The Police Time Card Scandal
It is disappointing to learn 21 out of 35 of the Sterling Heights’ Command Officers are now facing suspensions for time card fraud. This revelation casts a black cloud over the entire department and calls the culture of the Sterling Heights Police into question.
Committing time card fraud while those involved are pursuing legal action against the city for cutting back working hours reveals an attitude of entitlement more typically found among criminals than cops. That this was not one or two individuals but instead the majority of the command officers shows there are severe cultural problems on the force that will not be easily corrected, not the least of which is peer pressure. Corrected they must be, however: the problems must be rooted out to maintain the public trust. Simply suspending those involved and hoping to sweep the fall-out from this under the carpet is unrealistic and short sighted.
As Metro Detroit has seen time and time again, there is no worse leadership than setting a bad example. The most senior officers on the force have a special duty to guard the public trust and must hold themselves to the highest standard. They are the ones to which all of the officers on regular traffic and patrol duties look for leadership. In a very real sense, their previous leadership has been responsible for the high regard in which the department is held across the state. Unfortunately, it is going to be difficult for this organization to hold its head high among its peers in light of this revelation.
Some voices among the public have already declared that the discipline to be meted out will amount to a slap on the wrist, and that criminal charges should be brought against those involved. There are rumors to the effect that the most senior officer retired suddenly rather than face disciplinary action, which would mean that he or she would be entitled to their full pension.
Although I am unsure that this rises to the level of criminality that would be prosecutable under the law, there certainly needs to be a very public reckoning with those involved. Sterling Heights’ reputation for being one of the safest cities of its size in the nation is now in jeopardy because of this incident. The City Administration needs to move decisively and quickly in order to put things to right. If the City Administration fails to take tough, corrective measures that are visible to the public, it may become difficult to maintain the respect the police need in order to ensure the rule of law.