The Georgia State Trooper scandal has some True-worthy details that didn’t fit into the story. First, let’s start with that story, from True’s 16 February 2020 issue:
Make Cheating Wrong Again
The Georgia State Patrol fired all the August 2019 trooper academy class graduates after state investigators found all 33 of them cheated on an exam. Investigators found that the troopers coordinated — via a Snapchat group called “Unruly Troopers” — to “get their stories straight” as they were being investigated, violating their oath to “uphold professional conduct and standards.” Georgia Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mark McDonough called the scandal “a punch in the gut” and said more firings might be forthcoming. He was correct: Gov. Brian Kemp forced McDonough to retire. “The person at the head is ultimately responsible,” McDonough said. (RC/WMAZ Macon) …Sounds noble until you realize he means the governor.
The Cheating Came to Light after a woman called the department to report that she had taken the test for one of the troopers — her boyfriend at the time. She passed the online exam without having even taken the classes. So first up, that a civilian who didn’t take the class can easily surpass the score of troopers who did really shows the quality of the recruits these days.
Her trooper boyfriend’s name: Demon Clark, a lovely Freak of Nomenclature (a staple of weird news).
After questioning, when he realized he was going to be fired, Clark implicated the rest of his class. “He said, ‘I’m not the only one who cheated’,” said Georgia’s Public Safety Commissioner, Colonel Mark McDonough. “He made the allegation that everyone had cheated. When that occurs, that gets your attention.” That’s when the agency started its investigation into the entire class.
Two investigators were assigned full time to the case; it took them three months to track down all the leads — their report spanned 2,491 pages.
Investigators were able to see the Snapchat “Unruly Troopers” posts. One the Atlanta Journal Constitution highlighted was, “Let’s all come to agreement now! We all took our tests and Clark is a dumbass.” While Demon Clark certainly is, so are the rest of them — just the sort of unthinking type that “obliviot” was coined to describe.
Obliviocy: Maybe it Came from the Head
After the press conference where McDonough announced the firings, he commented, “Adolescence has been extended in our society. They’ve been conditioned to the use of this for everything” — holding up his smartphone. He blamed the allegedly immature millennial-generation class for not being able to memorize the facts they’re taught.
That “is not part of their makeup,” he continued. “You need to know it? Google it. We have the Library of Congress at our fingertips.” That’s not how professionals should work, he said. “You don’t want to go to a doctor if he has to Google it.”
Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!
You’re damned right I want professionals to use reference materials! I definitely don’t want them to rely on their memories when they prescribe (say) acetohexamide (a drug that treats type 2 diabetes) — or was that acetazolamide (a drug that treats glaucoma)? Or neratinib (a drug to treat breast cancer) — or was that niraparib (a drug to treat ovarian cancer)? Look … it … up! And before the patient takes it!
My doctor does, and it gives me confidence, not concern.
Those examples are from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices’ List of Confused Drug Names, published to educate doctors about the thousands of drug names that are easily confused. To help, the ISMP championed the use of “tall man” (creative capitalization) spellings to help differentiate drug names, such as buPROPion (an antidepressant drug, also used to reduce nicotine cravings in people trying to stop smoking) vs. busPIRone (a drug to treat anxiety disorders).
That many of the “look-alike and sound-alike (LASA) name pairs” (as ISMP calls them) treat similar conditions makes it even worse: it’s easy for even specialists to get confused as to what’s what in their own fields. That’s why there needs to be such a nonprofit organization “devoted entirely to preventing medication errors.”
Medical errors in general kill more than a quarter-million Americans per year, according to a study by Johns Hopkins University. That makes it the Number 3 cause of death in the U.S.[Disputed], behind heart disease and cancer, pushing respiratory disease to Number 4. And those are just the deaths: the count of “injuries” is much higher. Medication mixups constitute a large percentage of those errors.
No Professional Should Rely on Memory Alone
Surgeon Atul Gawande’s 2009 book The Checklist Manifesto — pushing doctors to, like airline pilots, use checklists to avoid errors — was so profound it became a New York Times best-seller. “The modern world has given us stupendous know-how,” the book’s promotional description says. “Yet avoidable failures continue to plague us in health care, government, the law, the financial industry — in almost every realm of organized activity. And the reason is simple: the volume and complexity of knowledge today has exceeded our ability as individuals to properly deliver it to people — consistently, correctly, safely. We train longer, specialize more, use ever-advancing technologies, and still we fail.” The book reveals how checklists “could bring about striking improvements in a variety of fields, from medicine and disaster recovery to professions and businesses of all kinds.” (emphasis added)
Indeed, cops having references to consult is nothing new. During my stint in law enforcement, starting as a cadet in the 1970s, we had reference booklets for common vehicle code violations to ensure the right code section was written on traffic citations. I still remember some of the common California code sections for violations (22350: driving faster than it’s safe, vs. 22348: driving faster than the posted limit), and some really esoteric ones (23110: throwing something at a vehicle; subsection a) was a misdemeanor — just doing it — while subsection b) was a felony, for having intent to maliciously injure). But when not absolutely sure? The rule was easy: look it up. What no one did was try to shame us for not remembering every frigging code possibility.
As a volunteer medic, too, I have the EMS protocols I operate under. If I need to (say) inject someone with epinephrine to treat a severe allergic reaction, how much do I give? I have a (yep!) smartphone app that tells me, if I haven’t memorized it — or am stressed enough that I can’t remember it even though I have, in fact, memorized it. And no one would fault any of us for looking it up, even in a dire emergency.
But certainly, to know what to look up and how should be part of the job, and to learn that, tests are definitely appropriate, and cheating during such examinations is an outrage, and firing the entire class of troopers sends a very clear and appropriate message.
Still, it’s time for Mr. McDonough to move on to make room for someone else who is much more aware take command. “The person at the head is ultimately responsible,” he said. Let’s hope his replacement reinforces the integrity McDonough demanded, but also ensures troopers have all of the reference tools needed to make sure the details in the charges they levy against drivers are accurate. These days, that probably means smartphones, computer terminals in their patrol cars, or both. After all, the Library of Congress can be right at their fingertips.
By the Way: I absolutely used Google to find some of the examples I cited — and a spell checker to ensure the text on this page was as readable as possible. That’s what professionals do!
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