The bell, the book, the candle

The British headlines this week are full of the scandal involving illegal wiretaps and information harvesting by a national newspaper.  The fallout has not been limited to the fourth estate.  Two of Scotland Yard’s top officials have been caught up and have submitted resignations.  This situation brings into sharp focus the need for personnel to make ethical decisions, regardless of their position within the organization.  The need to perform ethically does not diminish because you aren’t on the street anymore.  Each of us needs to remember that we were handed the public trust and our Department’s reputation when we came on the job.  It is fragile and we can’t afford to drop it.

Ethical Decision Making

One of the common disconnects in  police training is the lack of an ethical decision making model. We apply models and heuristics to all types of critical situations but often neglect ethics – and few things are as commonly required, important to the officer individually, their Departments and their community.  We tell people to make ethical decisions, but neglect the how.

The complex nature of ethical decision-making and the great variety of situations we encounter contributes to the difficulty of developing a simple model.  One of the simplest models that I have come across is applicable to virtually any situation and any level of the organization.  The model is called ‘the bell, the book, the candle’ and it involves asking yourself three questions.

The Bell

Does your proposed course of action ring a bell in your head that you are doing the wrong thing?  If it does then,  DON’T DO IT!

The Book

Is your proposed course of action in conflict with your Oath, the Law or your Department’s General Orders or Rules and Regulations?  If you know it to be contrary to the ‘book’ then, DON’T DO IT!

The Candle

Ask yourself if your action will stand the light of day.  Would you be proud to see yourself on TV or to have your mother/father, son/daughter, husband/wife, sister/brother, standing next to you while you were doing what you were doing?  If you can’t answer with an unequivocal yes, then DON’T DO IT!

‘The bell, the book, the candle’ fills the bill of simple model designed to address the complex.  Consciously considering ethics in our decision-making is an important skill that will help ensure that we will survive our careers.  We should mentally practice going through this checklist as a regular part of our decision-making.  If we practice applying the model to simple situations we will be prepared to use it when the particularly complex situations arise.

Surviving Our Careers

Ethical violations are just as lethal to our careers as any of the officer safety issues we encounter.  Ethical decision-making deserves the same attention and practice that we devote to other critical areas of training.

As always, THANK YOU for your service and BE SAFE!

Please share any other ethical decision-making models that you have identified.  Can you imagine a situation where ‘the bell, the book, the candle’ model might not be applicable?


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