People join the police force out of the desire to serve and protect the larger society. Within the context of law enforcement, a noble cause can be described as a moral devotion to ensure that the world becomes a safer place (Martinelli, 2006). However, when this dedication becomes more valuable than the means to achieve the objectives, corruption is bound to occur. Thus, Noble cause corruption is “…the corruption of police power, when officers do bad things because they believe that the outcomes will be good” (Martinelli, 2006, p. 149). Three widely circulated video clips can be used to explain noble cause corruption. First, an Austin, Texas Police car video shows an officer violently confronting woman (“Video shows white cop in violent confrontation,” 2016). Second, NYPD officers are seen harassing young black men using the stop and frisk approach (ABC News, 2013). Third, a Washington policeman breaks the speed limit past state troopers with no emergency call (ABC News, 2014). Although officers in all the videos may justify their actions by stating that they were discharging their mandates, their actions were unethical as they violated police code of conduct and the law.
The law enforcement Code of Ethics plays a significant role in ensuring that officers conduct their duties professionally and within the law. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) states that every law enforcer must understand their position’s ethical responsibilities and “must strive to live up to the highest possible standards of professional policing” (“Law Enforcement Code of Ethics,” 2019, p. 32). Moreover, the agency directs that police officers should enforce laws courteously and appropriately, and should never employ unnecessary force unless persuasion and negotiation have proved ineffective (“Law Enforcement Code of Ethics,” 2019). The first video shows Spradlin, a white officer, forcefully and violently dragging King, the black woman, out of her car (“Video shows white cop in violent confrontation,” 2016). In the second video, NYPD law enforcers can be seen stopping black youth at random and frisking them aggressively. The third video involves a speeding police officer who also happens to be a driving instructor. In each case, the officers’ actions amount to unethical behaviors as they failed to adhere to the IACP’s ethical standards.
The behaviors depicted by police in the first two videos can be attributed to noble cause corruption. Based on the concept of noble cause corruption, the aggressiveness of Spradlin and the NYPD law enforcers towards the unarmed suspects was meant for the greater benefit of the larger community. Thus, these officers rationalized their behaviors as part of the work they are paid to execute as well as what the public desires. In the two cases, the police agencies applied the proactive approach of law enforcement. By definition, proactive policing entails an emphasis on reduction or prevention of disorder and crime (Miller, 2017). This law enforcement strategy is different from the standard policing model, which focuses on responding to specific crime incidents after they have happened (Miller, 2017). The implementation of proactive policing techniques such as stop and frisk have been associated with noble cause corruption, making officers apply aggressive practices that lead to violation of constitutional standards (Martinelli, 2006). The U.S. constitution requires that every citizen should be treated with dignity (Miller, 2017). The NYPD officers and Spradlin acted in total disregard of the suspects’ rights to dignified treatment.
Police culture can also lead to misconduct among law enforcers. Typically, the police are cynical in the sense that they perceive all citizens as suspicious and problematic, particularly when they can be classified into a “type” (Miller, 2017, p. 73). As a result, law enforcement agencies deal with certain groups of people, such as the black community in the U.S, as if they have already broken the law (Zhu, 2019). Spradlin and the NYPD officers may have resorted to violence against King and the black young men because African Americans are associated with criminal activities in America. Moreover, the notion that officers are recipients of low wages and victims of public scorn and misunderstanding separates them from other individuals and vindicates a varying set of laws for them (Miller, 2017). This belief creates a culture where the police see themselves as different from the community, which can them break the law and go unpunished as they tend to cover each other’s mistakes. For instance, the officer in the third video did not mind speeding past state troopers because he knew they would not chase him.
Teleological theories can be applied to the unethical method adopted by officers in the three videos. For instance, the utilitarianism theory argues that the most moral option is the one that offers the greatest good for the utmost number. In law enforcement, utilitarianism is the only ethical framework that justifies the use of unnecessary force (Utilitarianism, 2019). Subsequently, the consequentialist model suggests that moral judgments are based on the repercussions of an action or a decision (Deontology, 2019). Thus, if the outcomes of a specific action are beneficial or positive, then the action is considered to be ethically right. Conversely, if a decision leads to harm, that decision is deemed morally wrong. Teleological concepts are different from deontological theories as the latter maintains that the fundamental standards of moral correctness of an action do not rely on the evil or bad generated (Deontology, 2019). Deontology emphasizes on rules and duties, implying that deontologists will help individuals because, in doing so, they will be complying with a moral rule. Unlike teleological models, deontological ethics focus on the action rather than outcomes.
The actions portrayed by officers in the three videos indicate that they applied teleological principles. First, it can be argued that by violently arresting King, Spradlin prevented a potential road crash, producing the greatest good for the public. Similarly, the NYPD officers can claim that they inhumanely stop and frisk suspicious young black men to reduce criminal activities and for the safety of New Yorkers. The third video reveals that the officer was over speeding because he was rushing to a police training conference, which is meant to reinforce the law enforcement’s capacity to safeguard the public. In the same vein, the officers can use the slippery slope logic to argue that it is worthwhile to eliminate any potential threat before the problems leads to a chain of negative events (Miller, 2017). Through the rotten apples reasoning, the NYPD officers can vindicate themselves by stating that getting criminal elements off the streets is vital before they spread across the state (Miller, 2017). Furthermore, the structural functionalism argues that social order is among the pillars of stability and safety (Miller, 2017). As a result, the officers might claim that their actions were driven by the desire to maintain social order.
The three incidents have negative impacts on community, individual officers, and the larger law enforcement agency. Empirical evidence suggests that exposure to police violence, either directly or indirectly, is harmful to the victims’ mental health (Martinelli, 2006). This issue is particularly prevalent among the minorities such as the blacks or Hispanics in America (ABC News, 2013). Research indicates that these people are highly likely to experience depression, trauma, and anxiety due to constant harassment from the police (ABC News, 2013). Moreover, the actions in the videos taint the image of individual officers as well as that of the entire police agency. Out of the three occurrences, action set by the law enforcers failed to attain the intended legal purpose. Particularly, the officers did not demonstrate their professional accountability to the community as required by the AICP. Additionally, while the police are required to be impartial, officers in the first two videos portrayed racial biasness. The unethical behaviors of the officers in the three cases makes the public to perceive police as violent, racist, and unruly, raising concerns over the legitimacy of the police force.
In summary, all the law enforcers in the three videos were unethical due to noble cause corruption. Spradlin and the NYPD officers violated the law enforcement code of conduct on the use of force and officers’ fundamental responsibilities. Additionally, the speeding officer did not demonstrate highest standards of professional practice with the law enforcement agencies. Although officers in the first two videos may vindicate themselves by arguing that they acted in the best interest of the general public, they infringed the suspect’s rights to be treated with respect. The policemen’s misdemeanor can best be elaborated through two main teleological theories; utilitarianism and consequentialism, which can help in comprehending the motives behind their actions. Moreover, the concepts of teleology and noble cause corruption can further be supported by three main schools of thought; slippery slope, rotten apples, and structural functionalism. Overall, the impacts of the officers’ actions have far reaching consequences on the community, individual officers, the police force and how the public views the larger law enforcement agencies.
ABC News. (2013). NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk: Racial Profiling or ‘Proactive Policing’? [Video file]. Web.
ABC News. (2014). Washington Police Caught Speeding Past State Troopers [Video file]. Web.
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Martinelli, T. J. (2006). Unconstitutional policing: The ethical challenges in dealing with noble cause corruption. Police Chief, 73(10), 148-156.
Miller, S. (2017). Police and law enforcement ethics. Routledge.
Utilitarianism. (2019). McCombs School of Business. Web.
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Zhu, A. (2019). Tried six times for quadruple murder, Curtis Flowers freed after Supreme Court finds racism in trial. USA Today. Web.