an officer's career when allegations of misconduct are brought forward, we investigate and review the circumstances very carefully; not only to ensure that the officers conduct met department and state standards, but to ensure that the conduct alleged actually occurred. Therefore, at the Cottonwood Police Department, we will pursue every allegation to a complete conclusion both in the interest of ensuring that we provide ethical and responsive services to the citizens we serve, but to also protect officers from malicious allegations because ethical behavior is the standard for which everyone should be held. In the law enforcement profession, we do appreciate that we are a profession that has earned a high level of trust compared to most other professions. This is an honor we do not take lightly and we will always strive to maintain that trust.

Doug Bartosh is the Cottonwood Chief of Police.

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