Policies v. Principles — Comments from a Former Deputy

One of my former deputies wrote a research paper for his college course on ethics training. He included a section about his experiences with the Sheriff’s Office that I thought you might enjoy reading. His comments are about our philosophy regarding policies:

I had the privilege of working for a great sheriff in Dorchester County, SC. When I started working for Sheriff Ray Nash, I had just transfered from a much larger agency where everything was controlled by the policy manual and if you made a decision that a person of higher rank did not approve of, they would pour over the policy manual, which was in excess of three inches thick, to see if they could find something to punish you for “ethically.”

My Dorchester County policy manual (was so thin it) looked like a church bulletin —  it was less than 20 pages long and in paperback. Sheriff Nash’s philosophy was to give his employees a few concrete moral lessons and then take those lessons out into the field and make our decisions not based on just a policy manual and the law, but on ethical principles. His belief was if you make ethically and morally correct decisions then those decisions will (also) be legally correct and will not violate policy. It is a philosophy I still carry with me today…

Richard Vaughn

I appreciate his understanding of this important topic. Policies are important and you have to have them in a high liability profession like law enforcement. But I also believe that it is impossible to write a policy for every conceivable situation an officer might find himself in. Some of us have attempted to do so and that’s why our policy manuals look like an encyclopedia volume!

I much prefer to focus on principles. Because I believe it is possible to articulate a much smaller number of ethical principles that will guide officers through a myriad of situations that they might find themselves in. That’s what Police Dynamics is — my effort to articulate these principles that govern our relationships and the profession of law enforcement.

Sheriff Ray

1 thought on “Policies v. Principles — Comments from a Former Deputy

  1. Sheriff Ray,

    I love the comments of Richard Vaughn in this article. I wish I could have a policy manual as small as yours!

    Sgt. Lane Magill

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