On February 15 the OC Register reported that “A Fullerton officer suspected of stealing $24,000 from a lender and an auto buyer while off-duty is facing grand theft and embezzlement charges”. According to the story, an officer on the force took out a $ 12,000 loan with his truck as collateral. The officer later sold the truck to a wholesaler without divulging that it was used to secure a loan. After the officer made only two payments on the loan, the lender repossessed the truck from the new buyer, who did not recover his investment in the vehicle.
Although none of this financial malfeasance was alleged to have taken place while the officer was on duty, these actions obviously do not reflect well on the Fullerton Police Department. Fullerton Police News, the online promotional site of the FPD, quotes Chief Dan Hughes: “For if an officer violates public trust, they not only bring shame upon themselves,…They tarnish the badge for all of law enforcement… this department will never allow someone who betrays the oath of the badge to ever have the privilege of wearing it again.”
Does off-duty criminal behavior constitute a “betrayal of the oath to the badge”? We may never know. The Register reports that the officer in question will meet with Chief Hughes next month, but disciplinary actions against officers are kept secret from the public they are sworn to serve. Even the admission by a lawyer representing the City of Fullerton that two former officers on trial in the Kelly Thomas beating had been fired was an unusual revelation by a municipality, and one that is technically not legal under the Peace Officers Bill of Rights.
It is disappointing that despite claims of reform by Chief Hughes, allegations of behavior like that described above persist. What will it take to ensure that our police department’s officers maintain ethical standards at least a high as those of the populace they serve, in or out of uniform?