Four Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Deputies were recently fired for attending a party hosted by a former colleague previously convicted of felonies (child molestation, fraud). The deputies apparently violated a local rule (not law) prohibiting officers from associating with known felons while off duty.
This rule, as articulated, prevents officers from associating with anyone convicted of a felony, even close friends or family. The rule essentially mandates that officers, human beings with what we hope would be diverse backgrounds and dynamic groups of family and friends, must operate as if anyone in their personal lives convicted of a felony doesn’t exist. The rule requires officers to define and categorize those former offenders by the worst things they’ve ever done and ignore their context and humanity.
In the news story, a retired officer said, “It sends a message, not only to other deputies, but the public that we want our people to maintain a good moral approach to their lives.” How is giving up on people, isolating them and relegating them to the fringe because of their past crimes "moral”? The rule and resulting firings run counter to any sense of morality; they reflect a lack of communal compassion, expose a collective disbelief in redemption and do not comport with the recognition of our shared humanity.
Beyond notions of humanity and morality, this rule and the resulting terminations are counterproductive, could make our police departments less diverse and further perpetuate divides between the police and the communities they work within.
To best rehabilitate offenders and steer them from recidivism, wouldn’t we encourage rather than discourage their association with police officers that could shepard, advise and guide them? Perhaps the mere social engagement of an ex-offender with a police officer might deter them from slipping backwards into unlawful behaviors and nefarious circles.
Moreover, the enforcement of this rule runs the risk of implicitly or explicitly discouraging people who have loved ones in the correctional and criminal justice system from joining law enforcement. Specifically, people of color and/or those rooted in lower socio-economic, impoverished, urban environments, who may be more likely to have loved ones convicted of felonies, would be less inclined to seek law enforcement careers in fear that doing so would separate them from their communities and families. What could result is a less diverse, more homogenous police force that is further alienated and apart from the communities they serve and protect.
Finally, in this era of publicly broadcasted police brutality and widespread distrust by minorities of police agencies, we need to bridge the divide between the populous and the police, not further perpetuate divisiveness with archaic, misguided policies like this one. We need to reintroduce police departments to the people and communities they serve, including the many convicted of felonies across our counties and country. Rather than label and categorize each other and entrench police officers and ex-offenders in opposing corners, we need to talk, to know one another, to see each other beneath and beyond our skin colors, rap sheets and uniforms. There should be no “us vs. them,” those convicted of felonies at odds with or pitted against the police. Instead, there should be “we,” glorious in our shared humanity.
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