About 100 U.S. Secret Service agents will take part in a two-day ethics training this week to be overseen by professors at the Johns Hopkins University — a response to the widening prostitution scandal that began in Colombia, agency and university officials said Monday.
The training, which past participants say covers a broad range of practical and theoretical ethics — including a review of Aristotle — comes as the Secret Service works to address allegations that its agents hired prostitutes in Cartagena days before President Barack Obama arrived in the country April 13 to attend a summit.
Hopkins, which has for years offered law enforcement training through its School of Education, was an obvious choice for the effort because of its past work with the agency, officials said. The Secret Service had previously scheduled training for 20 agents through the university but expanded the program to 100 employees in the wake of the imbroglio in Colombia.
The classes will take place in Laurel on Wednesday and Thursday.
"When you have an incident like this, it presents a critical moment," said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, which has been investigating the incident. "This is taking a moment that looks very dark and turning it into something that ... will make the organization better."
Cummings said he will address the group to remind the agents that the Secret Service remains for many a world-renowned law enforcement agency.
Stepped-up ethics training is one of several moves the agency has made in response to the scandal. The Secret Service unveiled new policies last week that prohibit agents from drinking excessively, visiting "disreputable establishments" and allowing foreigners into their hotel rooms while on assignment overseas.
But as the agency continues its investigation, new allegations of similar behavior during presidential trips to El Salvador and Argentina, among other places, have been raised in recent days by news organizations.
Some details of the Hopkins training remained sketchy. Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan would not say exactly where the classes will take place, for instance, other than to note they will be held in a "secure" facility. Neither Donovan nor a Hopkins spokeswoman could say how much the agency will pay for the training.
Donovan said the agents involved in the training will include not just those serving on the presidential protection detail, but also in other divisions. He said the decision to expand the program to include more people, which was ordered by Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, is "a reaction to the situation in Colombia."
The classes will be led by Christopher Dreisbach, director of Applied Ethics and Humanities for the Division of Public Safety Leadership and a noted ethics expert. Dreisbach said the sessions are intended to give agents tools to grapple with a tough ethical issue before it arises — and also to help them explain the many ethical decisions they already make intuitively.
"Ninety-nine times out of 100 they know the right thing to do. The question is, what do you do when you hit a tough moral case?" Dreisbach said. "What I do is try to get them better prepared to take on those tough moral cases."
The sessions will not be open to the public.
Other law enforcement officials who have received ethics training through Hopkins described it as largely classroom-based — and intense. The classes begin with a foundation in ethics, including a primer on Aristotle, then move on to modern applications of those ancient lessons.
Previous participants said the sessions had an effect on their personal lives as well as their job performance.
"It really made you examine yourself and examine the situations you may find yourself in and to look at the implications of making a bad decision," said Lt. Ulysses Perry, assistant commander of the human resources division of the Maryland State Police. He graduated last year from a more extensive law enforcement program at Hopkins that included the ethics training.
"It's a pretty difficult course," he said.
Sgt. Tracy Penman of the Harford County Sheriff's Office, who is set to graduate from a broader Hopkins training program later this month, said the ethics sessions are unlike any other she has taken during her 11 years with the department. "You can apply it anywhere," she said.
Hopkins signed a formal agreement to provide training for the Secret Service in 1997, univeresity spokeswoman Tracey A. Reeves said. Other federal agencies, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, also receive noncredit training at the school. About 40 agents take the noncredit, two-day class each year.
It's not clear whether any of the 12 agents involved in the scandal in Colombia had ever received ethics training at Hopkins or elsewhere. The agency has said that eight employees have resigned or left over the incident. Three employees have been cleared of serious misconduct.
Fred Wilson, a spokesman for the National Sheriffs' Association, said the Hopkins ethics sessions have been beneficial for several departments across the region.
"They do a good job," Wilson said of the training. "You need it because of the culture of the public and what the public expects."