This is the blog for Robert Vincent, Chief of Police for the Gulfport (Florida) Police Department. Please feel free to leave comments, but keep in mind that anything appearing on this page may be subject to retention and disclosure in accordance with Florida public records law.

Please keep your posts clean and respectful. Comments are subject to review, and I do not permit lewdness, obscenity, or personal attacks.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Is it appropriate to give gifts to police officers?

The Thin Blue Line. You may have seen this image of a dark field with a blue line running through the middle.

What you may not know is exactly what it portrays. Some have misconveyed it as a symbol of elitism, suggesting that police officers are part of a select group that is somehow above the masses. In actuality, it means something very different. Essentially, it embodies the notion that police serve as the thin line which separates order from chaos. While that may seem a bit dramatized, the truth is that police officers bear an incredible responsibility when it comes to maintaining stability in our society. We are the ones people turn to when they feel they have been mistreated, and they expect us to deliver an unbiased response.

Much of this responsibility lies in the perception that people have of police. In order to be effective arbiters of justice, we must be seen as being neutral and fair. The only way we can uphold that image is to ensure that our service is owed to no individual person, business, or special interest. Any conduct that could undermine that perception of neutrality should be prohibited or discouraged at the very least.

This is what brings us to gifts. It may seem completely innocent to offer a small token of appreciation to a police officer. After all, it's not as though you'd be paying him a bribe in return for a favor. Unfortunately, that is exactly how it can be perceived. Take, for example, the convenience store that serves discounted beverages to on-duty officers. No big deal, right? Well, it might be a very big deal if you're the person who calls police when the store short-changes you.

Knowing the officer receives a "gift" from the store could eliminate the perception of neutrality and fairness that is so critical. After all, without faith in the officer's independence, why would people call the police in the first place? And when people become uncomfortable calling the police, that is a sign of a corrupt society.

Please don't get me wrong. I am not saying that my police officers are such scoundrels that they would be influenced to act improperly because they receive a discount on a drink. On the contrary, I believe each and every one of them to be well above such conduct under any circumstances. Unfortunately, it's not my opinion that matters. As soon as one person is given reason to believe otherwise, we're moving in the wrong direction.

So it is with this in mind that I have a policy prohibiting police employees from accepting gifts in their official capacity. If they turn you down, please don't think them rude; they are only following my rules. If you would like to recognize their service, a much more appropriate contribution would be a letter of appreciation that can be placed in their personnel files.

Do you agree or disagree with my policy? I'd love to hear from you.


  1. Thank you for explaining the thin blue line to me. We just lost a police officer in the line of duty in our city and a lot of people have changed thier Facebook picture to the thin blue line. So when I goggled thin blue line I was looking for an explanation, but I do think your policy is just and appropreiate. Thank you for your service. Be safe.

  2. How can people recognize police officers, then, Chief Vincent?

  3. Good question Cathy. Recogntion for individual officers is most effective in the form of a letter to the chief. This letter can then be made part of the officer's performance evaluation and permanent record. Since performance evaluations can affect promotions and pay raises, such recognition can have a material effect.

    Consider the same approach when looking at the the agency as a whole. A letter to elected officials or to the local newspaper expressing your appreciation can go a long way. Those interested in making a more direct contribution might consider a donation to one of the police fraternal organizations, either the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #43 or the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association.

  4. Dear Chief Vincent,

    Thank you very much for the information about
    offering police officers gifts. I am writing
    a letter for the police officers who helped me,
    and not offering them gifts.


  5. Dear Chief, One of our local chief constables is retiring at the end of December 2013. He has served five years in our city. He has been an
    officer for forty years! I gave him a book about Canadian heroes. I feel
    that it's okay since he is leaving anyways with thirty days. Good luck!