A President Was Right, The Bunker Hill Indiana Police Are Wrong…And Also Ethics Dunces:

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In Bunker Hill, Indiana, the police department resigned en masse over complaints about mismanagement and alleged unethical requests from the town council.
Town Marshal Michael Thomison submitted his letter of resignation and the resignation letters from his four unpaid deputies during the regular meeting of the town board last week.

Thomison alleged in his “I quit! Write your own damn parking tickets!” letter that the town board asked him to be involved in “illegal, immoral and unethical conduct,” as well as cutting police support and refusing to communicate with the officers. The Bunker Hill town council issued a statement denying the accusations, but it doesn’t matter what the provocation was. The police were in the wrong. This was settled long ago, by a wise man who clarified a bedrock principle of public service. Doing so helped make him President of the United States.

In 1919, as America recovered World War I, prices were rising faster than wages. With soldiers returning from Europe flooding the U.S. labor market, the burgeoning labor movement seized the nation. One-fifth of the country’s workers went on strike that year. New York’s harbor workers, textile workers in Massachusetts,  dressmakers, phone workers, elevated train workers— a general strike in Seattle closed all businesses from February 6 to 11. Some feared a Communist take-over.

The Boston police force was at the end of its forbearance. Starting pay for new officers had not risen in 60 years; police wages were  lower than those of unskilled factory workers. Officers worked seven days a week, with a day off every other week. They could not leave town without special permission. The typical work week for police was between 72 and 98 hours, and officers were required to sleep in the station houses, where conditions were uniformly horrible, with sub-standard sanitation, baths, beds, and toilets.

By June of 1919, with their legitimate grievances unaddressed, the police tried to unionize. The Massachusetts governor and his attorney general put forward legislation to make unionization illegal for public employees. The police responded  by voting 1,134 to 2 in favor of a strike, and scheduled it to start at evening roll call the next day.

On September 9, 1919, the Boston Police Department officers went on strike. Boston descended into lawlessness, with everything from petty crimes to looting and riots, and the  harassment of the striking officers. The mayor and the governor called out the State Guard, with the governor being adamant that there would be no settlement of grievances until the police returned to their jobs. To show he wasn’t bluffing, he eventually had  5,000 State Guards guarding the city with  mobile units using machine guns. His blunt and unequivocal statement made him nationally famous:

“There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.”

The police strike collapsed. By mid-December, the police commissioner had hired a new police force with higher pay, better working conditions, and additional holidays.

Police didn’t even have to pay for their own uniforms any more.

The next year that stalwart governor was nominated as Vice President on the Republican presidential ticket. By 1921, he was Vice President, and by 1923, President of the United States. His famous pronouncement about strikes against the public safety was one of his least concise statements. He was, of course, Calvin Coolidge.

Silent Cal was right in 1919, and he’s still right. Whatever the provocation and however just their cause, the Bunker Hill police were harming the public when they quit without notice or warning, and violated the public trust.

Meanwhile, Miami County Sheriff Tim Miller says that county deputies will patrol the town and respond to calls until a new police department can be hired.

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6 Comments

Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, History, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Workplace

6 responses to “A President Was Right, The Bunker Hill Indiana Police Are Wrong…And Also Ethics Dunces:

  1. Wayne

    Silent Cal, one of our most underrated presidents. How he dealt with the strike as governor was one of his shining moments. Resigning by the Bunker Hill police deputies no matter how legitimate their complaints were, has put the citizens at risk.

  2. zoebrain

    So the unpaid deputies are slaves, right? No pay, and can’t resign.

    The Town Marshal had already been effectively fired. He had cancer, so in order to avoid paying for his health insurance, the City Board unilaterally made him part time, without his agreement.

    How exactly are they “harming the public” by refusing to commit crimes, as the City Board is ordering them to? They have a choice – commit illegal actions that harm the public, or do nothing. Normal police duties, safeguarding the public, are not an option.

    • Baloney. 1) They refuse to quit. 2) They go to the press. 3), and most important, they announce their deadline after which they will quit, explaining that they will not until the town has replacements or a plan in place.

      Volunteers are not slaves, nor are they without responsibilities and obligations just because they aren’t being paid. If you accept responsibility, you’ve got it. Compensation is irrelevant.

      • zoebrain

        they announce their deadline after which they will quit, explaining that they will not until the town has replacements or a plan in place.

        Why on Earth would the town make such a plan? They have free labour already who aren’t going to quit.

        Volunteers are not slaves, nor are they without responsibilities and obligations just because they aren’t being paid. If you accept responsibility, you’ve got it.

        Conceded, and it was my error not to add this in my original post.

        Apologies, I did see that argument while I was posting, hit Post Comment prematurely – then did NOT add a reply stating it, as I should have done.

        I plead guilty as charged without any mitigating circumstances, and throw myself on the mercy of the Court. No excuse.

        I’ll also try not to do that again.

        • There is a law in Canada called “The Good Samaritan Law” which states (I’m paraphrasing) that in cases of physical emergency, credited first aid certificate holders are immune from litigation stemming from their actions in administering first aid.

          In Quebec though, they go further. They have a separate constitution, and it designates first aid a human right (of dubious merit, but it’s there), and following that, they have a duty to care law, which states (paraphrasing again) that once a Good Samaritan who is credited starts first AID, it is a crime for them to leave, unless it is to seek professional aid, in which case it is their duty to return.

          Now that might seem horrifyingly authoritarian (and it is) but there’s a nugget of reason beneath it: If you as a first aid provider are assisting a casualty, and another first aider sees you assisting and decides that you have the situation under control, then you have effectively deprived the casualty of the first aid the other person would have provided.

          This idea carries through… Despite the infringements of your personal freedoms, it’s a generally shitty thing to do to abandon a post, where abandoning that post could reasonably cause other people, or even another person to be unsafe. It’s the kind of thing that even in the absence of law, a good person really wouldn’t even consider, so obvious a golden rule violation that it is.

  3. JimHodgson

    This unethical tactic rarely works out well for the officers involved, and is usually a career-ending move. Abrupt mass resignations are often poorly thought-out extortion attempts, no matter how serious the actual grievances that underlie the actions. The public good will usually evaporates when their trust is violated. Hint: Don’t choose a “hill to die on” unless you are actually willing to die.

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