The NFL has a higher standard for player conduct and law enforcement agencies can learn from the NFL’s policies.
In light of the recent decision by the NFL to suspend Ezekiel Elliott for unprosecuted conduct allegedly implicating his participation as a domestic violence abuser, it would behoove all of us to ask some critical questions and pose necessary dialogue.
Here’s an employee of the NFL, suspended for 6 games because it wasn’t enough for his employer that he somehow “avoided” being found guilty of a crime. He was suspended because he allegedly failed to avoid conduct that impeded the integrity of the NFL and disrupted the public’s confidence in the NFL. You can review the dialogue from the conference call about the disciplinary decision.
Is this a disillusioned perspective or an appropriate one?
Whatever your answer, one thing is certain: if law enforcement agencies adopted a personal conduct policy similarly worded to the NFL’s policy, people would take notice and perhaps community constituents might find a stronger desire to renew their faith in the public safety purpose that is supposed to be at the pinnacle of law enforcement missions everywhere.
According to the National Football League’s Personal Conduct Policy, everyone associated with the NFL is required to avoid conduct that would be “detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the National Football League.”
The NFL took their policy further by stating, “It is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime.” In fact, the NFL has a “considerably higher” standard of conduct than that of the criminal justice system.
Now, where are all the prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys? How many times have you been confronted with the notion of how high the burden of proof is in a criminal case for someone to be found guilty? To us lawyers, the burden is incredibly high. As it should be, because life and liberty are at stake. And I’ve even gone so far to diminish the civil burden of proof, which is lower than that in criminal court, because that mostly applies to cases involving property and money.
And yet here is Ezekiel Elliott, and every other NFL associated person, facing a higher standard than the legal standards people face to avoid losing money, property, or freedom.
Aside from the obvious moral compass that the NFL upholds so well, this recent NFL player suspension and the motives behind it can teach the law enforcement community something valuable. Here are just a few ideas, but attach your own value to them.
What if every community had a sign as you entered the city or town limits that read, “Everyone associated with law enforcement in this city is required to avoid conduct that would be detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in law enforcement.”
What if every officer received an infographic pocket card that reminded them what they signed up for: to protect and serve ALL the people in the community? And then provide examples of what serving and protecting does not include, such as: harassing people of color and calling it a consensual encounter in their police report or punching a citizen in the head, causing a concussion, arresting them, and then saying they beat on you; stopping someone because their tail light is broken and then shooting them dead while their child watches from the backseat, or shooting someone while their hands are raised in the air just as you commanded, only because you were afraid of dying.
What if every officer faced the reality of being held to a higher standard of conduct than the criminal justice system? What if each of them was told, “We hope you never have to be charged with a crime or be put on trial, but if you are, and you are found not guilty, please know our standard of conduct is higher.”
What if every officer’s oath included the words, “To be a respected member of this organization, I will care about each of the people I serve and I know it is my duty to show them all the time, even when I think they don’t care about themselves and even when I think they don’t care about me.”
It is hard to think an organization that serves the public by providing entertainment publicly holds its employees to a higher standard of conduct but an organization that serves the public by providing safety fails to do the same.
Whatever your perspective, let’s just start the conversation.