September 02, 2015

The Police Oath: Why is it Still Necessary?

A person has to possess an exceptional civic, professional, educational and personal background just to be considered for a position as a sworn law enforcement officer. Once recruits have been accepted to the hiring process they will complete a battery of examinations including medical, psychological, interrogatories: written and oral, physical fitness and polygraph (lie detector). Agencies may offer positions as recruits to those who achieve among the highest scores.

After this arduous process, recruits will attend a police academy for many months. The academy may be followed by a agency-specific “mini-academy,” and then the recruit will move on to several more months of training, partnered with a veteran field training officer.

In addition to all of these rigorous requirements, in order to become an officer, a successful recruit must also swear an oath to faithfully, fairly, with proper discretion and integrity, uphold the law. Specific phrasing may vary in different jurisdictions, but the intent of the oaths is comparable.

A law enforcement officer occupies a special place in American society. Therefore, cops are expected to execute the responsibilities of their offices properly. Because cops swear an oath, they ask for society’s trust and also ask them for the benefit of the doubt when necessary. If officers betray that trust and violate their oaths, they should suffer greater sanctions than ordinary citizens might receive for a similar violation.

Sadly, while officers do suffer greater sanctions when convicted of wrongdoing, often they do not receive the requisite trust and benefit of the doubt from their communities that they need to do their jobs.

Also sad, society has come to the point where, if a camera does not record an incident, many people will not take a police officer’s word over that of a suspected criminal (many, with multiple convictions). Last I checked, cops take oaths, criminals do not.

In a crisp, new uniform, an officer stands proudly before his or her police chief or sheriff, surrounded by fellow recruits, family, friends and flags, right hand held up high and swears to uphold his or her oath of office.

If society has chosen not to place any more weight on a cop’s word than it gives to career criminals; if a jury chooses not to give any veracity to a cop’s testimony unless video corroborates it; if a cop’s word means nothing in this new normal, then don’t we have to ask why do cops still swear oaths?


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