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

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The Pressure of Law Enforcement

The Dead Sea is the lowest spot on the face of Planet Earth at an elevation 1300 feet BELOW sea level. So, on average, it has the highest atmospheric pressure of any place on Earth. This gave me a perfect opportunity to talk about the high stress of the law enforcement profession. Police officers and their families are under some unique types of pressure. Police officers routinely say that the part of their job that stresses them the most is not what most people think…

Responsibility Has to Be Personal — Dave Ramsey

I’m back from the Holy Land and can’t wait to share some of my adventures. My luggage had such a good time that it decided to stay…! So, I can’t post any of the video blogs I made while I was there just yet because the cables to connect the video camera to the computer are in the bags…

But I had a pleasant surprise when I got back to Afghanistan. A dear friend of mine had sent me the book More Than Enough by Dave Ramsey, the popular financial guru. I’ve enjoyed listening to Dave on the radio for years but had never read any of his books. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this book is more about character than it is finances!

In one section entitled Responsibility Has to Be Personal, Dave has this to say:

Albert Schweitzer said it well: “Man must cease attributing his problems to his environment, and learn again to exercise his will, his personal responsibility.” Enough whining, I am sick of whining, whining by every special interest group, whining against our upbringing, whining against the mean old boss, whining against your pastor, whining about your spouse – especially if it’s an ex-spouse – just whining. Whining is a sign of a lack of character on your part. If you don’t like the way something is, do something about it. Finger-pointing, blame shifting and whining, while they appear to have merit, are not doing something. There is tremendous energy in positive activity and in providing a solution. That activity, while it may not solve the problem, moves you from being self-centered to being solution-centered. (emphasis added)

This principle is in keeping with the Dynamic of Restoration which identifies five progressive steps on the Path of Destruction. When someone steps out from under authority and develops anIndependent Spirit, the walls of hostility go up and they begin to deflect the truth by assigning blame. This leads to a Wounded Spirit where the person’s feelings get hurt so easily.

We see this all the time in law enforcement: “He got a new winter jacket and I didn’t get one…” “She got a new patrol car assigned and I was next in line for a new car…” “He got the promotion and everybody knows I should have been the one to get it…” And on and on and on. A Wounded Spirit can lead to bitterness, which is even more destructive.

We will explore these principles in more detail in future blogs. In the meantime, keep up the good character…!

Sheriff Ray

Three Root Character Flaws

You can trace instances of police misconduct back to one of the three root character flaws – anger, lust, and greed. An officer acting out from under authority will often refuse to take personal responsibility for their conflicts and blame other people or other circumstances for their own character failures.

The Right to Get Angry

Unresolved anger is one of the most prevalent problems in law enforcement. It can lead to all sorts of ethical failures by our police, including abuse of force, unlawful arrests, and a myriad of other constitutional and ethical violations. Giving up a right to get angry is power under control and shows genuine meekness – a powerful character quality for any professional police officer to possess.

Forgiveness v. Pardon

In the earlier video post called The Cup of Bitterness, I explored the problem of bitterness and unresolved anger and it’s effect on internal relationships in law enforcement. Forgiveness is the key to restoring relationships that are strained by bitterness, plus it frees you from the cancer that eats away at your own heart.
Our focus on building trust based relationships, both inside the police agency and outside in the community, adds a dimension of importance to the character quality of forgiveness. But it is often confused with granting a pardon. Forgiveness does not excuse consequences. In this video, I explore the difference between forgiveness and pardon.