Ethics: Leaky Records Division
If all of these matters fitted together perfectly, or if ethical considerations were clear in all cases, we probably wouldn’t have a class addressing the matter. What is important, and what you will receive the most credit for, is your analysis of the situation and the facts surrounding it. the purposes of this, the rules, regulations, or laws of an organization or department of government don’t matter. You’re the ethical boss; you have the power to make it right if it is not. What matters is what you think is the correct ethical approach, and whether or not your conclusions are supported by clear, persuasive, and convincing points and arguments in favor of one position or another. Discussing both sides of an issue will gain more credit than examining only one side of it because often, if not always, there’s more than one side to a problem. The reasoning is more important than the exact conclusion, so long as your conclusion is not actually without ethical foundation. After all, you may in future have to explain your ethical conclusions to others occupying positions of higher decision-making authority, so it makes sense that your ethical analyses and conclusions have firm foundation and must be clear, persuasive, and convincing
A LEAKY RECORDS DIVISION
Capt. George Stevens is the supervisor of the Criminal Records Division of the Administrative Support Bureau in your police department. You are a Major and the Bureau Commander. Stevens reports to you with regard to his responsibilities, and you have the authority to recommend the imposition of disciplinary and corrective action for Stevens and others, sworn and unsworn, who work in the division.
As part of his duties, George reviews all fines collected by the traffic court and checks them for both receipt of correct amounts and the statutory authority for the fines levied. With respect to this responsibility and all others, George is very good. He maintains exceptionally close attention to detail, and he performs his work promptly and efficiently; additionally, he has a pleasant, helpful personality and generally outstanding work habits.
Recently, you became aware of a story circulating around town. It concerns the arrest of a prominent local citizen who was stopped by an officer, and who failed to pass a series of field sobriety tests, and in fact registered 0.18% BAC on a chemical field test. The citizen, who was arrested and charged with Driving While Intoxicated, was as well accompanied by a female who identified herself as a Miss Jones, and who rather boldly introduced herself as a prostitute whose base of operations was New York. According to criminal history records available to law enforcement through the FBI-NCIC, the FBI’s national records database, the professional description that Ms. Jones offered appears to be accurate.
The story of this arrest was told at a local meeting of a fraternal club, and has attracted much interest and is also a favorite topic of conversation around town. The arrestee (the prominent citizen) has complained to you about this story, and it is clear to you that Capt. Stevens told or perhaps re-told this story at the club meeting. The detail content of police records is confidential, that is, police reports are not furnished for non-official purposes, however arrest and court records themselves are available to the general public. When you present Capt. Stevens with the information you have obtained through your investigation of the citizen’s complaint, he admits he told the story.
Has Capt. Stevens committed an ethical violation by only telling or re-telling the story? Should this matter be referred to the Internal Affairs Bureau, or can you handle it at your level? Does this matter warrant an internal investigation? Why or why not? Suppose Stevens says that he only repeated what he heard from others, and that he did not reveal protected or confidential information gained from official sources, and supports that by asserting that he did not see the report or official record maintained by his division? Based on the above, do you think you have sufficient information to make a judgment regarding Capt. Stevens’ conduct? Why or why not? If what Stevens says is correct in every detail, should or should not a police official in his position discuss any matter that has not been completely adjudicated in the judicial system? How would you further handle this matter if the chief of police asked for more information, and how do you think the chief should proceed?