Now at last we are getting to some of the more advanced principles contained in Series 2 of the  Police Dynamics training program with the Dynamic of Discretion.

Note: This is actually the second video in the Dynamic of Discretion series. The first video had such poor audio quality due to wind and surf noise coming from the beach (at the Dreams Puerta Aventuras Resort in Riviera Maya) that I hesitated to even post it. But for those of you are dedicated Police Dynamics fans, I have included it below. This video stands on its own, but if you want to watch them in order, watch the second one first…

One of the 49 character qualities from Character First is called Discretion. Character First defines it this way:

Recognizing and avoiding words, actions, or attitudes that could bring undesirable consequences

However, that is not the use of the word that I want to look at here. I’m talking about police discretion. So for our purposes, let’s define it this way:

The just exercise of executive authority

Have you noticed that much of our discretionary authority as law enforcement officers has been severely limited over the years? Either through legislation or judicial decisions, some of your authority to make discretionary decisions in the field has been taken away. The reason is that we have made so many discretionary choices based on things other than character: what was their last name, how pretty was she, was it getting near the end of a shift, etc.

When I first went through the Criminal Justice Academy in South Carolina (way back in 1982…!), I remember one instructor telling us that we should have already made up our minds about whether we were going to write someone a ticket before we ever approached the car. The idea was to be sure that we were treating everyone as fairly as possible, but this is a bad principle to apply.

First of all, fairness doesn’t really exist in the real world. Fairness is not our goal, justice is. We work for the Criminal Justice System, not the Criminal Fairness System!

Think about it. Suppose I have two different cars run through the same red light. The first driver is an arrogant punk who disrespects the law and my lawful authority. I am probably going to write him a ticket. The second driver turns out to be a husband rushing his wife who is in labor to the hospital. I am not likely to give him a ticket. This is an exercise of discretionary authority and it is entirely appropriate for us to make these kinds of decisions in the field.

Let’s look at another example. Suppose you clock someone speeding. What enforcement options are available to you? The first option is to do nothing. Perhaps, for whatever reason, you decide to take no enforcement action whatsoever. That is a discretionary choice. A second option is to flick your blue lights on and off just to call the driver’s attention to the fact he was speeding. A third option is to pull them over and give the driver a verbal warning. A fourth option is to give them a written warning. A fifth is to write them a ticket, but for some lesser offense than the speeding itself. A sixth is to write them a ticket for the actual offense. And a seventh option is to write them a ticket for speeding, plus any other violations that you might find such as failure to wear a seatbelt or an equipment violation.

With something as simple as a speeding infraction, you have at least seven discretionary choices! So the question becomes, how do you choose among those options. The principle is this:

Discretion Maxim
Let the nature of the offense determine the range of enforcement options and let the character of the offender determine which option you choose

This is very similar to the Rule of Discipline we examined in the Dynamic of Discipline, part of the Dynamic Leadership series.

If the driver has a good attitude and appears to be genuinely repentant, you may choose to let them off lightly. On the other hand, if you stopped that arrogant punk I described earlier, you should choose a more severe option. There is nothing improper about this at all. In fact, it is just good police work. The proper exercise of your discretionary authority is perhaps one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal.

But it means you must be able to assess the person’s character quickly, something you do all the time on the streets anyway. In the next video, we will look at the Five Types of Offenders which will give you some additional factors to help make the character assessment.

Sheriff Ray Nash

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45 Responses to Dynamic of Discretion

  1. Barry Wood says:

    We need to get common sense back into law enforcement again. Real world will always conflict with theory.

    Barry Wood via LinkedIn

    • Sheriff Ray says:

      That’s absolutely the point! Common sense and discretion are essentially the same thing. But our discretion has been limited due to a lack of common sense and virtue. It’s time we reclaimed it by applying character based principles to the decision-making process…

      Sheriff Ray

  2. “”””””But our discretion has been limited due to a lack of common sense and virtue.””””

    By virtue you mean?

    Gwendolyn Hanan via LinkedIn

    • John Ward says:

      Common sense does not always equate with common practice

      John Ward via LinkedIn

    • Sheriff Ray says:


      By lack of virtue I mean lack of good character. Because some officers (certainly not all) have abused their discretionary authority in the past by making decisions not based on character, we find our discretion more and more limited by the courts, legislation, policy, or supervisory directive.

      The comments here are right on point. And another concern is that we don’t really train our officers on how to make discretionary choices, except perhaps in the use of deadly force…

      Sheriff Ray

      • So basically the statement;;;

        “”””Common sense and discretion are essentially the same thing. But our discretion has been limited due to a lack of common sense and virtue. It’s time we reclaimed it by applying character based principles to the decision-making process…””””””

        can be boiled down to;

        (A)”we all pay the price for the corruption and bad acts of one officer in the guise of restrictive management,(B) the solution to which is maintaining our own good character and utilizing it in decision making.

        IMO Applying character based principles to decision making processes is not a virtue, it’s just how most of us roll. It’s our core ethos. Virtues are way above that and less common.

        I have worked with a bad actor and while I wholeheartedly agree with part A, you lost me on part B. because none of the other officers ever stopped being of good character and continued to apply it to their decisions regardless of what the bad actor did or was doing. Even so, it had absolutely NO effect on preventing our being punished right along with the bad actor anyway. Even if you were at home on your day off when it occurred.

        IMO, the solution lies in punishing the bad actor and only the bad actor, with management so restrictive it removes 99.9% of choices leading to bad/corrupt actions. And letting them observe the benefits of choice as granted to those who act properly.

        Punishing everyone provides no role model or incentive examples for the bad actor and destroys the morale of the good guys.

        Gwendolyn Hanan via LinkedIn

        • Sheriff Ray says:


          I don’t think we are taking dissimilar positions. I absolutely agree that bad actors should be held accountable without punishing everyone else with restrictive policies. In fact, an argument could be made that that is exactly how we ended up with most of our policies! That is a leadership/management issue that definitely should be addressed.

          But I also assert that if we could improve the overall character of law enforcement (not to say that we are necessarily bad, because we aren’t, but there is always room to improve your character), that we would have fewer abuses and the courts and legislators would not feel compelled to limit our discretion. The additional benefit is greater trust within the community which, in the long run, results in greater freedom for the police to do their jobs. This is a point Sir Robert Peel made in one of his principles…

          Thanks for the dialog…!

          Sheriff Ray

          • Ray:

            OK, I’m much clearer on your point now. But I think the time when a person’s core values are formed happens many many years prior to their becoming an LEO. Attempting to change that core ethic so late in life, to a discernible degree, is not likely to succeed. If we want to improve the over all character of LE, shouldn’t the focus be on better candidate selection tools and methods??

            The focus in today’s candidate selection is geared towards weeding out the bad, all the tests work towards bringing out the negative attributes and then culling the candidates based on who possess the least of them. The MMPI (both versions) being a prime example. While that kind of testing is essential I think equal emphasis should be placed on finding candidates that possess the attributes that make them resilient to the usual pitfalls in police work.

            If I can test for desired attributes in dogs and horses based on the venues in which they will be used and so quite accurately and with consistent success, surely the same can be done for humans as well.? (((Especially since humans can speak, read and write.))))

            Posted by Gwendolyn Hanan via LinkedIn

  3. Mike Hanlen says:

    I found that discretion was often limited by a supervisor arriving on the scene and – because they did not have to do the work – they would order an arrest or a summons issued. I nipped that in the bud very easily. My reports reflected those facts and down the line those supervisors were called to court on their days off too. Strangely they started giving me more discretion..

    Mike Hanlen via LinkedIn

  4. David H says:

    The application of discretion has also seemed to become less common over time as the public’s response to police officers’ presence and performance of their duties has become more disdainful, less respectful, and less deferential to police authority. With more people becoming more belligerent, confrontational, derisive, verbally abusive, resistant, and combative, police officers are less inclined to handle folks with less punitive actions than arrest.

    David H via LinkedIn

  5. James Jones says:

    I have been on both ends of the question and in most cases the officer does not have to call a supervisor to the scene unless their is a felony involved.In that case there are strick guidlines that have to be followed.In the other cases the officer often wants to cut corners and pass the buck to a supervisor. My officers understood this and often used their own discretion and paid the price if their coner cutting came back and bit them in the ass. No one likes paper work not even supervisors,so we tried to teach the younger officers correct ways to cut corners so there would not be a lot more paper work later like a statement of charges.

    James Jones via LinkedIn

  6. Jim Bragg says:

    We must remember that ‘we’ are not responsible for punishing those that violate the law. Our main purpose is to prevent and reduce crime and take those who violate the law into custody to be dealt with by the courts. Now I have always felt that reducing crime or illegal activities is paramount and harsh punishment is not always necessary or proper. This is why while on traffic I only issued one in five traffic stops a ticket at most. Quite often I used my discretion that a verbal rebuke is all that is required. Most people are good and wish to avoid being embarrassed. Most often a word did more good than the simple issuing of a ticket that costs them hard earned money. Same for minor crimes like petty theft, especially if it had children involved. It was better to scare them with tales of what ‘could’ happen rather than taking them into custody and them finding out that nothing much happens at all!

    Posted by Jim Bragg via LinkedIn

  7. Sheriff Ray says:


    You are again making some very thought-provoking points. And you’re right. Modern day developmental psychologists typically maintain that a person’s character and values are set by age 7. However, I have been challenging that assumption for many years. My own experience, as well as that of countless others, points out that it is a false assumption and that character is, in fact, trainable, even as adults.

    Despite what these psychologists say, I am quite confident that my own character is much better than it was when I was 7 years old. I remember doing lots of things then that I would find repulsive to my values now. And I am also confident that my character, as well as that of my deputies and students, has improved significantly since we started focusing on it in the workplace through training programs like Police Dynamics and Character First.

    That being said, I am in complete agreement with you that we should be more concerned with hiring people of good character than skills and experience. As the maxim goes, “Hire for character. Train for skills.”

    Think about the extensive selection process that we often employ to screen our applicants. We do background checks, credit histories, driving records, psychological exams, polygraphs, interview boards, etc. Why? As you said, it is to weed out the bad apples.

    But there is this prevailing view that character is not trainable. So, if you are a person of bad character and, despite our best efforts, you manage to slip past our grid, there is this attitude that now we are just stuck with you until you screw something up bad enough for us to kick you out!

    The problem with comparing people to animals is that animals do not really have what we can call character. They have “characteristics”, attitudes, instincts, and perhaps skills. But they do not make conscious decisions about character, such as to be deceptive. While a person can be very skilled at hiding their true character and motivations. It takes putting them under pressure before we really see what they are made of. That’s why our selection processes often fail. People are so good at only showing us those aspects of their personality that they want us to see.

    Keep up the dialog and keep up the good character…!


  8. Jim Bragg says:

    We must remember that ‘we’ are not responsible for punishing those that violate the law. Our main purpose is to prevent and reduce crime and take those who violate the law into custody to be dealt with by the courts. Now I have always felt that reducing crime or illegal activities is paramount and harsh punishment is not always necessary or proper. This is why while on traffic I only issued one in five traffic stops a ticket at most. Quite often I used my discretion that a verbal rebuke is all that is required. Most people are good and wish to avoid being embarrassed. Most often a word did more good than the simple issuing of a ticket that costs them hard earned money. Same for minor crimes like petty theft, especially if it had children involved. It was better to scare them with tales of what ‘could’ happen rather than taking them into custody and them finding out that nothing much happens at all!

    Jim Bragg via LinkedIn

  9. Garry Dobson says:

    What an unusual conversation! It seems to be moving in different directions at once. For what it is worth I would suggest that the issue is not one of character we are looking for in policing but behaviour. Frankly, no one really knows what you think or believe, only what you tell them and do. It is in this area that it becomes critical. On a personal level did I agree with every piece of legislation that I had to apply – of course not. Did I behave in a way that my profession required me in applying that same legislation – yes I did.

    Policies, procedures and systems in policing should be aimed at behaviours and I think for the most part are. They can never be successful if they are aimed attitudes and character. A small example, how many people would wear a seatbelt today if it wasn’t mandatory? Yet we don’t think twice about it because it is.

    To use the animal example, I would suggest you are teaching them to respond in a determined set of circumstances or if you like behaviour, not attitude. They are still animals and when put to flight will in most circumstances react instinctively in accordance with their character (ie. dogs bite, horses kick). Humans have the advantage of having more highly developed trained responses and the ability to adjust.

    Look forward to the conversation unfolding further……

    Garry Dobson via LinkedIn

    • Garry, the convo IS covering multiple topics at once but not in opposing directions in my opinion. I’m still working on my questions and opinions of Character and when it’s changeable and what it’s for that I want to hash out with Ray. (if I may use your first name).

      In the mean time your assessment of what we do when we test horses and K9 for various uses, is not the “old style” that your description above evokes. Not all horses kick not all dogs bite… they are as varied in temperament as humans are. You have mean ones, lazy ones, sneaky ones, pranksters, brave, timid, honest and even the equivalent of sociopaths.

      Current methods include finding out which of these types the animal is utilizing various testing methods. And that is only a small part the whole process. One has to possess a base knowledge of behaviors for each species in order to know what they are seeing when they apply the testing.

      Previous K9 selection methods were to smack the dog around and if he gets pissed and snaps or bites that’s a good one. Well that produced an unreliable fear biter that could become a hindrance rather than an aid, in a bad situation and which was hard to get to do scent and track work reliably. I saw a little of that style still in use when I started K9 in 1996.

      At the same time you had the USAR/FEMA K9s that had to find scent as well, and be reliable enough to do it from a distance up on the rubble and work among other dogs off lead and distant, etc, the point being their job skills were equal to or harder than a LEK9s. The selection process was very reliable for the finding the dogs that possessed the attributes to succeed at USAR and was nothing like what LE was using, but was common among civilian working and competition dogs as well as USAR.

      Some LEAs have adapted these tests and so they are known in all the venues now. All this occurred with horses too and at almost a parallel time line.

      It would take hours just give a index of the methods and what they look for and how it’s evaluated. But these tests DO produce more reliable results in selecting the animal best suited and most likely to succeed to the end of it’s career, than the current LEO selection procedures do in finding the human most likely to be a good officer their entire career.

      That is the basis of my suggestion that if it is possible to consistently pick successful dogs and horses for any number of particular venues when there is no means of spoken communication to do so, surely there is a way to do so with humans when you have the tremendous advantage of language. I am not comparing humans to animals. I am comparing selection processes.

      In these animal testing session we do not test for negative attributes to determine the dogs we will *cull*. We test for the attributes we know indicate the greatest likelihood of success and we *select* those dogs. The basis of the current LEO “selection” process is just the opposite… the emphasis is placed on weeding out the bad, testing for the bad, and then culling the worst of the bad, and what’s left is the “selection” . I purposefully do not say “the officers selected” because they were not selected. What the culling method gives you is the “least worst” left of the group.. The USAR method gives you the best in the group..

      That is the ground floor of my premise that character building will not be needed if the selection process can define the attributes and develop tests to see who has the attributes that make a “good for 30 years” officer.. Gotta go now, need to feed the dogs or get culled as an owner!!!…..

      Gwendolyn Hanan via LinkedIn

      • Garry Dobson says:

        Hi Gwendolyn,
        You probably told me a whole lot more about K9s than I wanted to know but the thrust of my post was not about the dogs but about the issue of behaviour versus “character” or “attitude”.

        The issues around selection and education of police officers I would assert is a lot more complex than a perspective that the least bad person is selected. In fact here in my home state in Australia we have a rigorous process that works on a combination of aptitude, good repute, education standard and assessment. Once offered a place with our university partner as a student you are subjected to a continuous 9 month assessment process that involves practical, theoretical and intellectual and physical standards before being offered a probationary (rookie) position. Then you are subjected to a further year of assessment on all of those levels in the field and by university lecturers before being afforded the opportunity of permanency.

        The challenge is to develop a well grounded, all purpose professional police officer who can meet the challenges of a wide range of functions from day 1. Whilst training, as opposed to education, is an important part of vocational skill development it is the educational function that propels both the officer and profession forward.

        Whilst not wishing to take anything away from a subject you obviously love, I can’t agree with a proposition that training dogs compares with the education and development of police officers.


        Garry Dobson via LinkedIn

        • Sheriff Ray says:


          You’re right. This HAS been an interesting conversation!

          My issue with behavior vs. character is that behavior flows from character and is the manifestation of someone’s heart, motivation, values, etc. The definition I have been using for character in Police Dynamics training is: “the inward motivation to do what’s right, regardless of the circumstances… and regardless of the costs.”

          So, behavior, while much easier to regulate through policy, rules, laws, etc. and certainly much easier to observe than character, is not the most reliable indicator of future behavior. Character is.

          As you pointed out in your post, fear of punishment can influence behavior, but does not necessarily impact character. My point is that if we focus on strengthening character so that our officers’ attitudes and motivations actually undergo a change for the better, there will be less need for restrictive policies and limits on discretion. Not to say that one replaces the other. They should evolve in tandem. But without the character component, we are faced with making discretionary decisions based solely on the behavior. In which case we would have to treat everybody exactly the same if they committed the same violation, whether it be a violation of the law or one of policy.

          In other words, we would look at only the behavior, not the attitude or circumstances. To go back to my traffic stop for running a red light scenario I covered in the video, we would treat the brash teenager who was disrespectful to our authority and to the law and the husband rushing his wife to the hospital exactly the same. We make these types of discretionary choices all the time, and hopefully for the right reasons. My goal in articulating the Dynamic of Discretion is a to give officers a tool to use at arriving at good discretionary choices by including the character component.

          What you have identified by distinguishing behavior from character is the fundamental difference between ethics and character. Ethics deals with rules of behavior — you do this but don’t do that. While character takes ethics to a deeper level by discerning the motivations of the heart. A dangerous place to go, as you have mentioned, because it requires a greater understanding of human behavior and motivation. There are a couple of training videos on the Police Dynamics site that address this distinction that you might find interesting:


          The Difference Between Character and Ethics:

          Take a look and let me know what you think….

        • Gary,
          You state “”””I can’t agree with a proposition that training dogs compares with the education and development of police officers. “””

          I did everything I could, including stating “”””I am not comparing humans to animals. I am comparing selection processes. “”” to make clear I do not consider animals and humans to be the same thing. Also, I was not discussing training so much as SELECTION, though of course the two will be intertwined before the finished product is put on the street.

          So let’s do this;
          Here is a description of the testing processes I described but I have removed any connection to animals or humans.

          In any testing format when the test is geared to selecting for the negative, then evaluating the results based on the most negative traits possessed, you then have to establish the cut off point for negatives possessed. You are basing selection on how bad something must be before you will not accept it. Those having more negatives than allowed, are removed. What remains is the product your selection process produced. If your test is valid you will never have a product free of negatives, there for the products derived in this process are simply the least worst and you did not actively select them, your active selection was for the products you removed. All you know about the product produced by this method is the level of it’s bad attributes, you know nothing about how it might perform in any given situation.

          When you test for the attributes you know produce the results you want and then select products based on their possessing those traits, you are actively selecting your product based on what you find essential. An added bonus to this method is that out of any group tested you can clearly decide none qualify and seek more products to test. That is a VERY important factor in the selection process and is not an option in the negative to cull processes unless you set the amount of acceptable negatives to zero.. With using the selecting for desired traits process you of course can also select based on desired traits when they are present in a group of tested products.. Additionally you know a great deal about the product derived from this type of selection in that you have a reasonably reliable idea of how successful the product will be for the intended use and a reasonably clear picture of how it is likely to perform in any given situation.


          The training you mention is quite thorough and very much like what we have here; police academy, then field training, then probation. The question and points I am concerned with and which my posts address are how the attendees are selected. You could put a candidate through a 6 year PhD program and 4 years field training, but if they lack the trait that prevents succumbing to temptations such as lying under oath to win a case, all you will have is an officer with a PhD that lies under oath.
          Why is it some officers, in the same department, under the same conditions, exposed to the same temptations, never become corrupt and others do? What is the difference between the two officers? Define those factors, based on what the non corrupted officer has that the corrupted one does not, and develop testing that shows who possess those traits that are most likely to prevent corruption. Again the emphasis here is to find the positive factors, what the non corrupt officer has, as opposed to what the corrupted officer has.

          Posted by Gwendolyn Hanan via LinkedIn

          • Garry Dobson says:

            Hi Gwendolyn

            Sorry if I struck a nerve.

            First and foremost police officer selection over here is based on a complex series of factors that includes psychometric testing, education, previous performance, aptitude, physical traits, motivation and practical capacity. Above all else it is an education program that equips our personnel with the capacity to go beyond rote performance and move into developing flexible practices that use intellect and judgement to respond. My point here is that education and training are two vastly different propositions. The notion that all this is done from the perspective of culling the worst out is in my opinion and experience as a previous Commander of Education and Training in one of the worlds largest police forces incorrect. Our education programs here are designed to get all of those who have the necessary capability and potential through the program.

            I am unfamiliar with a trait that makes an individual succumb to illegal behaviour. I am familiar with individuals who make decisions to engage in such behaviour but that in my view is not a trait. My understanding of a trait is that it is something that is imprinted in your DNA and cannot be removed. What you can do is train the individual to respond in a way that will counter their natural tendency. An example might be the fight or flight dilemma. I’m sure many police (myself included) would prefer not to engage in violent confrontation but our oath of office and training all work together to ensure we do just that when required. Now should we select people who have the trait of “fight” rather than “flight” or should we apply a range of education and training strategies that will give us confidence they will “fight” when required.

            So then what is the difference between the two officers in your example…..well in my view one of them is a crook. Interestingly, having sat down with a number of corrupt officers over the years the one thing they have all had in common was the ability to provide an excuse for what they did. In the end it all added up to greed and getting something for nothing. It was all about behaviour.

            Take care.

            Posted by Garry Dobson via LinkedIn

      • Sheriff Ray says:


        You bring an interesting perspective to this whole conversation. And I have to say that this has been THE most interesting and engaging discussion I have had in the two years or so that I have been producing training videos for the Police Dynamics site. I shouldn’t be too surprised, however. The Dynamic of Discretion tends to be one of the most controversial dynamics that I present in the whole Police Dynamics program. That’s I don’t teach until we get to Series 2. It works much better when I have been able to lay the foundations of the principle in the Dynamics of Character, Authority, and Restoration.

        You are obviously an expert on animal behavior and have given me much food for thought. If there was in fact a litmus test for humans such as you have described for horses and canines, I would be all for it. But, the very reason that you have used to suggest that it would be EASIER to do with humans, I think makes it harder.

        Language (not just verbal, but all aspects of communication) can be used for good or evil. It can be used to expose the truth or cover up deception. My own experience after interviewing hundreds of prospective law enforcement officers is that interviews are very limited in what they can reveal about people. The same goes for other screening tests that we have tried over the years. People are so good at concealing the true motivations of the heart, that it is very hard to discern until they are put under pressure. Then they will either rise to the challenge and their character will shine. Or they will fall to temptation and fail miserably.

        There have been a number of attempts to come up with a character-based screening instrument for hiring, and they are certainly better than nothing. But there isn’t anything that compares to discerning someone’s heart while they are under pressure. That’s why I advocate applying the Dynamic of Discretion to situations in the field, when people will either be at their best or their worst.

        I would like to learn more about how you advocate the testing of animals and encourage you to pursue it further as well. Many of the principles of Police Dynamics find their roots in other disciplines. So, perhaps you will find the link to human behavior that will finally solve this dilemma…!

        Sheriff Ray

  10. Sheriff Ray says:

    I like Garry’s last point that the difference between the two officers is that one is a crook! Another way of saying that is the officer had bad character. His internal motivation to do right was overcome by the temptation of greed.

    You might find this video on the Highest Ideal of Law Enforcement helpful…

    Sheriff Ray

  11. Ray

    I have to admit at first I was under the impression you were selling another form of the usual… “buy my product and……” sales pitch for self improvement schemes. I have since changed my mind.

    First I am by no means an expert in animal behavior or even training for that matter. I am just lucky to have been exposed over a 40 year span, to some of the best trainers in the world (1**see below) and some of the worst as well, in horse and dog training both. I have been lucky enough to be able to apply what I learned in real life scenarios in both training and usage, allowing me to see the results first hand. It helps me in articulating the concepts I want to express about the selection and training processes I have seen.
    Second, these selection methods I describe are by no means fool proof and are of course subject to the abilities of the person administering them. A point I just realized I never brought up is that when using this kind of selection process, there might be a long wait to find the right animal. Handlers have learned to deal with this by starting the selection process for their next K9 or horse, right after the first one passes its certifications and becomes deployment ready..

    Anyway I have been trying to figure out how to articulate this question for 3 days and have gotten no where. So I’ll just ask it in raw form and go from there.
    When you said you don’t do now what you did at 7, I consider that to be a product of impulse control, not improved character. IMO You were able to learn AND were willing to accept societies rules for civilized behavior and stopped engaging in 7yo behaviors, then 8yo behavior and etc as you learned them. I think your character never changed.

    Here is why I think that;
    Lets say you have a 7 year old Ted Bundy and a 7 year old Brian Terry.

    Bundy’s character is that of a sociopath, it is what he is chemically (imbalanced) in his brain, it is his base character. It’s how he was born.

    Terry’s character is the usual 7yo boys character and his brain chemicals are not imbalanced, and that is his base character. It’s how he was born.

    Terry will learn as he grows what is acceptable behavior and he will accept it and practice it and be the master of his impulses. He will develop personality traits that make him brave, honest, hard working, ethical, fair and very resistant to the draws that lead to becoming corrupt. His character never changed and his personality traits were so well established they never ebbed and so never needed to be improved.

    Bundy will also learn what is acceptable by society but he will not accept it and instead learn to be an expert at concealing his unacceptable behaviors. That will be the core of his 2 part personality. He will be outwardly charming because he understands what society wants, and he will also be capable of abhorrent behavior when unobserved. His character never changed and his ability to keep one part of his personality traits secret allowed him to function in society and go undetected for 30+ years.

    Obviously current LEO selection methods would not have weeded Bundy out of the acceptable pool of candidates. Why not?? Because he didn’t gamble, he didn’t drink, he didn’t use drugs, he had no financial problem markers and no criminal history. If he could hide his being a sociopath as well as he did obviously he would have been able to prevent detection by the psych tests given.

    Do you think character improvement as you describe it would have helped or exposed him? Is there anything legal that would? IE a mandatory chemical straight jacket for life would render him harmless but it would never be legal.

    How would you screen for a Bundy? How would or even could you, improve a Bundy already on the force?

    1)**…. US, UK, China, West Indes, Curacao, South America and Canada.

    Gwendolyn Hanan via LinkedIn

    • Sheriff Ray says:

      Gwendolyn and Garry:

      I think we are to a degree splitting hairs on definitions (one of the reasons why definitions are so important). We are essentially saying some of the same things in slightly different ways.

      But I don’t think my decisions to do certain things when I was 7 and my choice not to do them now is based solely on impulse control. There were things that I did then because I did not hold doing the right thing in high enough esteem to overcome the point where my desires met a temptation.

      Now (I hope) my choices are better not just because I have learned to control my impulses (like the Bundy you described) but because I am now motivated to do the right thing.

      As you have rightly observed, a Bundy can control his behavior when he wants to. John Douglas, the founder of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, once gave me this example. Suppose a serial killer is stalking his victim. But just before he strikes, he notices a policeman on the corner. He can control his behavior even though his character is deeply flawed. Compare that to someone who would choose not to commit a crime even if he knew he could get away with it.

      In fact, I have often heard this definition of character: “what you would do when no one else is watching.” I like adding this last part: “and you don’t think you will get caught…”

      The comparison you made with Bundy and Terry is right on point. Bundy is skilled in deception so he keeps his real character hidden. He may very well be able to pass through a screening process if he has no prior record of wrongdoing (which simply means he hasn’t gotten caught). I doubt very seriously that any amount of character training is going to help him. However, he may be an extreme example that does not represent the norm of the typical police officer or applicant.

      Ultimately it boils down to a choice. Do I do right or do I do wrong? This internal motivation is what I am defining as character. Police Dynamics is full of definitions like this because of the need to be precise when talking about these issues.

      And I should also say that something as complex as human behavior can never be boiled down to some simplistic rules and definitions. However, I DO believe we can discern principles that determine outcomes. That’s what I’m after. A principled approach to law enforcement that helps us reap benefits and avoid consequences.

      Sheriff Ray

  12. Gary D,

    Cool. At least now we know there was a difference in definition of the same word, IE “traits”.
    The above post to Ray pretty much address what is covered in your most recent post. When you read it keep in mind I have a different definition of traits but it’s defined so shouldn’t be a problem contextually.

    I do have one question, why do you think you struck a nerve?

    Gwendolyn Hanan via LinkedIn

  13. Garry Dobson says:

    Hi Ray,

    I had a look at your videos and you put some interesting points forward.

    I don’t see character in quite the same way as you have portrayed nor ethics for that matter as I see ethics as a set of values rather than a standards based approach to action. In fact I see ethics as one of the values that makes up the character of a person and so the two are intertwined. If I understood your videos correctly, your example of being inattentive as being a character flaw I would say is more about behaviour than anything else.

    In a general sense you can’t chance a persons traits, you can change their behaviours and in the context of your video teaching someone to not check the computer and pay attention to the other person is a behavioural aspect not character based.

    I guess there are some fundamental building blocks of human essence that I am not qualified to talk about nor even understand that lay somewhere between what I am saying and perhaps what others are, but my starting point with all this was about whether we select people because of inherent traits/values/character or whether we select because they will most likely demonstrate the behaviours we are looking for. I suspect looking for traits is a bit like determining who is most likely susceptible to cancer based on genes and whether we should take action against everyone based on that susceptibility even though a large number may never get it. Poor example I know but the best I could come up with on short notice….

    Anyway this subject has been fun!


    Garry Dobson via LinkedIn

    • Sheriff Ray says:


      I think we are saying pretty much the same thing, but just using different words. For instance, let me explain more about the Attentiveness example.

      You’re right in that simply looking away from your computer is a behavior. But what is the motivation behind that behavior? Is it to just make the other person FEEL important, or is it an inward motivation to show that you really DO care. The first is behavior (or what I have chosen to call ethics) while the second is character. But they are very closely intertwined and it is sometimes hard to speak about the one without the other.

      And, admittedly, my definitions are not always the dictionary definition. I use a lot of what I call “working definitions” because they are designed to create distinctions of principles that we can observe within the workplace.

      Character is all about developing a sense of “otherness” — a sense that our behaviors and choices impact those around us in either a positive or negative way. Another way of stating the Golden Rule. That’s why I can say that a 7-year old’s character is not fully developed. He likely does not yet have a fully developed sense of otherness…

      And you’re right. This HAS been fun…!


  14. Jim Bragg says:

    We cannot ‘train’ our Officers into being completely honest. That just is not possible but even if it was then we would be doing our ‘charges’ a dis-service as what makes a good LEO is the ‘human’ element. We must try and look at the individuals background and judge his or her character as best we can based on out experience. Yes, people like Ted Bundy would certainly have made it through and no doubt others would have thought him the perfect cop. This was how good he was. Certain psycho tests would have probably have exposed him however, that depth of testing is not usually done on applicants. We must look at the individual as a whole and use our best judgement. One of the major faults today is that we are so concerned with ‘equality’ that we forget that LEO’s are not and never will be open to all people, nor should they. I am NOT saying we should base our selection based on skin color but we also should not lower the standards and pass those who are minimal just to try and make numbers even out. That also allows those in the majority to be able to access this position based on the lower standards. Aim to get the best of the best and the only way to do that is have the selection be based on applicants where the race, religion, and even the names, as they are sometimes indicative of race, should be removed. Base it ONLY on scores and psycho tests. Then standardize training.

    Posted by Jim Bragg via LinkedIn

  15. I often wondered about how the “Assessment Center” testing done for SGT and above would work for applicant screening. I never had any interest in those positions but I heard so many stories about how trying they were and how hard to pass. But those that did well and passed represented a broad spectrum of attribute types. IE book smart didn’t get you any further than street smart did, and affirmative action was not the problem it could have been. Is this type of testing for Rank common to other depts? And how as it done?

    Posted by Gwendolyn Hanan via LinkedIn

    • Sheriff Ray says:

      I used assessment centers extensively for promotions when I was a Police Chief and found them to be VERY enlightening and effective if they were structured and administered right. We put one officer under enough pressure that he lashed out physically on the role player and crashed him into the assessors’ desk…!

      I stopped using them when I became Sheriff and regret that I did. If I had to do it over, I think I would invest the time necessary to do them again. I never thought of doing it as part of the selection process. They are very time-consuming and staff-intensive, but certainly worth the effort…

      Sheriff Ray

    • Ms. Hanna

      You make some interesting points about what we should be testing for in recruitment in that you assert that we should test for qualities that would lead us to folks who would be more likely to be good ethical officers for their entire careers. I also think that we do tend to test for what we don’t want to some extent, without clearly defining those qualities that we do want. That being said, since we humans have spent the last fifteen thousand years or so choosing an selecting traits and abilities in dogs that we want them to have in order to assist us in accomplishing a wide variety of tasks,or to put more simply manipulating the canine genome to suit our purposes, then equating that process to selecting police personnel is problematic to say the least. Our demonstrated behavior provides a clearer indication of how we will act as police officers, but that can change over time due to a wide variety of stressors. We all have t he capacity to make choices about what we do and how we behave, and when you find those who rationalize their own actions with the “but it was only…” then you start approaching a cognitive definition of a trait that we do not want. Bottom line is you pretty much know exactly where you stand with a dog, but people are much better at masking their intentions, which I guess is another way of saying that we are able to read dogs better than we are each other. Could be why I like dogs better than than people!LOL

      Posted by Harbin Combee via LinkedIn

      • Sheriff Ray says:

        There’s a reason why they are Man’s Best Friend…!!

      • Harbin,

        Your assessment of ;

        “”””spent the last fifteen thousand years or so choosing an selecting traits and abilities in dogs that we want them to have in order to assist us in accomplishing a wide variety of tasks”””””””

        followed with

        “””””””””””,or to put more simply manipulating the canine genome to suit our purposes,””” .

        shows that you are unaware of what has happened genetically to the dog in the last 40 years and why testing for traits is indeed necessary, even with the “15K years” of genetic manipulation. Same with horses by the way.

        I Will be more than glad to explain why, upon your request to know.

        Regarding your belief that I am equating dogs and humans in relation to the testing process discussed, I am not. Clarification of that point was addressed and explained, indirectly, directly and then singularly highlighted in previous emails. When I removed all references to dog and humans both in the 3rd explanation attempt, I had hoped to illustrate that the test’s viability and veracity are not dependent on the test takers species. That explanation was and is, the best I could do and clearest I could be in attempting to overcome what was misunderstood..

        If you would like me to address it specifically again, I’d be happy to, upon your request to do so.

        Posted by Gwendolyn Hanan via LinkedIn

  16. Ray,

    “””””We put one officer under enough pressure that he lashed out physically “”””

    That’s exactly what I mean!!!! What ever you did was perfect to test for the trait of continued effectiveness under pressure. A positive trait needed for the job.

    Another assessment center test that tested for a positive attribute, integrity, was done by having the test taker (TT) inundated with paperwork and small tasks and then told all must be completed by such and such O:clock at the latest. The TT was told to go to room ## as soon as they finished.

    A while later when the TT is fully aware they can’t get everything done in time, a role player(RP) comes by and tells them they don’t have to finish every thing….. just put everything in the out box except the last page and go to the assigned room. When (if) the TT hesitates, the RP offers in confidentiality and friendship the fact that no one ever checks the outbox pile after #28 because none of them require any action. The RP also whispers that all page 60 says is; once you have read all previous pages put them in the out box and then fold page 60 and take it with you to the assigned room. The RP then leaves. Since the TT is past task #28 and realizes what the RP said is true about nothing from #29 on needing action is true, and because it is impossible to finish the remaining tasks in the 7 minutes left, before time penalties start,…….

    Well, those that show up at the assigned room with out task page #55 in hand, have lost so many points they can not pass, though they do not know it at the time. All they see are other TTs with folded task sheets in hand.

    ((Task # 55 says to place the tasks remaining in the outbox regardless of completion, and present #55, folded, to the staff at the assigned room.))

    This is testing for integrity in two ways. The directions were to read all task sheets in order. So anyone who showed up with page 60 either skipped a head cheating w/o enticement, or fell victim to the enticement to cheat provided by the RPs.

    I know this kind of testing is time consuming and expensive but when compared to the time and expenses generated by dealing with corrupt, ineffective or unsuccessful officers, maybe not. With just those 2 scenarios an employer has a reasonably valid prediction regarding how an applicant will act under stress and when given the opportunity to cheat. Two huge factors in police work.

    I wonder if any departments do use that assessment center type testing on applicants.
    Garry?? Jim?? Harbin? Do you guys know of any??

    Posted by Gwendolyn Hanan

  17. Sheriff Ray says:

    I LIKE it….!


  18. Jim Bragg says:

    Gwen, I cannot answer this as I retired way back in 1985 because of a LOD disability. The selection of Officers back then was still based on the ‘gut feelings’ of the Chief and the training Officer who went through the applicants. When I was hired in 1975 at my last agency it was still pretty much “These are the rules we want you to enforce, here’s your gun and badge, try not to shoot anyone or screw up” My first ‘FTO’ which was really just one of the old guys, could barely read & write! I figured that out when I realized why he wanted me to read and write all the reports. Turns out my Sgt. put me with him because I had prior experience with a large Dept. and he wanted me to be watching him! They also suspected him of not really taking bribes but looking the other way for what he considered minor crimes like gambling, illegal moonshine, etc. Now this Department came to be one of the, if not the best in the State and it basically started with the group hired 6 months before my group as well as my group. Many of us in those two hiring ended up running this Department as well as surrounding departments. Still, we had a couple that were found unfit to be Officers and they were mostly weeded out during their probation. Only one ended up becoming dirty and being a thief, (he stole dresses etc. for his wife while working off-duty), and he was caught by us and sent to prison for disgracing the badge. It may not have been right but I actually spit on him when I saw him in the hallway of HQ. I found out that over a dozen others had also done the same thing at different times which shows how we all felt about our honor and those that betrayed us.

    Jim Bragg

  19. Mike Hanlen says:

    I personally think this thread has evolved too much. It is being “Over Thought.” It began simply as do we write a ticket to another LEO or not. I was an honest hard working cop in my career and if anyone questions my ethics or morals because I sometimes violate a traffic law or give a break to another LEO they are sadly in a wrong place on this issue. If you think I was wrong to give a break to LEO, take your opinion and put it where someone cares – because I do Not. And, if you think me dishonest because I cut such a break, have the gonads to say it to my face and not through a forum on the internet. My bottom line was that I was taught by some old time GREAT coppers that we did not write our own and that is what I taught and the mantra I lived by – I have not regretted it one day of my life nor will I ever regret it. My take is that anyone thinking they “must” write another Officer is on a power trip and that has no place in law enforcement either.

    Posted by Mike Hanlen via LinkedIn

    • Sheriff Ray says:


      I realize you may have inadvertently posted on the wrong LinkedIn thread. However, your comments are actually relevant to our conversation about the proper exercise of police discretion. What you have described, and defended as ethical, is often called “professional courtesy.” But I prefer to call it “unprofessional courtesy” because it has nothing to do with adhering to professional standards.

      Your position is the most common one in law enforcement, and one that I have exercised on many occasions as well as benefited from. So at the risk of being hypocritical, I wonder if you, or one of our other viewers, would care to offer an ethical justification for this position.

      One of the challenges we face over here in Afghanistan is the issue of impunity, where government officials and others in positions of power are almost never held accountable for illegal or unethical actions. I know this will hit a nerve with some (I have had an incredibly passionate, and at times offensive, response when I have raised this issue on other sites) but I would like to hear your views on this…

      Sheriff Ray

  20. Buckle up Ray, it’s going to be a rough ride!! I will let others go first.

    Posted by Gwendolyn Hanan

  21. Jerry Cusic says:

    I just finished read this thread and come down in ‘short agreement with Mike H. ” I personally think this thread has evolved too much. It is being “Over Thought.” It began simply as do we write a ticket to another LEO or not.” I thought the discussion was more on the topic of “why police discretion is being eroded (if it is).. I would like to hear some thoughts as to why anyone thinks it is or is not… with respect to Mike H, I tend to come down on his side …in a limited way. I am willing to extend a professional courtesy to other LEO’s — but just as you accept “a cup of coffee” from a vendor— there are limits to that “courtesy”. Those LEO who are continually on the receive end of these ‘minor courtesies” will eventually find themselves on the unpleasing end of “peer rejection.”

    Regarding Ethics… in MHO ethics define moral rights and wrongs. In other words ethics refers to a set or system of principles, or a philosophy or theory behind morals— morals then are beliefs based on practices or teachings regarding how people conduct themselves in personal relationships and in society. Ethics refers to a set or system of principles, they are the “the should and ought of life.” Ethics and Morals are NOT synonymous.

    An ethical man who believes it is wrong to steal and will not do so under any circumstances, even to the point of his family starving — a moral man will who knows it is wrong to steal will do so to feed his family. But under all of this is OUR system of values…. and this is what will make a good or bad cop (behaviorally speaking) because I would argue the “good cop” is a transitory term depending on who is defining it. If you accept the premise values refer to all important beliefs– then not all values are ethical, some are neutral or non-ethical.

    I submit we are driven by values and values refer to all important beliefs. BUT not all are ethical, some are neutral or non-ethical. comments?

    Posted by Jerry Cusic via LinkedIn

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Sheriff Ray Nash

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