The following report is on ethics and law in the police service. The police ethics are imperative in the police service as they enhance and build the service, which is crucial to the development of public confidence. Such confidence promotes growth economically, socially and ensures political stability in any nation. Therefore, law enforcement officers need to have good morals as their work of enforcing the law means that they must be compliant with the law, otherwise lack of integrity and disobedience to the laws that they enforce will erode public trust and hamper them in the execution of duties. The first part of this essay discusses the findings from interviews with law enforcement officers. It looks into four major areas of police ethics upheld by law enforcement officers. It also looks into the challenges that law enforcement officers face in the execution of their duties. Lastly, it looks into how the law enforcement officers should conduct themselves in scenarios where self-interest conflicts with the public interest.
Importance of ethics in the field of law enforcement
All the interviews indicated that ethic is an imperative aspect of law enforcement. Having moral integrity is crucial to the law enforcement agencies in the course of discharging their duties. Two of the interviews indicate that having character is imperative in law enforcement as the agencies are usually exposed to instances where they take advantage of the public and steal, or forcefully take property from the public. The law enforcement officers must uphold integrity as their duties involve protection of human life, property, and constitution of a given country. The responsibility of protection implies that the law enforcement officer should be individuals who are not only conversant with the law but also obedient.
The second importance of ethics and character for law enforcement officers is that people who disobey the law or criminals may try to evade justice by providing favors and bribes for the officers to divert from justice. If the law enforcement officers do not have sense of integrity, they are likely to give in to the demands of such people and hence the officers will not have discharged their duties as stipulated by the law.
The third reason was given by the interviewees why character and ethics are critical to the law enforcement officers is that it enables the officers to win public trust. The public who the law enforcement officers serve cannot confide with them about security issues if they feel that the officers are also involved in the crime. They cannot entrust criminals to safeguard their lives and property. The law enforcement officers must win the trust of the public by upholding high moral standards. Trust is an imperative component in law enforcement as it ensures that the officers develop rapport with the public. The public serves as informants and cannot inform the law enforcement officers about suspects or criminal activities that are ongoing if they have a perception that the officers are unethical.
Other than winning the confidence of the public, character and ethics enable the police officers to win the confidence of their seniors. Character enables the police officers to follow instructions and perform their duties without bias. Law enforcement ethics demand that the law enforcement officers obey the instructions given out by their seniors. This makes the law enforcement activities well coordinated compared to instances where the officers act on their own volition without coordination and order.
Law enforcement implies that the officers will face instances where personal interest may conflict with the public interest. In case the officer does not have good ethical background, personal interests are likely to overrule public interest and the welfare of the people that the officer is serving. Character and ethics act as guide on how law enforcement officers should conduct themselves in different instances.
Are the police more ethical than they were ten years ago?
From the interviews, the police are more ethical than they were ten years ago. All the law enforcement officers interviewed indicated that the officers are more ethical and have a bigger sense of good morals than they had a decade ago. Although the research does not show the reasons why the law enforcement officers have become more ethical there are several aspects that may have contributed to this turn of events. The first is increased vigilance from the public where the public exposes corrupt police officers forcing them to terminate their jobs or stop unethical practices. The other reason is the training and creation of awareness about the place of ethics in law enforcement. This has made the officers realize that law enforcement is critical to a peaceful nation.
Why do police officers become involved in misconduct?
The police officers become involved in misconduct for a number of reasons, the first being low remuneration. The law enforcement officers deal with cases where large amounts of money are involved, especially cases of robbery, drug trafficking, and money laundering. The criminals involved in such activities may compromise the integrity of the law enforcement officers by bribing them to stop the investigations thereby compromising the pursuit of justice. If the officers are well paid, they are unlikely to compromise their integrity and trust by accepting bribes and other favors intended to divert justice.
Lack of information or appropriate training on ethics may also compromise the integrity of the law enforcement officers due to the many instances that arise prompting the officers to compromise their conduct.
The third reason why law enforcement officers may be involved in misconduct is due to lack of leadership or compromised senior officers who lack the moral authority to punish their juniors as they also engage in corrupt activities and other unethical practices. For instance, if a Sherriff is involved in drug cartels, such an officer cannot condemn law enforcement officers who take bribes from drug traffickers, as he does not have moral authority.
Self-interest is another reason given by the interviewees as a cause of misconduct the law enforcement officers. For instance, a relative of the law enforcement officer may be involved in a crime. The officer may choose to disregard the law and release the relative or frame another person to free the friend or a relative. This is disregard of ethical values expected which is common among law enforcement officers.
Law enforcement officers may also be involved in crime because of peer pressure. If there are other law enforcement officers engaged in misconduct, they may make law-abiding officers who uphold ethical values to compromise their duties. This usually happens when the senior officers are corrupt and cover their juniors who engage in corrupt activities.
Is the training offered in the training academy enough or not?
Two thirds of the interviewees felt that the police training is not enough. They feel that they learn many subjects during the training period and that ethics does not have a lot of emphasis, as it should. The second reason why they feel that the training is not adequate is that this should be continuous training. It is an issue that the officers encounter most of the time and may affect them negatively in the course of their duty.
However, one-third of the interviewees feel that matters of ethics have nothing to do with training and the training, which they received from the academies, was enough. They argue that matters of ethics are a product of personal values and preferences rather than a result of training. They feel that even with continuous training on ethics those whose values do not embrace ethical conduct will still be involved in unethical practices.
Training in ethics should be offered as a continuous process for the police officers
Among the interviewees who responded, two felt that the training should be offered as continuous in-service training. This provides a platform for officers to share the ethical challenges that they have encountered in the course of executing duties. The trainings also serve as a reminder to the officers on matters relating to ethics and their day-to-day experiences. It enables the officer to have knowledge on how to handle matters pertaining to ethics. In some states according to the interviewees such as North Carolina, the training is an imperative procedure, which involves the participation of all law enforcement agencies. When the training is mandatory as in such states, the laws enforcements officers have to undergo the ongoing law enforcement and ethics training.
Two of the interviewees feel that the training is resourceful, as it will involve development of the law enforcement resources in the country. It will involve the moral development of the law enforcement officers, as it will make them aware of the instances when their integrity might be compromised. It will also enable them to handle different situations differently as per the ethical standard, which is suitable for such a scenario.
Corruption in the police force will reduce after training
According to the interviewees, the trainingig will reduce incidences of police corruption by providing forums where the officers discuss the challenges that they face in the execution of duties. It gives them an opportunity to brainstorm on how to deal with ethical challenges as well as helping them appreciate the place of ethics in their career. The officers also indicate that the training gives them the motivation to act ethically. It informs the law enforcement officers on how to act on various instances where they are required to uphold high moral values and integrity. It provides a forum for brainstorming and developing ways of handling cases pertaining to integrity. The trainings instill the moral values that are required in law enforcement. It will be a challenge to deal with crime and insecurity and therefore crimes are likely to increase in places where the police are corrupt or participate in criminal activities. However, there are those who feel that the training cannot reduce instances of corruption. Their feeling is that when a police is corrupt, it is because he has made a personal decision and therefore in-service training about ethics would not be necessary, as the government would incur extra costs.
The government should continually train the police to equip them with wide knowledge of the law governing the state. This is important so that lawbreakers can be tried in court of law according to the current systems of justice. The process should also include correctional measures on the criminals. There are areas where the police officer is expected to practice impartiality in execution of duties. The officers should serve the public without discriminating them due to race gender, age, or religion. This area has presented a huge challenge to law enforcement officers as they may find their friends involved in crime and it may be very hard to arrest such people. To avoid this, the law enforcement officers are recommended to work in areas where they are far from home to ensure that their integrity is authorized.
The other important area involves the use of excessive force where the police officers should ensure that they do not use excessive force as they discharge their duties, as this would affect the perception of the public on the police officers. Eroding public confidence affects the law enforcing officers as the public may withhold critical information required by the police officers. When use of force is unavoidable in law enforcement the officer should ensure that the force is not for humiliating the person. These ethics present challenges in instances where force must be applied in containing violent demonstrators. When containing such demonstrators, excessive force may be used, which may be regarded as unethical yet it is in the best interest of the police officer’s personal safety. Another instance is in a case of police shoot out between thugs and the police officers. In such a scenario, excessive force may be used to contain the suspected thugs, which may appear unethical although it is the right decision. Ethics therefore is not a prescribed code of conduct, but it is acting in the best interest of the public and the law enforcement. The other ethical challenge arises when the senior officers are involved in criminal activities or misconduct and want to involve the other police officers as part of their duty by commanding them to do something wrong or illegal like taking a bribe and favors then sharing the favors. In the line of duty, it is wrong for a law enforcement officer to disobey orders from the seniors, but it is also wrong to do something illegal knowingly.
The following are recommendations on how to deal with ethical challenges that are involved in the execution of duties by law enforcement officers. The first recommendation is to offer an ongoing training on matters pertaining to ethics. This is because as the society evolves transparency and accountability are critical in law enforcement. With the need to honor and respect human rights, instances where police have used excessive force have received wide condemnation. The police officers need training to keep them abreast with changing issues of crime. For instance, one of the most prominent theft cases involve cyber crime and the use of internet and therefore knowledge on ethics pertaining to the use of the internet and technology is imperative in training law police training. For instance, it is good for officers to know whether it is ethically right to infringe the privacy of a given person by hacking into their phones and tracking their conversations. Such issues must be addressed during their training to keep the officers abreast with the changes in technology and criminal cases.
Apart from the training in the law enforcement, the other way of dealing with challenges will involve having leaders in law enforcement agencies that have high integrity. This should include having officers in the police service who have served for more than twenty years and have never been involved in cases of misconduct. Such officers provide morale to junior officers and inspire trust and confidence from the public. When the senior officers have high integrity, they are also intolerant to officers who engage in cases of corruption, extortion, and impropriety. These results to a team of law enforcement officers who have high levels of integrity, elicit trust in the public, and reduce levels of insecurity. The training should also involve training officers on how to treat the public courteously as this is a major challenge. Whereas the ethical code of conduct demands that, the law enforcement officers treat the public with high respect and courtesy this is not the case. Due to the nature of their jobs, law enforcers are likely to be irritable to some members of the public, which might make them talk rudely and without care. However, this can change by training the law enforcers on communication ethics that deal with responding to the public.
The third recommendation relates to the remuneration of law enforcement officers. To elicit their cooperation and motivate them to uphold high levels of integrity, it is imperative for the law enforcement agencies or the government to increase the levels of remuneration. When the law enforcement officers receive good remuneration, they are likely to serve diligently and ethically. The lowly paid officers are likely to give in to corrupt people who may offer favors, bribes, and other resources with attempt to prevent execution of justice on the crimes committed. This compromises the integrity of the law enforcement officers as they lose moral authority to arrest criminals. Officers who have poor remuneration will not be motivated and are likely to seek alternative sources of income.
To ensure that there is compliance from the officers on ethical issues, officers involved in issues of misconduct should be penalized either through sacking or through suspension from their duties. This will instill discipline and communicate the essence of upholding high levels of integrity and values in their line of duty. Having well defined measures and punishments policies for those found guilty of unethical practices is critical in promoting ethical standards among the police officers.
The law enforcement requires individuals who uphold high levels of integrity. This will make law enforcement critical in the execution of justice. Only people who are compliant with the law and have a high sense of integrity should be law enforcers dealing with execution of justice. With training, leadership, and good remuneration the officers will be motivated to discharge their duties ethically. Matters of ethics are imperative in restoring order and creating a society where life and property are safe. Ethics ensure respect of human rights in the process of law enforcement.