The world can get confusing sometimes. The line between right and wrong can get blurred. What’s right one day can change the next? Our society lives on top of a layer of shifting sands. Some of the things we once took as bedrock principles, have over time begun to look out dated and inappropriate. Our language is a clear example of the phenomena. Words that were once a standard part of the national vocabulary have morphed over time, their meanings, taking on negative connotations. To be sure; some of the words and phrases that we once used very easily have come to be seen, and in many cases rightly so, as offensive. My family background is Italian and Irish with a bit of Native American. So I grew up hearing descriptive terms that were less than flattering to me and my family, as have most of us. I didn’t like those terms and words, who would. Over time the use of these offensive descriptors has diminished, so I understand how words can hurt and I am glad that some things have changed. It’s a matter of respect. If someone doesn’t like to be called a particular name then don’t use it. We can all show some decency in this area without lessening our freedoms and we can all adapt to a changing world. 

It is in the midst of these changes that one thing really can’t get lost, no matter how much society as a whole changes. That is the need for integrity, especially in all public service contexts. We all make mistakes,  we all make decisions that can be judged later as inappropriate, but knowingly wrongful actions on the part of anyone is bad for everyone. 

In the world of law enforcement there are over 500,000 men and women who have sworn the oath to uphold the law of the land. The vast majority of these men and women are great examples of integrity. Unfortunately there will always be those who will stumble along the way. As members of the larger community I don’t think we should point a finger at the profession as a whole, or take any joy in the downfall of individuals. 

That undermines the integrity of all the other officers that go their entire career without a problem. And if we think about it a little deeper we will see that the failures of a few mortal men and women also points a finger back at the bigger society. We can all make arguments for or against the changes in our country over the years, but it seems clear that we have allowed the slow dissolution of the clear, bright lines of right and wrong. 

This is not to excuse those who wear the badge of wrongdoing. It is used to turn the mirror on the rest of us and have us look inward. Where do we see integrity as it fits into the everyday world in which we live? After all none of us or anyone we know steals cable TV, or shaves their taxes, or keeps money they found in the street, or celebrates when they get over on a retailers mistake, cheats on a test, or goes along with the million other things that can slip by under the wire, right?

Integrity is very important to all of us. It is part of the unspoken contract that allows for a civil society. When we point fingers at those who fall, but ignore our own failings, are we any better than those who got caught? 

Teaching the next generation of police officers the absolute need to maintain their integrity is essential. We must understand though that teaching those lessons begins long before anyone raises their hand and takes an oath. It starts in our homes and schools when the innocents among us look for guidance. It begins with each one of us choosing to do the right thing no matter how difficult the situation or more importantly how easy it would be to get over. 

The last thing that comes to mind when I think of the news of the day and the disappointment that many people feel when those we trust go the wrong way is to try and remember that a persons life is not made up of one incident. As human beings we are all capable of making the wrong choices. Let’s hope that we can all learn from those whose mistakes have become public knowledge and dedicate ourselves to ensuring we maintain our own personal integrity.

Joseph Pangaro is a retired Police Lieutenant from the Township of Ocean, Monmouth County, NJ. During his 27 year career, Lieutenant Pangaro served in many capacities. After nine years as a patrol officer, he was transferred to the detective bureau where he served for 12 years. During that time, Lt. Pangaro prepared and executed hundreds of search warrants, testified in numerous high profile criminal court cases and excelled in the area of criminal investigations including; homicides, sexual assaults, drug crimes, fraud, burglary, juvenile investigations, economic crimes, vice crimes, quality of life crimes and other crimes of violence. He has acted in undercover capacities and worked with numerous local, county, state, and federal agencies. Joseph Pangaro served as a sergeant in the detective bureau, supervising a group of highly motivated and active officers in the unit as well as the “Quality of Life” unit.