For every profession, there is an associated code of ethics, which dictate the norms for the practice of that particular profession. Thus we have business ethics and medical ethics to guide professional in the relevant fields. These guidelines are ethical codes, based on moral reasoning, formed to deliver the good (product or service) through proper means.
Sometimes the codes of ethics are formed and evaluated with respect to relevant laws and sometimes with respect to moral laws. Police ethics is applying the above principles to policing.
It should be noted here that police ethics is considerably under developed compared to medical or business ethics. This is mainly because of the misunderstanding of the need of police ethics. Law and ethics are different perspectives that are relevant for professions.
The lifeline of law and order for any society is obviously its police force. Only when the police are seen to be righteous, the people would have respect and confidence on them. The public would be willing to cooperate and help police personnel, only when they remain trust worthy.
It is therefore very important for the police personnel to command the respect and goodwill of the people, to function effectively. The public-police relationship is vital, for maintaining law and order, and this relationship can be strengthened only when police conduct themselves in appropriate manner.
Every police officer must realize that they need to be law-abiding citizens too, and serve the society with an unbargained commitment and desire (Proctor, 1997). Members of the police department have to adhere to a code of morality or ethics, if they have to win and retain the trust and respect of the society they serve. It is only when they act in an unfair or inappropriate manner, compromising on their responsibilities and values, that they fall low, in public esteem.
High ranking officers in police department have powers and privileges given to them, to help them to perform better in their duty of service to the public. When these are misused, used with bias, or unused for reasons of personal interest; then they defeat the purpose for which they were established. In doing so, the relevant officers have used their power and privileges to harm the society, instead of using it to help society. Police department personnel should avoid relationships that can be interpreted as being unfair or partial.
They should realize that accepting gifts and favors are not too far from direct bribes, as these too must carry a sense of gratitude and obliging. Favors particularly, keep flowing out for any police staff, either on duty or off duty. Small time favors that don’t look bad include free transport, low pricing, meals and refreshments, and home-based delivery/services. Even if the officer accepts these with a mindset of not going to oblige, or go out of the way to repay the favor, the provider of the favor expects one.
It is unethical if such a gesture is not repaid. If these are unconsciously accepted at the initial stages, an urge to receive more, gradually develops, which soon gets transformed as a right to receive. The community and police service expect law enforcement personnel to lead a honorable and decent life. Inappropriate conduct in private life, disrespecting the law or seeking special privileges reflect appropriately, not only on the officer but the police service as a whole.
Police officers need to refrain from accepting such favors in the course of executing their duty. Most department members do not hesitate to seek favors directed towards cutting departmental expenses; on most occasions. This looks normal to the police higher officials too, as they are under instruction to reduce expenditures. Sometimes they may have received administrative orders too, saying that repair or replacement would take time, or cannot be done till the close of the financial year.
Such policies only encourage the relevant police staff to look to external free sources. These include repair and maintenance of their premises, small stationary requirements, convict needs etc. It is unfortunate that no one within the government machinery is either aware or realize the negative consequences of such policies. These officers need to realize the extent of public participation in law enforcement, in accordance with binding ethics. Even in their interaction with their own suppliers, the department can be benefited with higher quality and lower costs, when the officers concerned stand up to the same without accepting favors.
There are several ways to benefit, directly or indirectly, from unethical conduct. A twisted officer can develop opportunities of benefit from any and every situation. It requires a honest and duty bound officer to turn down benefit aspects and execute the job. Honest and straightforward officers carry with them the credibility of their department. It requires self-commitment and voluntary adoption of ethics to perform in a manner worthy of public respect. It is indeed sad that many police officers have preferred to amass wealth through their disrespect of integrity.
As these officers are mostly part of the law enforcement machinery, they often get away unchecked. The only way such tainted officers can be reformed is by self-judgment and choice, rather than external enforcement. Although there are several such dishonest and corrupt policemen, it is only those few, who uphold values and ethics against all adversities, that the department still commands respect and trust. The code of ethics helps police officers to make decisions in dilemma situations, on a day-to-day basis.
The ethics toolkit issued by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, emphasizes on the do’s and don’ts of the police, with regard to legal and ethical conduct. It identifies accountability as “the duty of all officers to truthfully acknowledge and explain their actions and decisions when requested to do so by an authorized member of this agency without deception or subterfuge”. Although the toolkit does not bar police officials from receiving gifts and other items of value, it emphasizes that those receiving unsolicited gifts and items should report the receipt of such things.
If required, they should also provide a detailed report of the circumstances under which they were received. Officers should also not buy or keep articles or properties found, impounded, recovered or abandoned. Police officers, through their position in law enforcement, gain access to information; which again should not be used for financial gains or benefits. An important misuse of police power is when they use their powers to resolve personal problems (i.e. problems and issues of the police officer or his friends and relatives). Officers should not involve themselves in ordinary roles like arresting, booking traffic violations, etc., when they are not traveling in a marked police vehicle.
The duty of a law enforcement officer is primarily to be in self-compliance with the law, himself. The officer should be aware of law enforcements upon himself, when he is on duty, enforcing it. The officer should realize that his presence in the force and the force itself has been established in line with the community welfare aspirations. Whether the officer is engaged at the local, state or federal level, he plays a role in enforcing the community or public will, a will of safety, security and equality of all.
Through all his actions, the officer should defend this system and be careful not to encroach upon it. The law enforcement officer should use his powers to arrest offenders, only in accord with all existing laws (IIT, 2008). At time of arresting, the officer should respect the rights of the offender. In executing the arrest, the officer should only use the minimum physical force necessary. The officer needs to conduct himself with respect to self-compliance, to uphold the law, when dealing with both, law abiders and law violators.
It is evident that police officers, who are properly educated and trained, are able to respond better to ethical and moral situations demanded by their professions. It is very important for police officers to be able to overcome their moral and ethical dilemmas, for them to perform their duties and obligations in a professional way (Pagon, 2003). The police officer should be familiar with the principles of police ethics and needs to be trained in moral reasoning and ethics based decision-making. Supervisors have an important role in establishing and promoting the spirit of the code of ethics. They should be role models in the community’s effort of delivering impartial, effective and professional policing service.
The supervisors should ensure that individuals under their guidance and responsibility develop their professional performance. They should question and address behaviors which violate conduct codes, apart from reporting wherever appropriate (NIPB, 2007). The supervisor’s responsibility of maintaining professional standards and integrity can be facilitated by advice, corrective or appropriate action. When complaints of misconducts are brought by public, the supervisor must investigate and take appropriate actions. He should send a message that there would be no compromise on any actions by any staff that are directed to personal interests.
The police officers of today face a tough challenge of maintaining law and order in the society like never before. The enforcement officers of today combat crimes, law and order situations and risks that were not relevant ever before. Life style changes, technological developments and international relevance for all happenings, have made the job tougher. There is no doubt that for the compromising officer, such situations open up newer avenues of quick money and wealth. But for the honest officer, he would be without all such illegal benefits.
Tainted officers may go free, enjoy their ill-gotten wealth; but it is the money earned by honest means that give the satisfaction and peace of mind. Apart from satisfaction, there is an immense sense of self-value, that one would cherish forever. Living on legitimate earnings, is in several ways, a pride to the family and the community, to which the officer belongs. An honest officer needs no certificate. He is easily identified and respected by the public and his very own colleagues. The most capable and respectful officer is perhaps one, who can say each day to himself “I don’t fall for money or favors”.
Proctor S.T. 1997. Metropolitan Police Department Ethics and Integrity. [Electronic Version] retrieved on 24th March 2008 from http://www.dcwatch.com/police/971215.htm
International Association of Chiefs of Police (2002) Ethics Toolkit [Electronic Version] retrieved on 25th March 2008 from http://www.theiacp.org/profassist/ethics/model_policy.htm
Illinois Institute of Technology CSEP (2008) Canons of police ethics [Electronic Version] retrieved on 25th March 2008 from
Pagon M. (2003) Police ethics and integrity [Electronic Version] retrieved on 26th March 2008 from http://www.police-studies.com/papers/police-ethics-integrity.pdf
Northern Ireland Policing Board (2007) Code of ethics for the police service of Northern Ireland integrity [Electronic Version] retrieved on 26th March 2008 from http://www.nipolicingboard.org.uk/nipb_ethics.pdf