Chairman’s Message

Posted on Sunday, March 01, 2009 at 12:00PM
Posted by Andy Schlenker

There are many sayings which are appropriate for the subject of this article. The old and familiar adage: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” comes to mind.

Over these last dozen years serving as a trustee, myself as well as the other members of the board, have encountered and experienced hundreds if not thousands of cases where an officer was exposed to discipline. Many of the circumstances were undoubtedly unavoidable, such as taking a combative subject into custody, using force, then only to be second-guessed on the propriety of such tactics after the fact. There are other scenarios when, due to a lack of training or experience, the officer fell below the department’s expectations and discipline ensued. While most of us endeavor to always do the right thing, many of these situations are nevertheless inherently unavoidable. Thus, we will always remain exposed to these “Monday-morning-quarterback” type evaluations.

This month, I write to you about the preventable, the avoidable, or what may be construed as the unnecessary, exposure to discipline. The Legal Defense Fund will always proudly march forward and vigorously defend a member for their actions.

Afterwards, we often publish articles and convey the facts of those “unavoidable” situations for several reasons, including educating fellow members about the pitfalls and vulnerabilities experienced by fellow officers. However, we have not provided the same level of education involving the “avoidable” or “preventable” events.

Each year, there are scores, if not hundreds, of cases where the member is being terminated, disciplined, or even criminally prosecuted for taking actions which expose them to allegations of misconduct which should be avoidable. The primary (in terms of numbers) issue has been the misuse of departmental computers/internet usage while on duty.

Other issues we have seen involve placing themselves in a situation that exposes the member to allegations of sexual misconduct. While generally for privacy concerns we have not publicly described these incidents (and we steadfastly protect a member’s privacy), the fact remains that these allegations are arising with alarming and increasing frequency.

This is what has caused me, the trustees, and the legal administrator to re-think our role and consider taking more aggressive and direct steps towards educating our members on the perils of avoidable situations, with the hope that we might save some of our members from needless disciplinary, civil, or criminal actions.

Over these next several months, the trustees will be evaluating a new plan to provide some level of education and training to the members of LDF. This informational exchange would be designed towards education and prevention.

Perhaps armed with the knowledge of the types of allegations faced by some members, as well as the frequency in which others are accused of certain actions, we can help raise awareness and prevent the dangerous mindset of: “It would never happen to me.”

We all have enough to worry about in terms of exposure and vulnerability for the situations that we cannot avoid. Let us now all look forward to working together to prevent the preventable, and avoid the avoidable.

PORAC Legal Defense Administrator Ed Fishman Testimony: Law Enforcement Use of Body Cameras.