Tuesday, June 04, 2002

RADEL: Character flaw

City police need reform at the root

        What were they thinking?

        Cincinnati policemen Robert Johnson and Robert Kidd Jr. picked up a woman at a bar, took her home and had sex with her.

        While on duty, no less.

        Funny, I thought cops were supposed to serve and protect. When did “do the wild thing” get added to their job description?

        These two boneheads — currently on desk duty — admitted they did this in uniform. Well, at least partially in uniform.

        No matter what they were wearing, they were on taxpayers' time. My time. Yours, too.

        Don't know about you, but I want my tax dollars spent on police officers performing their duties with their uniform pants up. Not down.

        Both officers qualify for Cincy PD's Morons of the Month. They betrayed a sacred trust with the people they are sworn to serve.

        And they did it while Cincinnati's police force is under intense scrutiny for a series of unprofessional, inappropriate, stupid and low-down actions since long before the 2001 riots.

        Such behavior — from using excessive force to having sex while on duty — clearly shows some serious character flaws.

        It raises a serious question about how much importance Cincinnati's police department places on recruiting, training and testing officers to make sure they are of good character.

        The short answer is: plenty.

        But that degree of importance needs to increase.


Character counts

        “When we hire, we basically hire for character,” said Ted Schoch, director of Cincinnati's police academy.

        Anytime a cop goes bad, he considers it “an embarrassment. We should be models of good character.”

        He's taking steps to put an end to the embarrassments.

        The department already checks on the character of police recruits. The academy director went down the checklist: Interviews with neighbors, former employers and teachers; 3 1/2 hours of psychological tests; a session with a lie-detector.

        “And we harp on character in the classroom,” he noted.

        “I tell recruits on the very first day: "If it shows up on the 6 o'clock news and you're ashamed of it, don't do it.' ”

        Police officers are people. The good ones far outnumber the bad. But, people change. An officer's good character can go bad, for instance, when paired with the wrong partner, after a promotion or with problems at home.

        Are officers given periodic character assessments after graduating from the academy?

        “Very truthfully,” Ted Schoch replied, “no.”

        The academy's director has offered a series of character-building seminars. Since 2000, 750-plus officers have taken the eight-hour session. Officers Johnson and Kidd attended the seminar. Fat lot of good it did them.


Further study

        Ted Schoch sits on the police department's recently formed character committee.

        He should use his influence to get this group to study the character traits of flawed officers. The study might help the police department spot warning signs earlier, preferably when individuals are applying for a job, not when they're on the job.

        The committee could work with psychologists and police academy instructors to devise ways to assess officers' characters on a regular basis. This might prevent bad characters from performing bad deeds that become embarrassing headlines.

        The police have been entrusted with tremendous powers by the people they take an oath to protect.

        Officers have a corresponding responsibility. They must be of good character so they can use that power wisely.

       Columnist Cliff Radel canbe reached at 768-8379;e-mail cradel@enquirer.com.


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