RICH JAMES: Not everyone defines ethics the same way

2013-03-20T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Not everyone defines ethics the same wayBy Rich James
March 20, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Given the time I've spent covering public corruption trials, you’d think I could easily define ethics.

To me it is the difference between right and wrong. But even that gets sticky when you try identifying what’s right and what’s wrong. Seems easy, but it isn't.

I got a chance to hear East Chicago Police Chief Mark Becker, a retired FBI agent, talk about ethics in law enforcement a bit ago.

Becker was guest lecturer for the ethics class being taught by Highland attorney Michael Bosch at Calumet College.

Becker essentially said law enforcement officers have to be held to a higher standard.

That can be difficult, given the dregs of society that some cops face on a daily basis.

Becker talked about his early days in the FBI. He got married on a Saturday, got his first dog on Monday and headed to his first assignment in Covington, Ky. He was essentially broke but was pumped to take on the world.

What does a young agent yearn for? For Becker, it was his first bank robbery.

The call came, and Becker headed to the scene. The robber had fled, and Becker walked into the bank and into the vault where money was scattered about the floor.

Never had he seen this kind of cash, let alone touched it.

Becker said he picked up a stack of bills worth $5,000. He looked around and there was no one there. No, he didn't pocket the money. He dropped it and walked out.

Later, Becker was questioning an informant, hoping to identify the bank robber.

He told the informant about holding the $5,000 and leaving it in the vault.

The informant told Becker he was nuts and that he should have walked out with the money.

No one would have known, the informant said.

Those who had their money in the bank wouldn't have lost a cent, the informant said. And the bank wouldn't have lost anything because all of its money is federally insured.

There would have been no victims.

Does that mean if no one gets hurt it’s all right? I don’t think so, but I guess it depends on one’s interpretation of what’s ethical. And I suspect what’s considered ethical depends on one’s lot in life.

That’s why there needs to be a broad standard of what’s ethical for local government. The independent Shared Ethics Advisory Commission under Cal Bellamy has been working on that for seven years.

Becker got his bank robber, fulfilling his mission without being tempted by a stack of money. That’s something all of local government ought to emulate as it does more than pay lip service to public corruption in Lake County.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at The opinions are the writer’s.

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