8.28.2012

The Importance of Ethics and Character in Law Enforcement


Elizabeth Hall
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 30: Rodney King arrive...
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 30: Rodney King arrives at the EsoWon books store to sign copies of his new book, 'The Riot Within: My Journey From Rebellion to Redemption,' on April 30, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. King is best known as the victim of a brutal police beating that took place in Los Angeles. Its been 20 years since the Rodney King verdict that sparked infamous L.A. Riots. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
Introduction
When considering the importance of ethics in our modern world, there are several areas in our society that require that the employees possess the most ethical standards.  We will explore one of these areas, the criminal justice system, more specifically the law enforcement portion of the system.  According to Delattre (2011), character and ethical standards come from a passionate desire to be a moral, upright, respectable person.  This is not to say that some of this does not come from environment and upbringing, however in reality, these qualities come from within. 
Particularly in the law enforcement field, ethical behavior and character are important because these people are charged with upholding and enforcing the laws of our country.  Almost all of us are taught from a young age that law enforcement members are trusted members of our society.  We are taught that if we are in trouble, find a police officer, and they will help us.  Because of this public trust, any discrepancy in this violates not only the police code, but also the entire law enforcement population of the nation.  When one bad officer makes the nightly news for misconduct, the
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 30:  A new book, 'The ...
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 30: A new book, 'The Riot Within: My Journey From Rebellion to Redemption,' by Rodney King is displayed at EsoWon bookstore on April 30, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. King is best known as the victim of a brutal police beating that took place in Los Angeles. It’s been 20 years since the Rodney King verdict that sparked infamous L.A. Riots. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
 public reacts and it takes years to undo the damage to that trust.
In this analysis, we have interviewed two law enforcement professionals to determine what they feel on the subject of ethics and character in law enforcement.  One of these officers, Jeff Smith, works for the Lexington Police Department as an officer in the school enforcement division, and the other, Christine Zien, works for the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, as a Deputy Sheriff.  We discussed topics such as the importance of ethics and character in law enforcement, ethical improvements, reasons for police misconduct, the training quality they receive in ethics at the academy, and if better ethical training would affect the rate of police corruption, the following essay is based on their viewpoint of this discussion.
Importance of Ethics and Character in Law Enforcement
According to Officer Christine Zien (personal communication April 18, 2012) and Officer Jeff Smith (personal communication April 10, 2012), ethics and character are important in law enforcement for several reasons.  The most important reason is to maintain the standard of ethics set forth by their agencies. Another reason is that in order to uphold the law, officers have always had to be held at higher standards than those held for the public.  If one has no ethics, then it is easier to take the shorter route than to do the right thing, as often it is the harder choice to do the right thing.
 For law enforcement members it is also required to maintain this standard in their personal lives as well, because whether on or off duty, the public still expects you to maintain that ethical standard and officers are not above the law (C. Zien, personal communication, April 18, 2012).  This is different from other professions such as a computer specialist, because when they go home, they can act whatever way they please.  Officer Smith (personal communication, April 10, 2012) noted tha
Ethics and Technology
Ethics and Technology (Photo credit: Center for the Study of Ethics at UVU)
t if you do not conform to the ethical standards, you would have a hard time getting what you need done.  For example with this, suppose an officer goes on Facebook and slanders someone, cyber stalks a female, or talks bad about his agency, that information is usually public information, and will not only get you fired these days, but who will respect your authority after seeing something like that?     
Delattre (2011) holds that officers like Frank Serpico, who refused to act unethically have been pushed out of agencies, lost their jobs, or plain quit, as he did.  It is very disheartening to be an honest officer amidst a sea of dishonest officers on the take.  Many rookies that would have otherwise been fine on the job have been turned into dirty cops within their first weeks.  This is partially due to the culture of police protecting their fellow officers, and, because seasoned veterans are the ones teaching them to get their share of the proceeds immediately.
Have Ethics Improved or Deteriorated in the Last Decade?
The c
U.S. Customs and Border Protection :original c...
U.S. Customs and Border Protection :original caption: CBP Officers pay tribute to fellow fallen officers during a Law Enforcement memorial service in Washington D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
onsensus on this is yes, ethics have improved over the last decade, and that, ten years ago officers would not have thought twice about issuing roadside justice as noted by Officer Smith.  The reasons that ethics have improved in the last ten years, has a lot to do with technology advancing.  Everyone has a camera and a cell phone and have no problems whipping them out to take video of any police impropriety.  Law enforcement officers are involved in many lawsuits over political correctness, police brutality, and other issues (C. Zien, personal communication, April 18, 2012).       
One of the problems with this change is that law enforcement has had to step back in roles that would have otherwise been accepted (C. Zien, personal communication, April 18, 2012).  Another issue is that this is making officers victims with increased officer shootings.  This is because officers are more worried about ethical violations and political correctness causing lawsuits instead of the job at hand.  Some of this is due to media broadcasts of high profile cases like Rodney King and OJ Simpson, because as these things take hold, and are sensationalized by the media, it causes knee jerk reactions in those responsible for making policy.  These reactions often result in poorly thought out policies (C. Zien, personal communication, April 18, 2012).
Reasons for Police Misconduct
There is no single reason why police become caught up in misconduct.  There are, however several reasons that this may happen.  Officer Smith (personal communication, April 10, 2012) offers up that sometimes it is easy to be “caught up in the moment”.   Another reason offered by Officer Zien is that sometimes the officers get so caught up in the unit that they forget that they also have a life outside of work.  Even more than this, officers sometimes think that because they are the law that makes them above it, which could not be further from the truth.   Another additional problem with this is that these officers often develop a larger than life attitude, and a fictional sense of security, contributing to the misconduct problems of the agency (C. Zien, personal communication, April 18, 2012).
ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 8:  A woman, who did not...
ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 8: A woman, who did not wish to be identified, cries at the scene where two U.S. marshals and a St. Louis police officer were shot while trying to serve an arrest warrant March 8, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. According to the U.S. Marshals Service a gunfight broke out when two the U.S. marshals and a St. Louis police officer were serving an arrest warrant at the house on the city's south side. At least one other person was wounded and police are currently in a standoff. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
Police Academy Ethics Training
Officer Smith notes that there was not enough training a two-decades ago, but that now there is plenty, maybe too much training in general, as the time in the academy is double than when he attended training there.  The actual count is twenty-two weeks in the academy and thirty weeks before the officer is on his own.  Officer Zien paints a much more detailed picture, agreeing that there might be too much training.  She goes on to say that
 when it was her time in the academy in 1985, “ethics training was roughly four hours, and now the amount has increased by five times.  This includes training on discussing lawsuits, video cameras, misconduct, policies, etc.” so she says “Yes; there is enough if not too much training at the academy level.  Let’s get back to basics” (C. Zien, personal communication, April 18, 2012).

Should Ethics Training be an Ongoing Process for Law Enforcement Officers?
English: High School for Law Enforcement and C...
English: High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Español: Escuela Secundaria para Fuerzas de la Ley y Justicia Penal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Both officers agree that there should be ongoing ethics training but differed on how much. In Lexington, officers receive 40 hours in service training.  In Okaloosa County, officers receive four hour mandatory training every four years.  Officer Smith did not say the frequency that the training occurs, however when it does occur, they receive substantially more training hours.  It has been said before, that Lexington Kentucky has one of the top law enforcement-training center in the country, and usually followed by, “they come here, get trained, and leave for better pay elsewhere”.
Would Ethics Training and Education Reduce Police Corruption?
Officer Smith feels that training or ethics have absolutely nothing to do corruption, but that circumstance plays the bigger role.  Officer Zien thinks that the ethics training does instruct members of law enforcement, however if a person is truly intent on ethics violations, they will behave unethically whether they receive training or not.  Officer Smith suggested that it would be good to look up the Bluegrass Conspiracy, which turned out to be that a former member of the narcotics division, in Lexington, was smuggling narcotics (Brammer, 2010).  On September 11, 1985, Andrew Drew Thornton II, of Lexington, KY is found dead in Knoxville.  He had a failed parachute, and a large amount of narcotics, when he was found that morning, in a driveway in Knoxville, TN after his plane must have crashed nearby (Brammer, 2010).  This just goes to show that unethical police conduct could happen anywhere. 
English: High School for Law Enforcement and C...
English: High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Español: Escuela Secundaria para Fuerzas de la Ley y Justicia Penal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Conclusion
When interviewing members of law enforcement we found several things that stood out.  The first thing is that officers now are more concerned with political correctness and ethics, but there are some drawbacks to this, such as officers are now victimized more than they used to be.  The other thing that stood out in the interview process is that Officers Smith and Zien, working in different states still had much of the same answers to the questions.  Ethics and character in law enforcement are important because one bad officer affects all officers when the public trust is damaged.  In order for officers to do their jobs effectively, the public has to be willing to cooperate with them otherwise this puts officers lives in jeopardy unnecessarily.

References:
Brammer, J., (2010).  “Bluegrass Conspiracy” tale never gets old.  Retrieved From: http://www.kentucky.com/2010/09/11/1429813/25-years-ago-former-narcotics.html
Delattre, E. J., (2011).  Ethics in Policing: Character and Cops.  Sixth Edition.  The American Enterprise Institute Press.  Washington, D.C.



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