A Conflict of Interest?

Dear Bullethead:
I am a five-year Army MP vet (I transitioned well into civilian life) with three years in corrections as Deputy Sheriff and four years at my current PD. It is difficult for me to find a particular place to begin with my department. We are a smaller organization, with six full-time (including the chief), six part-time and six auxiliary officers. We also have seven dispatchers in a village with a population of 4,000. The issue I have pertains to the leadership and conflicts of interest with the other officers at my agency. My current chief owns a security company and has for several years. His business partners happen to be the top three officers in my agency. Isn’t this a conflict of interest? I am sure that they are incapable of seeing it that way because this is their everyday life. It’s always harder to see from the inside out.
—MavrikCop, via email

For this issue, I’m going to have to make up some details so I can have something to address. You say the chief and the top three cops have a security business together and having that business creates a conflict of interest. You didn’t exactly outline what the conflict is, so I’m going to throw a few ideas out and hopefully I’ll hit the 10 ring and help you out. Maybe you think their partnership in the business is creating the issue because the boss shouldn’t have outside business interests with his subordinates. It could also be that you believe they are directing department resources toward the security issues they are paid to protect through their business. Last, I suppose you might think the chief is giving his business partners special treatment on the job because of their off-duty relationship. All of these are problematic to different degrees.

The first and last issues I can tie into one. To be honest with you, there isn’t a whole lot you can do about this at a tiny department like yours. Think of it this way: What if they didn’t have a business, but these four guys came up through the ranks together and one of them ended up getting promoted to chief. They would still be friends and the three guys would still have the ear of the chief and significant influence over some of the decisions he makes. In many places they call this having advisors, not having a conflict of interest. It might even be a good thing because hopefully the chief’s friends and business partners won’t be “yes men” and just agree to whatever he wants to do. If you’re worried about preferential treatment for shift assignments or collateral assignments or use of gear, that could be an issue. But most good leaders have to guard against not taking this too far in the other direction—they are so worried that it will appear they are giving their friends special treatment that they end up sticking it to their friends and giving them worse treatment. If these other three are the senior guys, they probably are already getting whatever shift assignments and gear choices they want based on that fact alone. If you think they’re getting too much attention, I would suggest just some light ribbing about how decisions are made by committee and the security company owners make up the committee. If that is the issue, they should pick up on it and back off.

If you think the chief and the top three cops are directing police resources toward solving their security company issues, that is a bigger problem. What that amounts to is taking money to do a private job and then using public funds to render the service. I can’t imagine the sales pitch that comes from the chief of police, which could easily move over into the realm of extortion—”se our security company or you won’t get any police protection either.” If this is what you’re talking about, I would give serious consideration to leaving that agency immediately. Ol’ Bullethead wouldn’t give it consideration, I would just leave. If that is what is going on, it is dirty and every good cop should jump ship now.

If you refuse to leave, you need to turn that whole mess over to an outside agency for investigation. You have a few choices. A state investigative body might be interested or even the FBI. They have a large public corruption division and they love taking down folks who are doing things of that nature. Whomever you give the case to should be as far removed from your village as possible to avoid collusion.


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