Ethical Challenges Faced By Law Enforcement Regularly

by Elizabeth Hall
“Even if a man is answerable only to his conscience, he will answer more responsibly if he is 
English: Instructor Training Partner Nation Co...
English: Instructor Training Partner Nation Counter Narcotics Police Officer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
compelled to articulate principles on which he acts.”  ~ Lon Fuller The Morality of Law (1975)
When considering Fuller’s (1975) principle, it is necessary to apply it to real life situations that law enforcement personnel may encounter in their time of service, and what reactions to these scenarios are the ethical choices when facing moral dilemmas on the job.  We will examine what the moral dilemma is, what laws or policies govern the situation, or if this is left to officer discretion.  Another thing to consider is what principles and considerations should apply to the situation and what consequences could arise from these decisions.  In examining everyday situations that could arise with friends and narcotics, accepting gifts and gratuities, and accepting multiculturalism in the workplace we will determine what reactions are ethical and how this author would react.  
Scenario I Drugs at a Friend’s House
English: Police officer of Brazilian Civil Pol...
English: Police officer of Brazilian Civil Police Português: Policial civil brasileiro (Papiloscopista) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The situation: I am an off duty police officer and I am invited to a party at an old friend’s house.  It is Friday night, I am off, and I have no plans, so I head to the party.  Upon arrival, there is quite a gathering in the back yard, so I visit with people and am having a good time.  I have had a couple of beers, and I head inside to the restroom when I notice several people in the house around a table with cocaine lines adorning the tabletop. I have never seen these people before, and my friend has been in the back yard the whole time I have been here.  I head to the restroom, and ponder what to do.
In this scenario, the moral dilemma is whether you want to get your friend in trouble, because even if he did not know that they were using cocaine in his house he is still liable for it being there because he owns the house.  We have a choice, we can turn around and pretend that we did not see anything, and leave the party, with or without notifying our friend, or we can abide by what the law says, and by the plain sight rule and seize the evidence and arrest the people at the party.  According to FindLaw (2012), if a law enforcement officer is in a place that he is authorized to be then he does not need any form of warrant to seize evidence such as narcotics that are in plain view.  Since we are 100% aware that these narcotics are illegal, and the dilemma is that I will be betraying an old friend by calling this in, I must consider both sides of the issue.
  I must consider that the consequences of doing my job may end my friendship, and the consequences of not doing my job may cost me that job if anyone found out that I let my friend get away with this.  I also may not be able to forgive myself no matter what choice I make.  After careful consideration, the decision is that I must call this in because I would be letting myself down more by ignoring the situation.   The law is clear on this action, due to the illegality of the narcotics, and I must obey my duty to uphold the law no matter what my friends think, and I believe that my friend should have either not invited me or policed his guests himself, not allowing that type of behavior in his house. 
Scenario II Accepting a Gift
Mounted officer of the Metropolitan Police at ...
Mounted officer of the Metropolitan Police at Buckingham Palace, London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The situation:   I am a community police officer, and it is Christmas Eve.  I stop in a local shop to pick up a few items.  This particular shopkeeper is well known in the community, and is active in the communities’ crime prevention programs.  As I am shopping, he calls me to the counter, producing a fruit basket, and a gift card worth $30 for my family as a Christmas present to show his appreciation.
In this instance, there is a moral dilemma however; it may not be clear as a bell.  What the moral choice is for me is whether I will accept gratuities in the course of performing my duties.  In cases such as this, often it is left up to the discretion of the officer whether or not to accept a gratuity, and even a free cup of coffee counts.  I must consider whether I want to enter the slippery slope of police acceptance of gratuities, because according to Delattre (2011), the gift may come with hidden expectations from the person giving it to you. 
This can include expecting you to look the other way when minor offenses like parking violations occur around their businesses, or favor when caught doing something wrong, such as driving under the influence.  In this scenario, I would have to refuse the gift, suggesting that he donate it to the local homeless shelter instead of giving it to me.  When considering this scenario, while it may look innocent enough at first can become a catalyst to you feeling obligated later to compromise the ethics of your position based on a kindness.  It also can allow you to justify compromising your ethics and morals because you already have in a small manner (Delattre, 2011). 
Scenario III Homosexual Partner
The situation:   I am a supervisor commanding a shift at a medium sized law enforcement agency.  Officer Ted Jones has been with the agency for the last sixteen years.  Officer Jones is also a homosexual that hangs out at a gay bar on his own time.  The fact is known around the office about this.  My agency runs two man patrol units with assigned partners, and Jones has recently been assigned to partner with Officer James Davis.  Davis has come to me, asking me to assign him another partner because of Officer Jones’ sexual preferences.
In this scenario there is a very large moral dilemma coupled with some civil rights rulings that complicate this matter.  The moral dilemma entails the fact that we have become a multicultural society that legally cannot discriminate based on sex, creed, religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, or sexual preference as of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Shusta, Levine, Wong, Olsen, & Harris, 2008). This must be considered alongside the fact that if I do not reassign Mr. Davis, this could mean life-threatening risks to Mr. Jones or Mr. Davis, if Officer Davis chose to ignore safety and team dynamics during the course of performing his job.  In this case, I believe that the policy of the Civil Rights Act dictates the situation.
  I cannot reassign Officer Davis on these grounds, because this could be perceived as discrimination by both the agency and Mr. Davis, and have our agency in court fighting a lawsuit, which we would lose.  I do have a choice that I could reassign Officer Davis quietly and hope that the reason does not get out, but again this would be a short term solution to this problem because others might feel the same way.  I would also be risking my position because the discrimination claim would also name me, because I allowed it to happen.  The ethical solution to this problem, as the laws dictate is to supply my agency with some diversity training, have a talk with Officer Davis, as well, and leave Officer Jones assigned as he is (Shusta, Levine, Wong, Olsen, & Harris, 2008).
A senior police officer of the Hamburg police ...
A senior police officer of the Hamburg police on assignment at Hamburg city hall, Germany. Français : Capitaine de la police de Hambourg en faction devant l'hôtel de ville de Hambourg, en Allemagne. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When considering Fuller’s (1975) principle, we must apply it to real life situations that law enforcement personnel may encounter in their time of service.  Some of these situations are dictated by mandate and law, while others are left up to the officer and professional discretion.  In many cases, we must examine what reactions to these scenarios are the ethical choices when facing moral dilemmas on the job.  One must also consider that all breeches of the ethical standards held by the job can lead to further indiscretions; however, individual character plays a huge role in who crosses the slippery slope and who does not. 

Delattre, E. J., (2011).  Ethics in Policing: Character and Cops.  Sixth Edition.  The American Enterprise Institute Press.  Washington, D.C.
FindLaw, (2012).  Illegal Search and Seizure FAQ’s.  Retrieved From: http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-rights/illegal-search-and-seizure-faqs.html
Fuller, L.L., (1975).  The Morality of Law.  New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1975, p. 159.
Shusta, R., Levine, D., Wong, H., Olson, A., & Harris, P. (2008).  Multicultural Law Enforcement Strategies for Peacekeeping in a Diverse Society (4th Ed.).  Pearson         
            Prentice Hall.  Upper Saddle River, NJ

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