Regardless of how most of us feel about individual elected officials or their leanings on particular policies, it's a fair observation that a lot of people get involved with politics because they want to make a difference.
Some lose their moral compasses and succumb to the temptations presented to those who end up with authority for allocating public money or hiring public employees. Others may well have been no good from the start. History tells us all political parties are afflicted with people who give in to temptation or got into politics to have access to such temptations.
These people, of course, give all those who run for public office a bad name, so much so that folks seeking elected office, at least in aggregate, are among the least trusted people in American society.
As such, politicians stand out as an extreme example of a harsh reality of public life: one bad person makes everyone in a particular line of work look bad.
It takes dozens of honest lawyers to make up for the damage done by one ambulance chaser. A single sloppy, careless or slanted journalist makes everyone with a pen and notebook suspect.
And when a police officer ends up pleading guilty to a charge like bribery, the shadow cast over the law enforcement community is especially dark.
Sure, politicians, lawyers and journalists are entrusted with certain responsibilities that are supposed to help society function fairly, but police officers have an even larger responsibility, one granted to no one else in American society. Police officers are the only people who can legally take away an individual's freedom, through arrest, prior to that individual being found guilty of a crime. Furthermore, they are among the few entrusted to carry loaded firearms in almost all public settings.
It's likely that Todd E. Johnson, of Aberdeen, who pleaded guilty this week to bribery in a case where he had been accused of profiting from his access to privileged police information, began his career in law enforcement with good intentions, but ended up giving in to temptation. On a certain level, it's easy to conclude there's no harm in giving up information about people who haven't bothered to pay their debts, which is essentially what Johnson did.
Then again, the prohibitions against him doing that were put in place to protect individual freedoms and prevent police powers from being used in the service of the well-connected.
His case, while a stain on his profession, also serves as a warning to anyone who is entrusted with responsibilities in their professions or in private life. It never hurts to step back and review our own actions from the perspective of how others will see them. If something seems a bit shady or borderline dishonest, it's probably something that shouldn't be done.
It's also worth keeping in mind that while there are dishonest elected officials, unsavory lawyers and crooked cops, there are plenty of people in those and other professions who are credits to their work.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun