Every once in a while you read about something that is both jawdroppingly outrageous and, at the same time, not at all surprising. This story, out of Methuen, Massachusetts, is one such item. It seems that folks applying to be cops in that town are asked whether they would treat a drunken friend or police officer differently at a traffic stop than they would treat your average Joe. I’ll bet you think you know the right answer, but I’ll also bet you don’t.
Methuen asked candidates how they would handle a situation in which where they found a driver in a crash who appeared to be intoxicated. The candidate was then asked if the response would change if it involved a relative or a police officer they knew from a neighboring town. The questions are obviously designed to elevate honest officers but was instead used to select dishonest ones. When candidates said they wouldn’t arrest family or fellow officers, the hiring panel noted the person “knows discretion.” Indeed, Bowman said that “Some of the interview panelists actually heaped high praise on those candidates who stated that they would arrest a stranger but not arrest a friend or family member based on the same facts, citing their understanding of ‘discretion.’”
Now, if you follow the link in the post to which I’ve linked, you’ll get to another article in which the graders expand on their reasoning. It isn’t just that the cop wannabes in question understand the use of “discretion”, it’s that anyone who answers differently can be presumed to be a liar and/or giving what they think is the correct answer. That type of disingenuousness can’t be tolerated in a potential cop; better to restrict the field to those who are upfront about their refusal to treat all comers equally.
It occurs to me that this logic can, and probably should, be extended beyond the drunk driver hypothetical. Shouldn’t any potential white cop who claims he would treat brown or black people the same as a white person be excluded from consideration on the same grounds? And what’s the correct answer to this multiple choice question: if you suspected a very obese, unhealthy looking black man of selling cigarettes would you a) exercise your discretion and ignore him because you have more important things to deal with, b) exercise your discretion and give him a warning or a summons, or c) exercise your discretion and choke him to death. If you’ve read this whole post, you now know that the correct answer is c.