Straight in the Eye: Thoughts About Ethics and About Redemption, Upon the Death of a Fox Lake, Ill. Police Lieutenant
By Ken K. Gourdin
Now comes word that thousands of man-hours and hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars were expended in vain on a search for the alleged killer of Fox Lake Ill. Police Lieutenant Charles Gliniewicz, even though such a killer never existed. It turns out that the lieutenant elaborately staged his own death after apparently embezzling thousands of dollars from the department’s Explorer program, a program for youth who are considering law enforcement careers. See here, last accessed November 5, 2015: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765681531/Hero-officer-staged-suicide-embezzled-from-youth-program.html. The lieutenant apparently was seeking a hit man to kill the city manager before the latter could expose the lieutenant’s misdeeds.
See here, last accessed November 8, 2015:
Attempting to escape responsibility for what you’ve done by taking your own life is one thing; attempting to do so by seeking to take another’s life is entirely another. That said, I’ve written before (and in a similar vein) about former law enforcement officers losing the public trust, as well as their efforts to regain it. See here, last accessed November 5, 2015: https://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2015/02/09/seeking-redemption/.
I should confess my blind spots at the outset: While I have always been on the outside looking in at the profession, no one who has followed this blog for any length of time (let alone anyone who has read what I have written that has been published in print) will ever mistake me for an unfair critic of law enforcement. Which is more, I was a police Explorer scout for two years in a town that very possibly, in many respects, is not unlike the one where the lieutenant served.
Perhaps the lieutenant did much good in his long law enforcement career, and perhaps it is unfair that he will be remembered, not for anything noble, but rather for his thievery and for his apparent attempt to escape earthly responsibility for what he did. As Shakespeare wrote, “The evil that men do lives after them. The good often is interred with their bones.” (Though, as I said, escaping responsibility by taking your own life is one thing: attempting to do so by seeking to take another’s life is another thing entirely.)
But the eyes of the public are always on those who serve them, and the servants always should keep uppermost in their minds the fact that even one lapse in judgment (let alone a pattern of self-dealing that appears to be the case here) is enough for the public to feel justified in revoking its trust—perhaps permanently.
As much as I believe in the Christian concepts of repentance, forgiveness, and redemption, and as much as I believe love and trust go hand-in-hand in many cases, unfortunately, perhaps they do not go hand-in-hand in all cases. In at least some cases, as relatively easy as it might be to engage in repentance, to forgive, and to offer and to receive redemption, love and trust, conversely, are separate qualities: while the Christian ethic commands us to love everyone, Jesus Christ also commanded His servants to be “as wise as serpents, and as harmless as doves.” Thus, perhaps it is possible to forgive, and even to love, someone while still not fully trusting him, and to wisely withhold one’s trust while not withholding one’s love.
Thus, even if the lieutenant had succeeded in restoring that which his thievery had taken from the public fisc (and even in regaining a measure of the public’s trust) the members of the community he served would have been justified in not restoring their trust in him to a sufficient degree that he retained his position even after his misdeeds had come to light.
The new village administrator, Gliniwiecz wrote, hated him and the Explorer program. Alas, the lieutenant’s implied protestations that he, in fact, loved the Explorer program are belied by the fact that he apparently embezzled thousands of dollars from it. (If I’d been the lieutenant, I would’ve loved the Explorer program, too, if it’d been that kind of a cash cow for me . . .)
I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve had my psyche poked, probed, and prodded enough that perhaps my amateur opinion on the matter is worth more than that of the average layperson: the lieutenant’s attempt to deflect blame from where it belongs onto the city manager strikes me as rather a self-serving psychological defense mechanism.
The issue isn’t what the city manager thought of the lieutenant or of the Explorer program, though true it may be that such worthwhile programs too often fall victim to petty small-town politics. The issue is that the city manager apparently saw the lieutenant for what he was: a petty thief with a self-serving persecution complex who was hiding behind a badge and a gun.
The betrayal of the public trust by even an average law enforcement officer is bad enough. Such a betrayal by one who was charged with setting an example for youth who apparently wished to follow in his footsteps (which now, apparently, have proven to be wayward), not to mention his duty to be an example to the law enforcement officers under his command, is doubly so.
His apparently-staged death, along with the seeming misdeeds that preceded it, reflects poorly on all of law enforcement, to be sure, and it certainly does no favors for the public trust without which the law cannot be enforced effectively. But more than that, it provides even more fodder for critics of law enforcement whose criticisms already too often are justified, and it also plays cynically on the emotions of those of us whose first instinct is to rise to law enforcement’s defense in the face of such criticisms.
At bottom, unfortunately, it seems that the lieutenant not only was a self-serving petty thief, he was also a coward who was unwilling to look in the mirror unflinchingly and see himself for who he apparently had become. Still, if we’re not careful, it’s possible, when we’re left alone in the darkness of night to ponder the paths we choose, for even the best and most scrupulous of us to compartmentalize and to rationalize things that, in the harsh glare of the noonday sun, clearly are wrong.
And perhaps there was another, more altruistic motivation for the lieutenant’s apparently-selfish final act: his death in the line of duty likely would entitle survivors to life insurance on which his department (or another entity) had paid the premiums, as well as to at least a portion of his pension. Had his misdeeds come to light before his death, those benefits would have been lost (though whether they will be retained in any event by their intended beneficiaries in light of the manner in which the lieutenant died is an open question).