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article imageOp-Ed: Facebook Cop is risky idea, but don't stop companies from giving

By Calvin Wolf     Jul 20, 2014 in Politics
At first, it seems like the height of corporate generosity: Facebook is paying the salary of a local police officer, allowing the "Facebook Cop" to assist in community education and helping businesses plan for crises. But is this a conflict of interest?
Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, has received praise for his philanthropic generosity. But Facebook's latest bit of generosity has raised some skeptical eyebrows: According to The Atlantic, Facebook is paying roughly $200,000 per year to compensate for the salary and benefits of a Menlo Park Police Department officer. The "Facebook Cop" is a community officer who assists in safety education efforts and crisis planning for local businesses.
While some are praising a rich corporation's efforts to give back to the local community by paying to put another officer on the street, others worry about a conflict of interest. Criminal Justice majors in college learn about this type of indirect corruption: While there is no quid-pro-quo backroom dealing, there is an implied relationship between benefactor and officer(s) that can lead to unfair law enforcement. Officers whose salaries are supported by corporate benefactors may be tempted to look the other way if and when their benefactors break the law.
At minimum, a police officer who is paid for by a philanthropist may be tempted to bend the rules to help the philanthropist. At most, an entire department can become corrupted, hooked on philanthropist funding and desperate to keep the funds flowing by covering up the philanthropists' crimes. A corporate benefactor can become a dictator, bending local law enforcement to its will by threatening to cut generous funding if its demands are not met.
However, many communities need as much help as they can get. Many corporations and private donors genuinely want to help. Should they be prevented from donating money to local law enforcement? Many states and municipalities are short on tax revenue, while wealthy citizens and companies are looking for tax breaks and good PR.
The answer is for state and local legislatures to craft commonsense rules and regulations regarding donations to law enforcement agencies. Municipalities could create blind trusts for donations to law enforcement, preventing police departments from knowing to whom they are indebted. Citizens and companies could help out their respective communities, receive their tax breaks, and even seek a little good PR, all without making police departments feel "on the hook." At most, philanthropists could receive generic praise as donors to law enforcement, with no dollar amounts allowed to be revealed.
By donating a specific amount to support a specific, narrow policy, Facebook has crossed an ethical line and created a situation where the local police department knows what it risks losing if it displeases Facebook.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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