Column Date 2006-03-05

Faith-based law enforcement

Well, Jim Coats, the Sheriff of Pinellas County, Florida, has gone and done it.

He has added one of the Ten Commandments to his department’s list of rules and regulations: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

This new regulation, according to the Sheriff, bans any of his department’s 3,200 employees (both single and married) from having adulterous relationships with anyone else in the department.

"We have a moral image and obligation to the public," Coats told the St. Petersburg Times/Tampa Bay. "If we openly allow (adultery), what kind of example does that set?"

Good point. But the problem, as I see it, is that the Sheriff is being too selective.

Why use only one commandment when there are nine other perfectly good ones you could use as well?

For example, “Honor thy father and mother” should not be a real problem for Pinellas Country. And what a fine example to set for the public. The same goes for “Thou shalt not steal” – this one should be a veritable no-brainer for law enforcement officers.

Then we come to “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy,” whose original meaning, loosely translated, is “Nobody works on Saturday.”

We all know there are millions of workaholics in America, many of them in law enforcement, and what a sensible idea to have a mandated day of rest for them all.

The problem is, of course, that we’d have to make a covenant with all our burglars, shop-lifters, pick-pockets and hookers to agree to “Keep the sabbath holy,” which might be difficult. But it’s worth a shot, as far as I’m concerned.

The tenth Commandment, however, could cause a bit of trouble: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house...thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's.”

Law enforcement people have it tougher than the rest of us: oxen and asses aside, I think it’s hard for anyone not to covet their neighbor’s new Ferrari 12-cylinder “SuperAmerica,” especially if you’ve just pulled it over for doing 120 mph on the interstate.

Not to mention walking into a mega-mansion and seeing an olympic size indoor pool, a billiard room, and the latest 84-inch flat screen TV. (We won’t go into the “coveting your neighbor’s manservant” thing here. That sounds like an episode of “Desperate Housewives.”)

But I’m sure that, with the same discipline used to prevent adultery, the Sheriff’s Department can avoid being seduced by material things.

Now we come to that always tricky “Thou shalt not kill” commandment.

I don’t know how the Sheriff could enforce this regulation, given his line of work, but he’s clearly a man of great persuasive power: since his “No Adultery on My Watch” regulation started last year, not a single person has been charged.

So my hat’s off to Sheriff Coats: if he can stop his people from committing adultery in our over-sexed society, I have no doubts that he can stop someone from pulling the trigger.

You just have to have faith, I guess.

©2006 Peter Tannen