Webinar presenter Dr. Jeff Fox answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Understanding Unethical Behavior. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: What advice would you have for someone who wants to report either an ethical or criminal breach where there is a reluctance for leadership to confront the issue for political and organizational reasons?
Dr. Jeff Fox: Good question, and my short answer is, do it anyway. Don’t be part of problem, be part of the solution. It does two things: It gets the monkey off your back and not just legally, but ethically. And you can have a clear conscience; two, is they can’t say, I didn’t know because they were told, though, so they don’t have that plausible deniability. Those are the two things that are going to come to mind first; three, is make sure you have your ducks in a row. And if you have evidence that you can put forward. If it’s mere speculation be careful, I don’t know the dynamics of where you work and who you work with. I would rather have an ounce of prevention than a pound of cure. If it’s something where you know the people and an the ethical issue, but not criminal necessarily, in other words, there is no harm if they are going to come to you. I would tell my people, “Hey, I don’t want you doing that”. I always wanted to prevent people from doing something. Instead of waiting and I’ll catch after you do it. So, if I can to prevent it, that’s good. I think pretty much anyone I worked with knew that I wasn’t going to tolerate it, I wouldn’t put up with it. And if that happened, I never saw it, except for that perjury. I never saw with the state police any one ever abused. I did have a situation, when I was a local officer, where I saw some things, I went to the chief, and I reported it, and nothing happened. His response was, what am I supposed to do? He plays golf with The Town council. And I was like, wow, I mean, really well. I did my job. I look back on it and go well, you know, I could have taken it over his head. I could have taken it somewhere else. And, you know, you live and learn. Maybe I should have done that. I hope it helps a little bit.
Audience Question: If you have any tips on how to shape the culture so that when calling out unethical behavior and policies, it’s safe and not deterred.
Dr. Jeff Fox: Wow, that’s a tough one. It depends a little bit on where you are and the culture. If you’re at the bottom of the food chain, that may be a tough thing for you to do. If you’re in a position of power or influence where you can have input to the top people and you foster that and you create that, you encourage that. You’re not encouraging a snitch system, you’re encouraging an open and honest communication. I don’t know what kind of mechanisms you have in place for reporting. I don’t know what your agency is, if you have an internal affairs or anything like that. You know you have anonymous and confidential. Those are two different things. What kind of system do you have in place? What kind of assurances do you have? That’s a really hard question to answer that quickly, because there’s so many moving parts to that. And some of them I just mentioned. That’s a hard one, it depends on where you are. And if you’re in a position where you could do something about it, you got to have that in place to begin with. It’s not something you just create. But, no matter what the situation is, you can still be ethical and honest. You can report it to who you need to report it to, we’ve talked about that with several examples. But really, that’s a process that needs to take place, and it doesn’t happen overnight, and it really has to come from the top administrator. That person can really make or break an agency. I wish I could give you better advice. Feel free to call me on that one or e-mail me, too.
Audience Question: Can you comment on the alarming influence of media, television, movies, social media on ethics or the lack thereof?
Dr. Jeff Fox: Yeah, it drives me insane. I can’t put it any other way. In the forensic field, you have the CSI effect, which is a real phenomenon and juries expect to see all this stuff because they see it and all the CSI shows that it’s not reality, and it just doesn’t work that way. Just like in TV, crimes don’t get solved in 22 minutes, or 42 minutes. The way they portray police officers in movies, I think to myself I have been to workplaces where all sorts of curse every other word, and where they grab people and film up against stuff. It is horrible. Now, the problem is, I know in some cases they bring on experts to show them how to do it right. But, I think in a lot of ways, the media and Hollywood are a huge part of the problem. Because they create this. And not just that citizens think this, and it becomes part of their reality. But I think you got to be careful. You hire new officers, and stuff like that, because they might need some reconditioning as well, because they might think this is how it is they’ve seen on television. When I teach classes, I tell students all the time, what you see on television is not reality. Sometimes, some shows do a little bit better job than others, but, this is a huge issue, and it’s very frustrating to me. You know, and you have freedom with the First Amendment, and they had the freedom to do what they want to with it. But I really think that they do so much damage to society and to the professionals on how they portray it. And if I ever had a chance to say something to them, I would really give them an ear full. But, yeah, those are my initial thoughts and it just drives me nuts what they do with it.
Audience Question: I did want to share a comment that I thought was really poignant really good from Lisa, Lisa says, what I found after handling internal affairs cases that every officer has the responsibility to safeguard their organization by being ethical. When ethics are violated either administrative or criminally, the financial pay up to the victim is paid by taxpayers and hinders the organization, because those funds are often paid out in lawsuits instead of being able to be used for training. So, I just wanted to share that one from Lisa.
Dr. Jeff Fox: Yeah, let me say something about that, and some of the research I’ve done. I don’t know if it’s in one of my books, but a set of papers I’ve written and researched, the dollar amount is astronomical that gets paid out on these lawsuits. It’s just crazy. Sometimes it’s deserved, sometimes it’s probably more than it needs to be. But the problems are there. I had a situation where a supervisor asked me what to do to an employee who had done something terrible, really criminal. He said, what should I do? And it took me about a millisecond, I said you should fire him. And he thought that was horrible and the guy had committed basically a criminal sexual assault, and he was like, “no, no, no”. What do you mean no? How can you not fire this guy? If it happens again, how many zeros can you put behind that number. And it actually happened again, You know, so you can’t tolerate certain things, and yeah, the money amounts are insane.
Audience Question: Do you believe that ethics can be learned and taught?
Dr. Jeff Fox: Yes. I think they are, whether subliminally and whether they’re good or bad. And it starts with imprinting, modeling, and socialization. It starts with: What are your parents teaching you? How did they teach you how to treat people? Did they teach you to be honest? Did they teach you to be you know, forthright? To be respectful? It all starts at a super early age. And it’s hard to uncondition that. But, can they be taught? Yes, they are taught subliminally. And maybe on purpose, I hope, even by some parents. Are they taught in schools. Maybe, maybe not. But you talked about the media. That’s stuck in people’s brains. So, can they be untaught? Yeah, it’s difficult. Can you change them yourself? I do believe you can. I do believe it can change, you know? So, yeah, it’s worth trying too. Now, that’s why that background investigations are important. I’m not saying we should hire unethical people. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, but it doesn’t mean people can’t change, but it also doesn’t mean you should hire that person who had a bad past behavior.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Understanding Unethical Behavior.