What If Other Jobs Had the Same Flawed Accountability as Police?

A Pennsylvania police officer recently pulled his gun when he meant to reach for his Taser and shot a person by mistake.

This isn’t about arguing whether he is lying and shot the victim on purpose — though both unjustified shootings and lying about their actions are issues with police. This is about a general lack of accountability for police — from errors in judgment to incompetence to outright corruption.

The Pennsylvania police officer was in a struggle with a suspect and reached blindly for the Taser in his holster. This raises several questions of competence. Why was he not able to distinguish between the two weapons by feel? Why was he firing a weapon so quickly that he did not even register what he was holding? The Taser and gun are supposed to be on opposite sides of an officer’s belt, so why didn’t he set up his equipment properly before going into the field?

This last question might be key to proving negligence, as errors in judgment in the heat of the moment are nearly always excused. But frankly, the chance of any serious consequences for this officer, by the numbers, is low.

This kind of fine hair-splitting doesn’t really exist in other industries when an employee is in violation of the law or organizational policies. If you don’t do your job effectively and correctly, there are consequences. And the simpering excuses we see from police for the most egregious and life-altering errors just don’t exist.

To illustrate that point, consider this thought experiment. We’ll focus on this as a competence issue, taking the officer at his word that he is more stupid than evil.

What consequences are professionals in these jobs likely to face for the following mistakes?

  • A pilot hitting the wrong button and crashing a passenger jet
  • A teacher miscounting their students and forgetting to bring back one of the 6-year-olds from a field trip
  • A cook forgetting to put their meat in the refrigerator over the weekend and then serving rancid meals to their customers
  • A financial executive leveraging bad debts and destroying millions of people’s retirement income while walking away from their failed company with a multimillion-dollar retirement bonus

I’m just kidding about that last one. White collar criminals — especially in the finance industry — are the only other group I can think of besides local law enforcement for which there seems to be few consequences.

In the broader debate, some police violence, corruption and racism apologists — including representatives of police forces themselves — like to dismiss complaints with some variation of: “Don’t paint all police officers with the same brush.” But as John Oliver so eloquently pointed out at the close of his report on police accountability, a few bad apples spoil the bunch.

The incredible effort that goes into keeping these bad apples on the job is the part that is so difficult to square. Yes, it’s a stressful job. And that’s all the more reason we need the most morally upstanding and competent people doing it.

We don’t see pilots crashing planes or showing up to work drunk and then saying, “Well, it’s stressful. I’d like to see you do better.” Anyone who feels screwing up is par for the course when there are lives on the line shouldn’t go into that profession.

Police accountability is cultural, political, legislative, a union issue and related to the people who are more likely to be drawn to law enforcement. And because the issue is organizational, it applies to the corruption problem just as well as incompetence. But it is also solvable — and something most other industries dealt with a long time ago.

Photo credit: PeopleImages/Getty Images

48 comments

Anna R
Anna R3 days ago

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Thomas M
Thomas M5 days ago

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Richard B
Richard B25 days ago

thank you

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Jan S
Jan Sabout a month ago

Thank you for posting

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danii p
danii pabout a month ago

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danii p
danii pabout a month ago

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danii p
danii pabout a month ago

Thank you

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Glennis W
Glennis Whitneyabout a month ago

Thank you for caring and sharinhg

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Glennis W
Glennis Whitneyabout a month ago

Thank you for caring and sharinhg

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Glennis W
Glennis Whitneyabout a month ago

Thank you for caring and sharinhg

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