On April 19th, I had the privilege to appear at a guest speaker at a Criminal Justice class at St. Elizabeth College for Chatham, New Jersey Police Chief Phil Crosson, who is an adjunct professor at the College. Having been a teacher in my past life, I usually relish such instructional opportunities, and this was no exception. A discussion of the theories of punishment led to an critical examination of the American penal system into a wide-ranging exploration of legal and personal ethics. I think a good time was had by all, and the students were active and thoughtful participants. Thanks for Phil for giving me a chance, albeit for just a single night, think of myself as a teacher again!
Some of the things I wanted to impart to future law enforcement officers include the practicality for police officers in dealing with the real world, coming from a labor lawyer’s perspective. Many police officers enter the field with the laudatory goal of giving back to their communities, maintaining order and dispensing justice. Few realize that when they get out into the field, the fundamental purpose of the justice system can come into question, and the line between suspects and civilians who need protection can become blurred. While police officers need to respect the rights of the accused, they also need to be mindful of the microscope which law enforcement has been put under, and the fact that law enforcement officers have become targets themselves (as the NYPD is well aware).
From a labor perspective, police officers are well advised to leave the academy and enter the workforce with a realistic understanding of their goals and aspirations. Throughout my career, I have seen hundreds of officers evolve from fierce union advocates in the PBA, FOP or SOA to managerial positions such as Deputy Chief, Chief, Law Director and even Mayor. No matter how contentious labor negotiations become in the law enforcement sector, it is important for all ranks of police, management and attorneys to remember our shared goal – to protect and serve the community. At the end of the day, police officers must remain mindful that they represent not only their department and the public entity that employs them, but, in the larger sense, the American system of justice.