Beau Babka – Seeking Redemption: Thoughts on Losing and Regaining The Public’s Trust
By Ken K. Gourdin
The January 15, 2015 edition of the Deseret News has a feature story on former Cottonwood Heights Police Officer, former Salt Lake County Sheriff candidate, and former congressional candidate Beau Babka, whose certification as a police officer was suspended for four years in 2011 after he put $44 in gas into his personal vehicle using his city-issued credit card. See the article here (last accessed February 6, 2015): http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865619376/I-have-no-regrets-Beau-Babka-reflects-on-4-year-law-enforcement-suspension.html?pg=all.
One might ask, “In light of stories of public officials and other high profile people misappropriating tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, does $44 in inappropriately-purchased gas really merit someone potentially losing an entire career?” That’s a fair question. One possible rejoinder is to ask, in return, “Is it OK for someone, particularly for a public official, to be bought—as long as he’s bought cheap?”
The feature describes Babka’s travails as a former high-profile law enforcement officer being reduced to rather menial labor in order to make ends meet. I’m sympathetic to stories of redemption, and to those seeking it. A big part of me believes that the change in Babka which the story describes, as well as his (perhaps newfound) humility, is genuine. On the other hand, I don’t have a lot of patience for public figures—especially for police officers—who violate, in however small a way, the public trust.
While I do believe in forgiveness, I have never resided in any of the communities served by the agencies for which Babka has worked. Thus, while I have no greater challenge forgiving him specifically than I would have generally anyone who has wronged me directly (which he has not), any forgiveness I might be inclined to extend to him for any misdeeds he may have committed seems irrelevant.
While the Christian ethic mandates that its adherents forgive others for their misdeeds, and while it mandates that its adherents love others, forgiveness and love are one thing; trust, by contrast, is entirely another. And public trust, such as that placed in law enforcement officers and in other public officials, is still another. As genuine as Babka’s seeing the light, change of heart, and redemption seem, he does seem (to me, at least) to cling to at least a scintilla of self-pity and victimhood.
He says the Utah Division of Peace Officer Standards and Training (“POST,” the agency responsible for certifying law enforcement officers to work in the state of Utah, for ensuring that they are adequately trained, and for ensuring that any misconduct that might bear upon their certifiability is dealt with adequately) wanted to “make an example” out of him. My response to that is two-fold:
- He should exercise extreme caution that no one responsible for the decision whether he should have the requisite certification restored (and be readmitted to the law enforcement profession) gets the idea that he is, to however small a degree, attempting to make excuses for himself, which makes this public comment rather puzzling; and
- POST didn’t need to “make an example” out of him. As a law enforcement officer, he had been entrusted with the public’s confidence. And he wasn’t just another member of law enforcement’s rank-and-file; while he was not in an administrative position at the time of his suspension, previously he had been a senior, ranking officer, responsible for setting an example for all of the officers under his command.
The Law Enforcement Code of Ethics seems to accord with the second of these two observations. It says, in part, “I recognize my position as a symbol of public faith, and I accept it, as a public trust to be held so long as I am true to the ethics of the law enforcement profession.” It also says, “I will keep my private life unsullied as an example to all, [and will be] . . . [h]onest in thought and deed in both my personal and official life.”
Another thing: Suppose Babka is right when he seems to suggest that the regime POST has set up to monitor officers and to discipline those who violate the profession’s ethics is prone to result in disproportionate or arbitrary decisions? (More than a few people have leveled a similar criticism against the criminal justice system itself, and that charge is not wholly without merit, at least, not in all cases). Then what? Chances are still pretty good that if one doesn’t behave in ways that put him at the mercy of such a system, he will, likewise, avoid exposing himself to the system’s potential disproportionality and arbitrariness.
I’ll be honest: the cynic in me wonders why so many people get second chances when it seems that so many who deserve them don’t even get first chances. Still, all of this having been said, I hope Babka is successful in his quests for redemption and to return to law enforcement. Time will tell.