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Respect ~ earned or assigned?
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 04/09/2012

Policeofficer e For the longest time, there have been debates about respect for lawmen being earned and respect being given. The entire issue is about the man who wears the badge and how this star or other symbol of authority gives them instantaneous unconditional respect without any other conditions. The fact is that many still believe that respect must be earned and not assigned.

Getting to the root of this debate are the baseline morality values of our society. Growing up we were told by our parents to respect the police and fire and if you need help, run to one of them and they will help you. This was based on their own values and their own trust in these positions as well as the men and women who fill those positions. Today, it appears that the general public, whether individually or as a whole, have lost respect for police, firemen, correctional officers and other law enforcement officials who wear the star. You might describe this lost of respect as an apathy towards authority and perhaps even more severe than just not caring or recognizing their assigned responsibilities within society and community.

Therefore, one can surmise that one element of earning respect depends on your moral upbringing, your parental influences and your own values on this matter. Children are the most valuable resource available and should envision our lawmen and law enforcement officers (LEOS) as good versus the criminal or crooks being the bad. Thus I believe it starts with parents, the vision of law the schools project and the generational values attached to responsibility. The bottom line at this point is our investment in our children’s wellness and future.

The second element of this earned versus assigned ideology is the way the media represents the law and how they report their local, state or national behaviors. It could in fact bolster the idea that cops are either the good guys or the bad guys on the angle they report the story. Focusing on this profession, the media can either reassure the public of all the positive things the police do or re-enforce the negative and create mistrust and doubt on their presence in the community.

Stories by the media focusing on “the code of silence”, misplaced loyalties, or other acts of wrongdoing or major misconduct about LEOs makes giving respect very difficult. Hence, stories that demonstrate greedy and corrupt conduct make trusting harder whether an individual misbehavior is at stake or acts of criminality. The influence is undoubtedly felt by the community and its leaders. Thus we have to agree or disagree whether the media can bolter the confidence or act as an instrument of disintegration or destruction of personal values or unethical conduct.

The truth remains that once it is all said and done people will decide for themselves whether a cop can be trusted or not and whether they earned their respect or whether it is assigned to them without conditions. The fact is that neither applies exclusively to the police or any other LEO.

The attributes of respect apply to the entire gauntlet of public officials, the military, teachers, doctors, public servants and even the individual human being to whom this entitlement is assigned merely by being a human being and enabled to receive respect for one’s own character or existence. Characteristically, every position and every human being carries with it a position of authority or some individual domain that must [or at least] be recognized. Therefore, it is likely that unless the position or individual abuses their role or presence within the societal realms assigned, it will be respected.

Therefore, it is likely that when the police officer knocks on the door or stops the vehicle for a traffic stop, he or she will likely be respectful and expect the same in return. This is based simply on the fact that two humans are interacting without the presence of abuse but once abuse is known or displayed, the officer must remain respectful and follow pre-established rules of engagement while the civilian does not. Here the standard has been elevated for the police officer.

The same rules apply for civilians. If someone invades my house and threatens my family or while walking on the street and they wish them harm, I must do something to defend them and respect the fact that as I take responsibility for protecting my family, they must take the responsibility for threatening my family and suffer the consequences for such an act. Disrespect may summon a reaction that is legal or illegal but generally considered to be morally respected to be the appropriate response.

Without abuse, I will respect everyone without asking for respect in return. As a former deputy warden I got respect for many reasons. The first was by assignment or title and the second was the mannerism I performed my duties. It is also my belief that I was given respect as a human being willing to stop and talk to all walks of life withholding my personal judgment and biases for others making it possible for me to do my job better. I think that when there is harmony between assignment and behavior, respect is given and at the same time earned; that is, until it is abused.

Editor’s note: Carl ToersBijns (retired), worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Carl’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."

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