Ethics, such a
complicated word. Is there a time when it should not matter? Are there
situations when our ethics are allowed to take a backseat? In the world of law
enforcement this word is more difficult to define when its use is a must, or
simply assume to be used. For law enforcement world the concept that ethics is
a constant should be reinforced by leaders on a daily basis because ethics are
affected by three factors: growing temptation from the illicit drug trade, the
compromising nature of police culture – loyalty over integrity, and the
challenges from being decentralized – the decision process becoming more of a
first – line offer process.
tend to test ethics on a daily basis, but two types of ethics still bring
questions into play: absolute ethics (good or bad) are the backbone of the
legal system, relative ethics (which are situational and can have varying
shades of grey to them) take aspects into account that create possible
corruption situations (Peak et al, 2010, p. 218).
For leaders and
supervisors, the concept of deontological ethics, or ethics based on ones duty
to act, is important to instill (Peak et al, 2010, p. 217). Basically the
idea that, you, as an officer of the law, have an obligation to help do the
right thing when you see any illegal act being committed. Sergeants especially
are the first line of supervisors to any patrol officer. This first level of
supervisor is extremely important and can be a defining role for it shows the
sergeants perspective and ideals when it comes to ethics.
Do you guide your
officers under an ‘absolute ethics’ perspective which says there is only good
and bad; or do you allow your officers the ability to determine on their own
what is good or bad, or simply ok, this would be a ‘relative ethics’
perspective. This perspective allows for the possibilities of corruption
if the officer does not see what might be obvious or inherent evils in their
encounters, it also can allow an officer to see a situation and determine if
someone needs help with their situation, or simply needs to sleep a drunk off
in the local booking office.
The concept that
a patrol officer has the ability to say ‘you’re drunk but you’re not really
dangerous’, and yet at a different time pursue a dangerous offender through to
apprehension is a very big ethically challenging job. Giving this right to an
officer one might think that officers have rights or abilities above and beyond
those of any normal citizen, this would be a false assumption.
officers have unions and supervisors to protect them and to assist them in
their time of need, some of the most basic rights that the average citizen hold
dear, officers are not afforded. Other than the Peace Officer’s Bill of Right’s
police officers have no ‘above and beyond’ rights.
Although a police
officer is the employee of an agency, they are technically employed by the
state, and the state therefore has certain rights to limit
certain rights that regular citizens regularly have, such as limiting freedom
of speech (the state can: limit what an officer on duty can say in regards to
on – going investigations, can apply punishment to an officer that verbally
degrades their own agency, can punish a supervisor for insisting that lower
level officers support any particular political candidate, uphold any
appearance statute (uniforms, grooming – mustaches and sideburns) (Peak et al,
2010, 248); limiting freedom for search and seizure ( the state can ‘compel’
officers to comply with search and seizure orders, and can force them to stand
in a line up, a ‘seizure’ of their person) (Peak et al, 2010, p. 248); limiting
right to self – incrimination (the state can force an officer to forego their
right to self – incrimination as long as it is known that the information will
not be used for any future proceedings) (Peak et al, 2010, p. 249); limiting
freedom to religious practices (the state does not have to accommodate with any
religious practices of any individual officer and can order said officer to
work their given schedule despite any known or obvious religious obligations or
preferences) (Peak et al, 2010, p. 249).
Many other rights
that the average everyday citizen would take for granted, law enforcement
officers simply do not have the conveniences of, and the state will not simply
oblige to them. It seems a bit unreasonable that rights that afforded
someone who does not work to protect their community, are not afford to someone
that does. It seems a bit unconstitutional if you ask me.
Peak, K., Gaines,
L. & Glensor, R. (2010). Police supervision and management in an era of
community policing (3rd ed.) Upper saddle, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.