Defining Police Ethics

Introduction

The inclusion of ethics in policing environment started gaining momentum in the recent years following frequent occurrences of corruption and police brutality, which began appearing all over the courtroom and in the media. In fact commentators from different quarters agree that police culture, the police institution, and styles of policing are the three essential issues that define the role that ethics requires playing in policing. In defining police ethics, this paper will discuss the nature of the work of police, police culture, police discretion, basic roles of a police officer, and the relevance of ethics in law enforcement. In the general sense, citizens look at the police as the people who are charged with the responsibility of controlling crimes. This, however, is not supposed to be the correct case. This is because the original English conception regarding the function of police force required the police to gain the goodwill of citizens in the course of their policing duties (Perez & Moore, 2012). In regard to police ethics, it was only a few years ago when this phrase (police ethics) used to sound as a joke to most Americans. Police officers through their subculture dynamics used to portray an image that made them appear as uneducated, unintelligent, and untrained incompetents to the public. The general consideration was that the police were agents of the government who, on a regular basis, could break the principles that they proponed, and could abuse their own power.

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It is significant to understand that ethical behavior encompass a system of principles and values that qualify as professional standards based on truthfulness and honesty. Therefore, police ethics requires displaying an ethical mind-set that entails allegiance, courage and integrity. Based on this consideration, it is should be clear that police departments can strengthen their relationships with the communities through training police officers based on three essential concepts: racial reconciliation, bias reduction, and procedural justice (MacVean & Neyroud, 2012). Proper effective implementation of these concepts can result into an environment that can support the partnerships that the police have with their citizens. There is a common tendency among law enforcement agency administrators to assume that all officers possess strong personal ethics so that those who may be lacking sufficient moral judgment may acquire it through interaction with the rest of the police within the agency. The unfortunate part of police ethics is attributed to the cultural dynamics of the kind of work that police do. These cultural dynamics impede the capacity of police officers to develop the expected set of beliefs and values. However, in order to have ethics institutionalized among police officers, serious consideration should be given to establishment of a well-organized framework to comprise an essential part of the training program for police ethics.

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Nature of the Work of Police

As mentioned earlier in this paper, various commentators from various quarters hold different views with respect to the nature of policing in the society without forgetting its ethical base. There is a substantial need that the police behavior is modeled so that it can be embraced as a powerful tool for influencing their conduct in every organization. Ethical police agencies are the kinds that encourage their officers to model the desired ethical behavior and promote them based on ethical behavior consideration.  For this reasons various researchers have found it necessary to develop policing models in order to determine the kind of function that police require performing in the society duties (Delattre & Bores, 2011). These models include the social peacekeeper, the social enforcer, the emergency operator, and the crime fighter.

  •             Social peacekeeper model emphasizes adoption of a wider definition of policing where it requires it appearing as a public service as opposed to crime fighting. In the view of Delattre and Bores (2011), there is an irreconcilable tension between the law enforcement role by the police and the simultaneous protection of the citizens. Therefore, there is need for ensuring that officers obtain effective training that can enable them to exercise their discretionary powers in a considerable manner. Effective training, also, provides them with the freedom of choosing their appropriate styles of policing and, therefore, enable them observe ethics in their duties. Besides, it is essential to ensure ethical policing through recruitment of officers whose integrity levels are desirable. In regard to social peacekeeper model, there is need for proper internal police controls to sanction minor acts that can easily influence the police to engage in major deals of corruption.
  •             The social enforcer model requires police officers to embrace coercion as an integral aspect of their work (Delattre & Bores, 2011). This model encompasses the view that police address many problems on a daily basis whose solution may demand their occasional incorporation of force. Social enforcer; however, has received a lot of criticism for encouraging police to incorporate force without considering that other members of the community such as school teachers and parents can, also, use force.
  •             The emergency operator, on the other hand, views policing as role similar to that one played by other emergency personnel such as firefighters and ambulance operators. In this case, therefore, police provide emergency aid by ensuring that there is a clear way for other professionals like social workers who ensure that more practical problem-solving services are availed to the people (Delattre & Bores, 2011). In this case, emphasis is placed on policing as a mission that should involve dealing with people as opposed to crime fighting. These; however, does not imply that competence regarding crime control has to be overlooked.
  •             The crime fighter model requires regarding community as the friendly people that deserve police protection, and criminals as enemies of the police. This implies that police officer should regard their role from a punitive perspective, which may include handling suspects in a manner that guilty people deserve (Delattre & Bores, 2011). In this regard, media plays a significant role in the representation of police as crime fighters. This happens commonly, either through reality programming or police dramas. All these media representations are significant for promoting police images as protectors of society and fighters against evil.

Police Culture

There is a standing expectation that individuals working within an institution execute their roles as defined by the procedures, regulations, and rules of that particular institution. Their interpersonal relationships together with these roles construct an institutional structure.    Other aspects such as values, attitudes and institutional norms are instrumental in defining the institutional culture. In this regard, various commentators have made attempts in analyzing the various aspects that constitute the culture of police institutions. According to the arguments of Conroy (2011), policing derives its driving force from the interaction of occupational culture with politics, laws, policies, and regulations of the institution. Regarding utilization of force, police institutional culture requires the police to engage appropriate physical force or even deadly force against criminals who deserve it. It should be considered that deception and lying are essential parts of the function of the police. Besides, as part of police institutional culture, police officers require being loyal, and should protect each other even when they engage in actions of misconduct.

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Police Discretion

The law allows the police to have the power to deny citizens their right of freedom by arresting them. The law, also, guarantees them the right to apply force in the course of their policing duties, and involve lethal force in deserving situations. This implies that the police possess great legal authority, which should be exercised exclusively in protecting the public as well as enforcing the law (Frank & Liederbach, 2014). Besides the authority guaranteed by the law, police are, also accorded another form of authority based on the role that the police require playing in carrying out their policing responsibilities, police officers should have the capacity to exercise high levels of discretion. They have wide spheres of freedom within which they should make decisions and act based on the situation at hand.

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For instance, based on their judgment, police officers can decide whether or not making an arrest is suitable in a given situation. Besides, they have the discretion to use the amount of force they found appropriate during a confrontation. Various commentators; however, have raised arguments regarding limitation of such police discretion in order to allow ethical standards and police department regulations to circumscribe police discretion. However, according to the assertions of (Frank & Liederbach, 2014), there have been some cases of some police utilizing their authority as well as their broad discretionary powers to engage in acts of misconduct.

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Ethics and Codes of Ethics

It is significant for professions to have codes of ethics as they are essential tools for standard regulation in regard to protection of clients as well as the public. It is essential for all police officers to be familiar with ethical responsibilities that their positions demand and should constantly endeavor to satisfy the highest expectation of professional policing (Delattre & Bores, 2011). It is essential for law enforcement officers to refer to the available ethical mandates for clear counsel and advice to perform their duties satisfactorily. In most cases, the oath of office prepares the foundation for instillation of ethical behavior.

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Most agencies codify the practices, which they expect to embrace and those that should be avoided by officers. This is significant for providing guidance in regard to ethical decision making. There are specific provisions within the code of ethics of a policing agency that encourage protection of people’s lives and property. The same provisions, also, specify the significance of avoidance of bias and embracing the badge as representation of public trust. This means that besides preparation of police officers to enforce the law, the code of ethics, also, requires them to follow it. Therefore, they are supposed to demonstrate the right examples of behavior to the public.

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The basic roles of a police officer

The law entrusts a police officer with the authority to act as a government’s official representative. The statute confers the duties that the police should perform and the power they should exercise. In this case, therefore, ensuring everyone’s rights to justice, equality and liberty; maintain the peace; protecting the innocent; protecting people’s property and lives; and serving the community are the basic responsibilities that a police officer requires fulfilling (MacVean & Neyroud, 2012).

Use of Force

According to the ethics and codes of ethics, police officers are not supposed to employ force or violence inappropriately. They should; however employ reasonable force in the course of their duty in all circumstances. Basically, force should only be employed as the last option after persuasion, negotiation and discussion have been rendered to be ineffective or inappropriate (Frank & Liederbach, 2014). Furthermore, in the event that employment of force is unavailable, all police officers are prohibited from engaging in any inhuman, degrading or cruel treatment of any individual. However, the incorporation of force has, for a long time, been a contentious issue as far as policing is concerned. This is because the ability of the police to be coercive defines the very core of their policing role. The law gives the police the authority to apply reasonable force, which should only be employed as the last resort. Although there is general approval of the police entitlement to use force, the aspects that constitute unnecessary or excessive force remain uncertain.

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Police Ethics

Police ethics, as compared to business or medical ethics, is still relatively underdeveloped. There are several reasons attributed to this scenario and as Perez and Moore (2012) assert, the main reasons are the existing misunderstanding of the significance of police ethics and the paramilitary philosophy kind of policing. In regard to the existing misunderstanding of police ethics, there are some practitioners who believe that the presence of the law requires replacing the need for police ethics. Their perspective is that the police officers are the strict representative of the law and, therefore, require doing their work according to the law. The same proponents of this perspective, also, claim that the police should not be allowed to exercise discretion. This claim; however, has not been considered because there are situations of ethical or moral dilemma in which laws have proved to have little significance. All officers operating in all areas of practice (law enforcement, business, medical, etc.) should consider that their first responsibility is to differentiate, in every situation, between what ethics demands and what law demands. They should, also, understand the danger of being defrocked, prosecuted, sued or jailed. It is, therefore, essential for all officers to think beyond the law and embrace ethical consideration.

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Second, regarding the paramilitary philosophy form of policing, it should be clear that police officers do not act on their own; instead, the executors’ role is assigned to them by their supervisors. The fact that they should never question orders from their supervisors implies that there is limited room for moral deliberations (Perez & Moore, 2012). Therefore, obedience is the fundamental virtue that police require observing within this framework. The significance of police ethics; however, has gained wide acceptance following the general approval of police discretion as an integral part of the work of police and the emergence of problem solving policing and community policing. It is because of this reason that police ethics is included in all aspects of police training. Recent developments in police ethics indicate that only the police officers who have undergone satisfactory education and training can have the capacity to respond to ethical and moral dilemmas that they may encounter in their profession. Having the ability to solve such dilemmas in a satisfactory manner indicates that a police officer can benefit the community by performing his duties in a professional manner. Therefore, it is essential for police officers to embrace appropriate canons of ethical conduct besides embracing the significance of ethical decision making and moral reasoning.

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In conclusion, this paper defined police ethics and discussed its relevance in law enforcement profession. The inclusion of ethics in policing environment started gaining momentum in the recent years following frequent occurrences of corruption and police brutality, which began appearing all over the courtroom and in the media. In order to have ethics institutionalized among police officers, serious consideration should be given to establishment of a well-organized framework to comprise an essential part of the training program for police ethics. Various commentators from various quarters hold different views with respect to the nature of policing in the society without forgetting its ethical base. The models that should assist in determining the function of police in the society include: the social peacekeeper, the social enforcer, the emergency operator, and the crime fighter.  Besides the authority guaranteed by the law, police are, also accorded another form of authority based on the role that they require playing in carrying out their policing responsibilities, police officers should have the capacity to exercise high levels of discretion. The law gives the police the authority to apply reasonable force, which should only be employed as the last resort. It is essential for police officers to embrace appropriate canons of ethical conduct besides embracing the significance of ethical decision making and moral reasoning.

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