Integrity Matters
January 28, 2004

Integrity has been shown by the police
Paying money back shows character

Question: (E-087)

Dear Jim:

A big headline on the front page of Tuesday's The Salinas Californian read "City Overpays Its Cops by $327,000" with a subtitle mentioning that a payroll error three year ago means officers will see checks decrease. The police officers did not make the accounting error that caused them to be paid slightly more than was budgeted. A $25 overpayment could go unnoticed.

Someone in the payroll office made a mistake, a 1.5 percent addition to the Salinas Police Officers Association's base salary scale, in January, 2001. There is not even a hint of inappropriate intention or behavior. Asking for those still on the force to pay the dollars back could appear as a pay cut. Since some officers have retired or left the department, making overpayments collections from them difficult or impossible. This seems unfair.

These officers risk their lives for us all the time. With current concerns about violent crime and safety in our neighborhoods, is there anything that can be done to avoid placing an economic hardship on our police force and not violate the integrity of those in authority? What is the right thing to do? We certainly cannot afford to demoralize our police officers?


Integrity on this economic issue seems clear. The officers and their association have agreed to repay the money. They have demonstrated character showing consistency between word and deed. They have gone public with their willingness to correct a mistake. According to the article about the overpayment, the average amount was $2,400 over 36 months. Three years, 36 months of four weeks each and five days of work. The error is about $3 per day. Taken to this simplified level of the costs and losses, we are not talking about major economic sacrifices. Yet, averages are not where people live.

Some officers may face painful cutbacks that affect family. No one who appreciates the services of the police force wants these officers and their loved ones to suffer.

Salinas is facing an interesting dilemma.

The police officers association has offered to pay. An error was made. Integrity has been shown.

As one looks at some alternatives that would demonstrate integrity by those who made the error in calculation, perhaps the old-fashioned word graciousness should be applied.

Our research at the Bracher Center identifies eight attributes that are manifest by integrity-centered organizations. In addition to character, there are honesty, openness, authority, partnership, performance, charity and graciousness.

Graciousness means respect and discipline and asks this question: Does your organization demonstrate care and concern for all stakeholders? Might it be appropriate for those who manage the budgets to take a long and hard look at the probable and positive impact on those who take an oath to protect others, sometimes risking and losing their lives to make our lives safer? Despite the harsh economic times in which cities, like Salinas and others throughout the United States, are living through – is this a time to reach out and celebrate the heroes among us and not ask them to pay for the error of others?

Would there be a way for our generous community to "give" again, as it has done in so many areas, to address this shortfall? Would a community fund-raiser for the police force be a stand- up way for Salinas's leadership (government, business and community-at-large) to be gracious and demonstrate integrity through respect?

Contact us and offer your suggestions. We will forward what you say to those in authority. Encouraging our police force is an integrity matter.

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