APD officers attend ethics classes to nip problems in the bud

Posted: Monday, May 14, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A rush to employ more police officers in a distant city leads to the hiring of a drug user. In the same department, the street crimes unit is known for abducting people, binding them with duct tape and throwing them off a bridge.

A decade later, five officers in another city are charged with murders. One cop in particular had developed notoriety on the street for torture.

Both these case studies were presented to Anchorage Police Department employees during ethics training seminars recently. The departments involved were Miami in the 1980s and New Orleans in 1994.

The Anchorage Police Department Employees Association brought in Neal Trautman, executive director of the Longwood, Fla.-based National Institute of Ethics, to conduct the training. The department cosponsored the seminars.

About 150 Anchorage Police Department employees attended the training, including Monegan and all of his command staffers.

Trautman praised the Anchorage department for maintaining high hiring standards at a time when many law enforcement agencies are lowering them because of recruiting difficulties.

Detective Bob Glenn, association treasurer, said that a number of union members were concerned by a perceived double standard in discipline and a promotion system seen as based on politics, not ability. Though department morale appears to have improved under Mayor George Wuerch's administration and with the selection of Walt Monegan as police chief in January, Glenn said, the union arranged the training as a preventive measure.

Trautman, a former police officer in Florida, said it's the first time a labor organization set up such training through his institute. Commanders, not employees, had invited him before.

''It's just refreshing to go to departments that are doing it for all the right reasons,'' Trautman said. ''They're trying to be proactive and prevent bad things as opposed to something bad happened two months ago and now they're trying to pick up the pieces.''

Lt. Steve Smith, present for a two-day session with Trautman for command staff and union leaders, said it helped to learn signs of corruption to look for.

''Honesty and integrity are very important, even in those little things,'' he said. ''That's where it starts.''

Trautman began teaching police ethics seminars 10 years ago, shortly before an onlooker videotaped Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King. That incident helped prompt a national suspicion of police and their motivations. That distrust grew stronger with the felony arrests of 38 New Orleans officers in 1994.

Trautman's message to the Anchorage Police Department: Major scandals like those in Miami and New Orleans began with a lack of integrity. You must be vigilant to root out even the smallest corruption within the force or it will spread and destroy you, he said.

He said employees who see misconduct must confront it. Too often bad behavior becomes normal and a code of silence develops around the offenders.

The most common offense of jailed officers nationwide: cheating on overtime.

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