Law enforcement misconduct emanates from police officers who are usually charged with the duty of maintaining law and order within a criminal justice system. Most jurisdictions usually take police misconduct as a very gross matter bearing in mind that it significantly weakens the entire criminal justice system. It is pertinent to note that law enforcement ought to begin with the police officers themselves. They are under obligation to fully obey the existing laws and regulations. This implies that strict disciplinary action should be taken against all law enforcing officers who defy the very law that they are supposed to maintain. The rogue law enforcers are deemed to be individuals who are within the criminal justice system but unable to uphold high standards of ethical practices when executing their various roles (U.S. Department of Justice, 2000).
When the criminal justice system is affected, the entire community is also interfered with because the law enforcement system is purely meant to enhance law and order. For instance, police officers who are not ethical when discharging their duties are highly likely to receive bribes, conduct illegal arrests, engage in dangerous forms of drug addiction and even forfeit duty whenever required to perform specific tasks. When such cases occur, the concerned officers should face some form of disciplinary actions so that they can be fit enough to serve the community. For instance, they can be taken through incarceration, employment termination, suspension, or even be subjected to monetary fines. It is against this backdrop that’s this paper takes an incisive look at the effects of law enforcement misconduct on communities with special reference to the criminal justice system.
Law enforcement misconduct and its effects to community
As already pointed out, members of the police forces are generally charged with the duty of maintaining law and order. Even though most of them perform their duties as expected, there is still quite a number who do not align themselves with the required work ethics. As such, there are scores of various laws that are not adhered to by law enforcers on a daily basis. In other words, these laws are easily broken at will especially in systems that do not apprehend rogue officers. For example, when a member of a community is deprived of his or her basic right, it amounts to a criminal offence regardless of the perpetrator. Some law enforcers may opt to restrain somebody who is innocent and non-violent. Worse still, gross misconduct among law enforcers may also be witnessed during arrests whereby the suspect is beaten ruthlessly in spite of the fact that the targeted individual is not resisting arrest. In other instances, an investigation may be on-going while a law enforcing officer files a criminal complaint (Braswell, 2012).
From the above considerations, it can be seen that any community can be harmed by police misconduct. A high level of mistrust emanates from members of the community when the law enforcing officers are part and parcel of law breakers. It is logical that the police officers may work towards minimizing the rate of crime while they do not adhere to the code of conduct or even obey the very law that they enforce. When a police officer fails to remain responsible throughout his career life, then the net impact to the community being guarded will also be gross. Perhaps, it is not merely enough for a police officer to be a representative of the criminal justice system. The abilities to discharge duties and also be law abiding are crucial (National Conference for Community and Justice, 2002)
When a law enforcing officer drives when already drunk, it is highly likely that the community will snub that kind of officer. To make the matter worse, the offense may be repeated severally by the same officer. The net effect will be a community that does not obey the law. Whenever arrests are made, they will be left wondering why double standards are being applied by the officers. This implies that when misconduct thrives among police officers, the rate of crime in a community will equally be on the rise. A criminal justice system can only remain effective if sanity among officers is emphasized.
In addition, use of excessive force amounts to misconduct among law enforcers. There are limited instances when excessive force may be applied. This includes cases when the assailant is resisting arrest or is heavily armed. When the lives of arresting officers are also proved to be in danger, some amount of force may be applied. Nonetheless, officers who employ too much force for instance when quelling peaceful demonstrators commit offence while in their line of duty.
Discriminatory harassment or even any form of harassment is not ethical while enforcing the law (Braswell, 2012). Even for hardcore criminals, harassment is never the solution. This explains why individuals found guilty are usually sentenced to jail, or fined in order to correct their behaviors. When harassment is used as a tool for enforcing the law, bitter relationship will definitely emerge between members of the public and police officers. Even though the community is not part of the criminal justice system, it is integral to mention that community policing has been employed across the world in combating crime at the local level. When law enforcers use harassment on the very community they are serving, the concept of community policing will not work at all. For example, it is members of the community who have the best capacity to detect and report felony within their neighborhoods (Hart, 2001).
False arrests are not ethical at all among the law enforcing agencies. Police officers are supposed to gather adequate evidence before proceeding with any arrests. They should not rely on hearsay when making arrests. As a matter of fact, this can be avoided when investigations are carried out in the most ethical manner. Other acts of misconduct include unwarranted searches, unlawful stops, and coercive sexual conduct.
Several investigations have been carried out on claims of police brutality. A police officer may be brutal both verbally and physically. The physical acts of brutality may leave a member of community hospitalized after being beaten almost to death. Punching, kicking, or pushing a person with gun end, poor use of handcuffs and even hitting suspects with a baton may also result into physical abuse. These brutal acts fail the test of ethics in community because none of them assists in combating acts of crime. On the same note, verbal assault may entail the use of vulgar or abusive language to individuals who have been arrested or even the innocent members of the society. When such happens, members of the community will find it utterly cumbersome to offer basic respect to the entire lot of the law enforcing officers. Worse still, the criminal justice system will also suffer in terms of reputation.
‘Dirty cops’ are also unethical in their daily practice as law enforcing officers. This category of officers may engage in several acts of crimes even though they are supposed to protect the law. For example, they can engage in organized crime, child pornography, trading weapons and also selling harmful drugs (Braswell, 2012). These are serious forms of crimes that may attract life-long sentences in jail and heavy fines. When such officers are not apprehended at the right time, the crime wave in a community may grow at unprecedented level. The community may experience intense social rot as a result of such officers. Harsh sentencing should be preferred against such officers so that members of the community can regain their trust in the criminal justice system. In reality, the young generation who identify with the misbehavior of unethical officers may end up developing bad mannerisms even as they grow up to adulthood. This is why the law enforcing officers should be made up of professional individuals who are also role models in a community.
From the above discussion, it is pertinent to reiterate that there are several adverse effects of misconduct when law enforcers do not carry out their roles in the most ethical manner. For example, lack of mistrust between members of a community and law enforcers is likely to come up when police officers conduct themselves poorly at workplace. In addition, misconduct among law enforcers taints the image of the entire criminal justice system. Community members may not feel at ease to take part in community policing. As already discussed in the above section, a community of people is a powerful tool that police officers can employ to deter acts of crime. On a final note, lack of dignity to law enforcers will be widespread if police officers engage in organized crime, overdrinking, drug dealing and so on.
Braswell M.C. (2012). Justice, Crime and Ethics. New York: Anderson Publishing Co.
Hart, K. (2001). Contemporary Police Brutality and Misconduct: A Continuance of the Legacy of Racial Violence. Web.
National Conference for Community and Justice (2002). Police Misconduct. Web.
U.S. Department of Justice (2000). Addressing Police Misconduct. Web.