First Principles


Sometimes in organizations, a culture of permissiveness can develop, where all manner of misbehaviors are socially and institutionally tolerated. When this happens, it becomes difficult to call out others. Peer pressure isn’t just on the playground. Integrity – the interconnected wholeness between one’s moral core and their actions – demands otherwise. Integrity is not just doing the right thing when no one is looking – it means doing the right things when people are looking, too. It is the way of honesty and a demonstrated commitment to a strong moral core. But morality can mean many things to many people. For example, some pass laws that target LGBTQIA people and make their lives unnecessarily difficult, painful, and stunted. Is that really the American spirit, to deny other’s their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? It is not, and don’t let anyone fool you into thinking otherwise! Let us define morality in a way that’s simple and universal, and consistent with our notions of freedom, liberty, and justice: Morality is that behavior which lessens unnecessary suffering and encourages thriving. All moral actions seek this outcome, whether pagan rituals to ensure fertility and harvest, or laws that prohibit people from murdering each other. When we help someone in need, we ease their suffering and allow them to get on with their lives. But not every action that we think moral is truly so. We must therefore ask ourselves, “Does what I’m about to do alleviate unnecessary suffering? Will it encourage the individual or society to thrive?” If it meets this test, it is moral. If not, then it is something else. When looked at this way, the right path forward becomes clear. This is the test that I rely on for my decisions and actions.


Decency is recognizing other’s fundamental dignity. All people deserve to be treated with respect. Decency feeds the hungry, houses the homeless, clothes the needy, and visits the prisoner. It accepts others as they are, not as we want them to be. The root notion of morality is the recognition that others suffer and have wants and needs, fears and anxieties, and hopes and dreams just like anyone else. Decency treats other’s intrinsic value and worth as their own, and not something to exploit for gain. People are not rocks from which we pump oil. When we treat people with dignity, when we recognize their value, a shift occurs. Especially in the correctional environment, those we interact with begin to recognize that their value doesn’t come from taking from others. It becomes harder to take advantage of the vulnerable if you see them as worthy of their own dignity. This becomes an imitable behavior. As a correction officer, I frequently noted that units where correction officers treated others with dignity, that the incarcerated would follow suit. Those were the units without drama, where everyone was invested in being safe and supportive. This is what we should encourage if we don’t want people to come back to jail, because people who treat others with decency don’t try to take advantage of them.


In Crisis Intervention Training, officers are encouraged to show empathy to people in crisis. Making that human, personal connection goes a long way towards reducing someone’s anxiety and fear. But empathy is not enough. Empathy without compassion becomes a trick, a kind of emotional sleight-of-hand, a way to manipulate others. In this way, it violates the principle of decency, as it treats people as objects to be controlled. We know when someone is playing us, just as we know when someone genuinely cares about our well-being. When we treat others with both a felt understanding of their emotions and a sincere desire to help, we create a place where people know they are safe. We want people to feel safe when the police arrive. When the people we interact with feel safe, the police are more safe. . . we have more positive interactions. . . we build a deep reservoir of trust. . . we have more job satisfaction ourselves, and we earn the public’s respect. I want people to say, “Thank god the Deputy is here!” and not, “Oh god, the Deputy is here.” Decency creates the respect, but compassion creates the trust.


What is fairness when you have been the victim of a crime? What is it when you have been accused of one? Our criminal justice system struggles with fairness in the same way our society at large does. Those with more resources do better, those who are desperate do not. The wealthy are never put to death. They can afford the best legal help, whereas the poor cannot, just as the wealthy can go to the best schools, eat the finest meals, etc. This isn’t to disparage wealth, but merely to take note that economic inequality has real impacts on real people when it comes to the criminal justice system. Once we recognize that fairness demands of that the criminal justice system that it not go out of its way to further disadvantage people because of their lack of resources, we can take steps to address it. Trauma, poverty, and desperation breed crime. When the criminal justice system traumatizes people, impoverishes them, and limits their options to thrive, it creates the perfect conditions for lawlessness. Police do not need job security! There will always be people in trouble who need help. There will always be people who need rescuing from disasters. There will always be people who take advantage of others. There will always be a place for the police. The question before us is what is that place? What role do we want the police to have? My vision is to fundamentally change peoples' ideas abou tthe police, to ensure that our role is a moral one. My vision that the people we serve see us as the helpers