What do you think would be the right thing for Officer Colon to do in this situation? Based upon what moral principles did you arrive at this conclusion? A police officer drinks too much at a...
Officer Richard Colon, as described in the preface to the question, is a rookie, or first-year officer, on the police department of a major metropolitan city. As a rookie, he is highly susceptible to pressure from his superiors to fit in to the culture of the organization for which he works. In the scenario provided--Officer Colon is witness to suspicious activity that turns out to involve a superior and probably revered officer--the moral quandary is clear but more than a little complicated for Officer Colon.
Serving in any police department can, under certain circumstances, prove potentially deadly for officers who find themselves confronted by tradition and unwritten codes of conduct that require such individuals to back each other up both procedurally and morally. Filing a complaint against a fellow officer or testifying during a criminal proceeding against a fellow officer can result in the "honest" officer being ostracized within his or her department. Ostracism under such circumstances is more serious than simply being ignored or treated with open contempt by one's coworkers. It can, in fact, prove fatal. Police officers who are ostracized within their departments will often find the back-up they request under especially stressful situations--situations involving a risk to one's life--ignored or treated contemptuously (i.e., fellow officers will be slow to respond to the request for back-up by an officer they hold in contempt).
This, then, is the context in which one must assess the situation of Officer Colon in the scenario provided. He is witness to gross misconduct on the part of a high-ranking officer, Captain Brady, as well as by another high-ranking officer, Lieutenant DiLacqua--the latter serving in a direct supervisory role over Officer Colon. In the context of an academic exercise, choosing the correct course of action in this case is very simple. Officer Colon must act ethically, meaning he must write and submit up his chain of command a report accurately and thoroughly conveying everything he observed since he first witnessed the damaged vehicle being driven by a yet-to-be-identified individual. Officer Colon's first and most important responsibility is to the city he serves--not to unethical colleagues or superiors. The scenario provided makes very clear that Captain Brady was acting unprofessionally and, more importantly, illegally. He was unprofessional in allowing himself to become publicly intoxicated. He transgressed the laws by driving under that condition and by leaving the scene of the accident in which he was involved. Even had Brady been an innocent party to the traffic accident, he was legally required to remain at the scene of the accident and ensure that the other driver had his name, address and insurance information.
Officer Colon must, as noted, report, in writing, exactly what he observed, and how he reacted to the situation. That report must include the actions of the other officers involved, including his supervisor, Lieutenant DiLacqua, who acted criminally and unethically, as well as Captain Brady. This is both a legal and moral imperative.
The "moral principles" that are at issue here involve simple human decency as well as the requirement and expectation of law enforcement officers that they act in the interest of the communities they serve and in accordance with the laws they are sworn to enforce. No civilization can survive that chooses to endure the subversion of its laws by those sworn to enforce those laws. When prospective law enforcement officers are training for their careers in law enforcement, the centrality of the mission of enforcing the laws of the jurisdiction in which they will function is strongly emphasized. Upon graduation from a law enforcement academy and before beginning their first patrols on city streets, they take an oath to protect the communities they will serve and to enforce laws impartially and professionally. Officer Colon's responsibilities were clear. That he was placed in an untenable situation speaks ill of his superiors.