Police Ethics

Ethics and ethical conduct are among the biggest concerns that the United States criminal justice system deals with on a regular basis. In order to operate in a professional and efficient manner, without expressing personal views and emotions, law enforcement personnel must adhere to a code of ethics and a code of conduct in a strict and unwavering manner.

Ethics and ethical conduct plays an important role in law enforcement. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) established a code of ethics in 1957 to govern the conduct of its members. The code of ethics was revised at the IACP conference in Louisville, Kentucky, on October 17, 1989. The revisions were reviewed and finalized by the IACP membership. IACP members adopted the new codes after a unanimous vote in October 1991.

United States citizens have a set of values and norms that they expect all law enforcement agencies to practice. These include local, state, and federal law enforcement bodies. In order to follow these norms and to gain respect, personnel need to remain ethical and conduct themselves accordingly at all times, both on and off duty.

The law enforcement code of ethics and the police code of conduct are what represent the basis for ethical behavior in law enforcement and they encourage its classification as a profession. However, these codes are simply words, and law enforcement officials as well as their leaders must consider them the bible for law enforcement in order to make them effective. They must not only believe in the codes but also follow them and display conduct that supports them.

These guidelines operate with the criminal justice system to enforce the standards of conduct necessary to protect individuals and communities. The law enforcement code of ethics and the police code of conduct also represent the rules that law enforcement personnel need to perform their duties, to act in an ethical manner, as well as to enforce specific standards of conduct. For many personnel, the codes are used as an oath of office during the graduation ceremony. This remains morally binding throughout the entire length of service of each law enforcement officer.

According to the code of ethics, the fundamental duties of an officer are to serve the community, to safeguard lives and property, to protect the innocent people against deception and the weak people against oppression or intimidation. The officer also has to protect the peaceful against violence or disorder and to respect the constitutional rights of all people to liberty, equality and justice. The code of ethics states that the private lives of officers must be kept unsullied, while the badge must be recognized as a symbol of public faith and trust.

Officers abide by the law enforcement code of ethics alongside the police code of conduct. This code consists of ethical mandates used by law enforcement officers to perform their duties. These guidelines include exercising discretion, acting impartially and using only necessary force. According to the code, an officer must also maintain confidentiality, integrity and a professional image at all times.

These codes provide the guidelines for law enforcement personnel to conduct ethical investigations, to use only the force needed to apprehend an individual, and avoid conflicts of interest and corruption. These ethical statements, together with appropriate training and strong leadership, encourage law enforcement personnel to become members of an ethical profession.

Corruption is one of the ethical issues facing law enforcement officers. Police corruption represents the lack of policy integrity and constitutes one of the most significant obstacles to positive relations between police and the public. The concept of corruption refers to acts of brutality, excessive force, inefficiency, the use of public office for private gain and other activities.

It is widely agreed that corruption exists at all levels of law enforcement and must be controlled. Law enforcement officers cannot allow themselves to incur favors or become indebted to anyone, because they are public servants and owe their services to society. In order to eliminate corruption, society must change the beliefs and actions of officers. Meanwhile, administrators can ensure that quality leadership exists by screening applicants completely, training personnel, giving them guidelines, providing them with honorable work and encouraging them to be team players.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Police Ethics
Seumas Miller; John Blackler; Andrew Alexandra.
Allen & Unwin, 2006 (2nd edition)
Peer Reporting of Unethical Police Behavior
Vedat Kargin.
LFB Scholarly, 2011
Fallen Blue Knights: Controlling Police Corruption
Sanja Kutnjak IvkoviĆ.
Oxford University Press, 2005
Character and Cops: Ethics in Policing
Edwin J. Delattre.
American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1989
Power and Restraint: The Moral Dimension of Police Work
Howard S. Cohen; Michael Feldberg.
Praeger, 1991
Policework: The Need for a Noble Character
Rickey D. Lashley.
Praeger Publishers, 1995
Government Ethics and Law Enforcement: Toward Global Guidelines
Yassin El-Ayouty; Kevin J. Ford; Mark Davies; William P. Carter.
Praeger Publishers, 2000
Divided Loyalties: Ethical Challenges for America's Law Enforcement in Post 9/11 America
Brown, Cynthia A.
Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Vol. 43, No. 3, Winter 2011
Moving beyond the Noble Cause Paradigm: Providing a Unified Theory of Ethics for 21st Century American Policing
FitzPatrick, Daniel P.
Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Fall 2006
Improving American Police Ethics Training: Focusing on Social Contract Theory and Constitutional Principles
Moll, Monica M.
Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2007
Police Corruption: An Analytical Look into Police Ethics
Martin, Rich.
The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Vol. 80, No. 5, May 2011
Special Report: Ethics-Truth about Police Code of Silence Revealed
Trautman, Neal.
Law & Order, Vol. 49, No. 1, January 2001
Police and Policing: Contemporary Issues
Dennis Jay Kenney; Robert P. McNamara.
Praeger, 1999 (2nd edition)
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