I was scanning the AM radio channels this morning seeking news and views. I caught a preacher speaking about vertical and horizontal forgiveness. The message being delivered was essentially that man is expected to forgive ‘horizontally’ but God forgives ‘vertically,’ something commonly known as Grace.
The need for forgiveness suggests that an offense was committed or a standard of conduct between humans had been violated. A sin could be lawlessness and this literally means ‘without law’ and it could be construed as a revolt against God. Since we all have sin, all of us are ‘outlaws’ to a degree.
The radio broadcast started me thinking of how this concept might connect to policing which has a formal chain of command. There are both vertical and horizontal communications in organizations. In the military and policing there is a formalized chain of command with rank structure and supervisory authority. Those who have the power get to enforce the rules — or bestow forgiveness.
On a horizontal level (peer to peer, colleague to colleague, officer to officer, supervisor to supervisor, etc.) there can be animosity, disputes, hard feelings and grudges. These can originate from fairly minor incidents (one officer gets in trouble because of a citizen’s complaint because another officer always has a big mouth, uses poor discretion, or uses excessive force). Excessive force does not mean ‘brutality’ or chargeable misconduct. One explanation would describe it as using more force than was necessary in a given situation. Pulling and aiming an AR-15 rifle on two parties involved in an argument on their front lawn would be ‘excessive’ and also violate the policies of many departments. Over-reacting, not de-escalating, and engaging in other ‘excesses’ draw attention and make some officer not want to work with others — for career survival. At the worst extreme, a ‘friendly-fire’ shooting or an act of cowardice could cause anger and distrust. On a horizontal level, if there is no FORGIVENESS, an officer can usually transfer to other patrol areas or request not to work with certain individuals. Policing is no different than other occupations — people don’t always like each other.
On a vertical level, forgiveness is shielded from public view and there is more discretion. Those possessing rank have obligations and responsibilities. They are supposed to follow policies and procedures and other mandates with regard to supervising employees and establishing accountability. If a lieutenant detects that a sergeant has been drinking and showed up for work, he could ‘forgive’ by driving the sergeant home and then exploring options for corrective action later. If you are abusing painkillers, if you are involved in a drunk driving incident, if you are involved in a domestic violence incident, if you have unpaid bills, garnishments, or a bankruptcy pending — these can all be handled (FORGIVEN) under the right circumstances and with the right supervisory approval and connections. Over the years many members of Metro have been ‘forgiven’ by the hierarchy (vertical) system. Some of the highest ranking members of Metro (in the past decade or so) have had a second chance. They faced the loss of their careers but they were spared.
When double-standards are detected (cops are great at observing things like this) and the rank-and-file perceive ‘vertical’ forgiveness has occurred, it will be almost impossible for the ‘troops’ to forgive horizontally. For example, if Captain Charles Hank had been arrested for domestic violence back in 2010 and been diverted from the formal court system but had received a demotion or significant suspension, he would not have the ‘Teflon’ label that he has today. If he had to start to establish himself after court-mandated counseling and eventually returned to the rank of captain or deputy chief based on merit, he would still have the respect of the rank-and-file.
This ‘treatment’ could also apply to drunk drivers who were in ‘favor’ and were FORGIVEN. A wonderful example of how things were once handled was when a now-retired sergeant was accused of ‘cheating’ during the promotional process for lieutenant back in the late 1990’s. He was allegedly getting assistance from his captain (exaggerated performance evaluations) and other claims that could not be substantiated. The investigation made the ‘news’ after at least two individuals were demoted. I had recruited the sergeant back around 1986 so I paid attention to his ‘rehabilitation’ story. He was disciplined (forgiven) and allowed to move ahead. If I remember correctly, he got promoted at least twice and may have actually made it all the way back up to captain. My own false mentors at Metro were trying to ‘fix’ me and pointed to the story of this sergeant as one that I could emulate. I guess I was viewed as an incorrigible/unforgivable insubordinate — but you’re supposed to violate a direct order to be insubordinate. I didn’t — I just crossed the street!
I had my chance at ‘vertical’ FORGIVENESS and it was delivered to me by email. Subsequent to my termination by Sheriff Gillespie (and after I had already moved to Michigan to teach at a University) I was offered the following ‘Gillespie Gag Order’ which should attract some attention. What a warped and unusual priority Metro placed on silencing me (they do the same with others). The offer speaks for itself.
Gillespie Gag Order
Sent: Thursday, January 19, 2012 11:55 AM
Subject: Norm Jahn Arbitration
- The Department is willing to resolve this matter under the following terms:
The Department will remove the sustained internal truthfulness finding from Jahn’s record. The external truthfulness (non-terminable) regarding his communication with his Captain and Lieutenant will remain.
- The Adjudication of Complaint will be revised accordingly. Because Jahn would be resigning, the AOC would include language to the effect, “Based upon the foregoing, you would have been disciplined as set forth in the Disciplinary Decision Guide. However, you retired on [DATE].” There would be no level of discipline on the AOC and it would just be placed in his file, along with the other 40 hour insubordination AOC.
- Jahn will submit a back-dated/retroactive letter of resignation for November 17, 2011 which will go in his personnel file.
- Jahn agrees to never apply for any position within LVMPD.
- Jahn will cease any and all contact via any means with members of the Department, unless he is a victim of a crime and/or requires police response.
- Full release of all claims, complaints, grievances, etc.
- Jahn agrees not to make any disparaging remarks about the Department or its employees/officers and, if such a covenant is breached, the original AOC with the sustained internal truthfulness finding and termination recommendation will be placed in his file.
- Jahn agrees to not interfere with law enforcement operations in Las Vegas, be it through other officers or security officers at the hotels and casinos.
Crazy as it sounds, I still take a great sense of pride in being ‘vertically’ UNFORGIVEN. But I sure wish I had those retirement credentials!