The Chaplain's Notebook


Blatant dishonesty is always a bad thing. By “blatant,” I don’t mean trying to spare your aunt’s feelings about the ugly sweater she knitted you for Christmas. I mean it as the deliberate lie that occurs in order to deny responsibility for the choices made. Unfortunately, every law enforcement officer has to deal with dishonesty almost all the time when engaging with the public, especially when that public person thinks he is in trouble. Worse still is when a citizen continues to maintain the lie, even when all the evidence points to an entirely different conclusion.

Obviously when it comes to a criminal investigation — whether it involves a rinky-dink shoplifting incident or robbing a bank — the goal is to find the truth and determine who, if anyone, needs to be arrested. Therefore, it is important that an investigator does not just take someone’s word for it. Besides, even an honest witness can recall what happened incorrectly. Healthy skepticism is necessary to do the job. Collecting all the facts before making a determination is necessary, especially if you expect the district attorney will proceed with a prosecution. However, the problem is that it is too easy to become jaded, assume most public persons you meet are liars and then treat a person with disdain. Unfortunately, when you get to that point, more than likely you are taking that attitude home, and that attitude is going to affect your quality of life and the lives of those you hold dear.

The bad guys are the bad guys. Your family, friends and those you love are not perfect, but they’re not the bad guys, either. If you treat them with suspicion and doubt their every word and action, you will make them feel uncomfortable, make them angry and drive them away. That is not what you want to do.

From a professional perspective, being jaded doesn’t work well either. Like I said earlier, a healthy skepticism is part of the job. But being jaded with the public comes across as being arrogant and superior. People react to that with anger and become defensive, which can lead to a negative view of law enforcement. Feeding into the anti-cop sentiment that’s currently present in our culture is not what you want to do, either.

I would like to encourage you to remember that the final decision as to the guilt or innocence of the public person is up to the judicial system, not you. Sure you have to collect the evidence and then determine who gets arrested and why. But that’s where your job ends. It is time to move on to what is next.

Also remember that you are dealing, for the most part, with that small portion of the public that are lawbreakers. You do not get called out to the thousands of homes where they are all sitting down to a pleasant family dinner. Nope, your calls are to the family homes where someone is being stupid, violent or both. The point is that dealing with bad situations is the norm for the job, but it’s not the norm for the vast majority of people.

Take a moment and think about where you are mentally. Becoming jaded can be avoided.

How can I contact a chaplain? Chaplains are available at their unit of assignment, or by calling the Psychological Services Bureau at (213) 738-3500.