Written by Bob Smith, Director of Comm Center & 911 Services, APCO International
Everyone has a specific personal code of conduct - good or bad. That code dictates how a person acts and presents themselves and what can be expected of them. The public service role of telecommunicators mandates they conduct themselves in an exemplary manner both on and off duty. The ethics of the individual and the standards of the organization must meet or exceed the standards and expectations of the community.
Ethics can be defined as "a system of principles; the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc.; that branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and the motives and ends of such actions." Many comm centers adopt a code of ethics, professional conduct code or some other formal guide for actions and behavior, based on the agency's and the community's expectations. These codes typically provide guidance and performance expectations for conduct and behavior on and off duty, professional and personal interaction with customers and acceptable performance criteria. Telecommunicators must adapt their own codes of conduct to mesh with the comm center's -- if the agency is to accomplish its mission and if the telecommunicator is to be successful in their role.
Successful public safety telecommunicators are characterized by their professionalism and sense of duty to the general public. Professionalism is a rather vague concept that encompasses honesty, integrity, humility, accountability and a desire to learn new techniques to perfect job skills. Telecommunicators must respect themselves and their profession and must project this respect by demonstrating a positive attitude toward callers, field agency personnel, co-workers and management, and the general public they interact with outside the agency.
Outside the radio room, telecommunicators should represent their agency and the public safety communications industry with a courteous, helpful and businesslike attitude. During public appearances or presentations at schools, community meetings, training sessions, conferences, trade shows and seminars, the telecommunicator is representing their agency and the entire public safety communications industry. Maintaining a professional demeanor is especially important during non-public safety communications events where telecommunicators may be in the minority.
Professional conduct and behavior includes the ability to maintain a high level of confidentiality. Telecommunicators have access to information about criminal activity, law enforcement operations, building plans, medical histories, driving records and other information that may be of interest to the public, including criminals. Discussing an incident response or a person's criminal record is a violation of confidentiality and may be a violation of law.
The earlier telecommunicators can be educated on their agency's code of ethics and how it applies to them the better. An agency's code of conduct should include a document for recipients to sign that acknowledges that they have read and understand the expectations listed and are committed to abiding by those rules. In addition, a regular review of the agency's code of ethics should be conducted and revisions made as necessary.
The code of ethics should be part of all new-hire training and continuing education sessions. Documentation confirming receipt and understanding, combined with early explanation and ongoing reinforcement will be vital should the agency have to take any disciplinary actions based on violations of its code of conduct.
The bottom line: Each and every one of us has a personal code of conduct or code of ethics. It is important that the telecommunicator's personal code of conduct mesh with the code set by the agency for both to be successful. It is also important for the agency to educate its employees on expectations or acceptable behavior as early as possible and to document that education.
SAMPLE CODE OF ETHICS
- As a public safety telecommunicator, I regard myself as a member of an important and honorable profession.
- I will keep myself in the best possible physical condition at all times.
- I will perform my duty with efficiency at all times.
- I will be exemplary in my conduct, edifying in my conversation, honest in my dealings and obedient to the laws of the city, state, and country.
- I will not, in the performance of my duty, work for personal advantage or profit.
- I will, at all times, recognize that I am a public servant with a duty to serve.
- I will give the most efficient and impartial service of which I am capable at all times.
- I will be courteous in my contacts at all times.
- I will regard my fellow telecommunicators with the same standards as I maintain myself.
- I will be loyal to my fellow telecommunicators, my superiors and my organization.
- I will accept responsibility for my actions.
- I will do only those things that will reflect honor on my fellow telecommunicators, my organization and myself.