In the past, STATter911.com has warned about trends in news stories that end up becoming issues for fire departments across the country. Most of these have been about budget concerns like claims of excessive overtime, sick leave and shift swapping. There have been clear patterns in how those stories evolved in multiple jurisdictions across the country. Often they’ve hurt the image of firefighters (even when there has been no wrongdoing). Here’s my latest warning. Is a free cup of coffee the next one to bring unwanted scrutiny to your department?
It’s happening around Baltimore, Maryland right now. The Baltimore Sun is asking questions about policies for public safety employees accepting free food and drink. This began with the story we brought you from Harford County, Maryland where the Bel Air VFC took strong disciplinary action against some of its members who complained on Facebook that the local Sonic provided discounted meals for police officers and the military but not firefighters.
This has the Sun’s reporters asking other local jurisdictions, and ethics experts, some tough questions on the subject. Here’s an excerpt from yesterday’s article by Colin Campbell:
Such freebies are as old as jokes about police and doughnuts — and cups of complimentary coffee. Many restaurants and convenience stores give uniformed police and firefighters discounts to thank them for their service — and even encourage them to frequent the establishments and provide unofficial security. Some have store policies that guarantee the perks.
But police and fire supervisors say public servants must walk a narrow line to ensure that such courtesies don’t create an expectation of preferential treatment on either side.
The Harford County Sheriff’s Office, meanwhile, does not allow its members to accept discounts, nor does the Maryland State Police, and at least two of the three municipal police departments in Harford set some standards regarding acceptance of discounts or gratuities.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police has a clearly stated policy in the Abuse of Law Enforcement Powers or Position section of its Model Policy On Standards of Conduct:
“Officers shall not use their authority or position for financial gain, for obtaining or granting privileges or favors not otherwise available to them or others except as a private citizen, to avoid the consequences of illegal acts for themselves or for others, to barter, solicit, or accept any goods or services (to include, gratuities, gifts, discounts, rewards, loans, or fees) whether for the officer or for another.”
It also states: “Officers shall report any unsolicited gifts, gratuities or other items of value that they receive and shall provide a full report of the circumstances of their receipt if directed.”
I am not posting this to tell you what your policy should be. My point in sharing articles like the Bel Air VFC incident is to get you thinking how this may relate to your department, whether it’s a policy on social media, asking for a fire department discount, or dealing with the news media.
My advice for fire service leaders on this topic is the same as for the budget related stories I previously wrote about:
- Get your house in order now before a reporter starts asking questions
- Take corrective action on abuses you uncover
- If you believe any problems you discovered are likely to become news consider breaking the news yourself
- Be able to publicly defend your policies
- If you are unable to publicly defend it change the policy
Also on STATter911 …
- Maryland fire company investigates firefighters over Facebook posts. Bel Air VFC members upset over lack of discount by fast food place. – June 5, 2012
- Suspensions & demotions of ‘top responders’ upheld after Bel Air, MD Sonic Facebook shakedown. Termination of one firefighter pending. – June 26, 2012
- UPDATE: Bel Air, MD chief suspends, demotes & recommends dismissal in Facebook burger shakedown. So far, a textbook example on how to handle bad news. Read department statement. – June 6, 2012
- Video, pictures, fireground audio: Townhouse fire in Harford County, Maryland. – January 8, 2012
Powered by Facebook Comments