CriminalJustice Ethical IssuePolice officersare entrusted and granted a great deal of discretion when answering calls forservice. Law enforcement officers may be confronted with life or death decisionmaking situations. However, the ethical dilemma regarding discretionary powersgranted to police officers are based on discrimination, use of force, andculture of force. To fully comprehend the nature of police powers, itsimportant to understand the definition of ethics in decision making. Ethics isdefined as “the discipline of determining good and evil, and defining moralduties” (Pollock, 2014). In addition to determining good andevil, law enforcement officers are held to a higher standard than citizens andmust act ethically at all times.
Most importantly, a police officer’s badgerepresents protection and authority. Carl B Klockars (1984) described policecontrol as authority, power, persuasion and force. Authorityas defined by Klockars, is the “unquestioning recognition by those who areasked to obey; neither coercion nor persuasion is needed” (1984). In otherwords, authority is when police officers tell a person to comply with theirdemands, and the individual reacts without questioning.
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A police uniform andbadge are symbols of authority and power that gives officers the power todeprive individuals of their freedom, conduct searches of persons, seizeproperty, and use force. The ethical standard that accompanies police powersare based on the violation of rights as described in the Fourth Amendment of theConstitution “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses,papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not beviolated” (The Constitution of the United States, 2013). Persuasionis the authority that law enforcement officers use in order to coerce in anonphysical manner (Pollock, 2014).
Simply put, persuasion is the tone andwording used when requesting an individual to follow instructions. The ethicaldilemma in persuasion is the officer’s ability to demand compliance withoutviolating any laws or department policies. For example, when instructing anindividual to do something, police officers are not allowed deceptive practicessuch as promises of leniency for cooperation, intimidation, or physical abuse.
The level of force is determined by each police officer, after accessing the situation,an officer may use the appropriate physical force to restraint individualsafter determining probable cause for arrest. Inregards to use of force, the dilemma is centered around the discretion awardedto police officers. Pollock (2014) explains that “police officers have anuncontested right to use force when necessary to apprehend or subdue asuspect”. However, the question is, how much force is deemed appropriate?Recent cases have surface in the United States which questions the officer’sdiscretion to use of force. Excessive force and deadly force are the mostintrusive and divisive human rights violation, therefore are scrutinized everytime an officer’s use of force case surfaces.
When determining what’sacceptable use of force, its important to determine the suspect’s demeanor,attitude, and actions. Excessive force is viewed as punching, chokeholds,kicking a suspect when he/she is on the ground, and any unnecessary hittingonce the suspect is handcuffed. It is the police officer’s responsibility toshow restraint and discipline when confronting a situation that requires use offorce.Codeof Ethics and Police Subculture Lawenforcement code of ethics is composed of four principles that police officersmust follow. The first principle is fairness, and it implies officers upholdingthe laws equally regardless of the offender’s identity (Pollock, 2014).
The second principle is service to thecitizen and to uphold the oath to protect and to help those in need. The thirdprinciple is the importance of law and to defend the Constitution by safeguardingthe rights of the people. The final principle is personal conduct, policeofficers should behave consistent with their public position (Pollock, 2014). Behaviors such as public drunkennessand off duty violence are not appropriate behavior for keepers of the peace. Anofficer must lead by example and set a high standard to demonstrate a crimefighter role. Policesubculture is viewed as an organizational society with informal ethics andvalues which is comprised of homogenous social groups, stressful workenvironment, and a closed social system (Pollock, 2014). The subculture is also viewed as abrotherhood of those who risk their lives for the public.
The ethical dilemmabetween the formal code of ethics and police subculture is the how at times maybe at odds with each other. For instance, the creation of the “cop code”introduces police officers to a set of underground rules that must be followedto be accepted by peers. These rules include; watching out for partners, don’tgive up another cop, hold up your end of the work, don’t talk too much, beaggressive, and don’t trust new guys until they prove they can be trusted (Pollock, 2014). The “cop code” maydirectly put an officer’s integrity on the line when confronted with an issueregarding another officer.
The subculture directly tests an officer’s moraljudgement by making them choose between doing what’s right versus beingaccepted by peers.PoliceOfficer’s Unethical Behavior Acase involving police officer misconduct was reported on July 19, 2017 inBaltimore Maryland, when an officer was suspended and two others placed onleave after a camera footage appeared to show them planting fake evidence at acrime scene (Barajas & Hendry, 2017). Body cameras showedpolice officers planting evidence in an attempt to create probable cause forarrest. When the officers activated their body cameras, they failed to realizethat a feature in the camera records 30 seconds of footage before activation.In those 30 seconds, the officers are seen placing a can full of drugs near thesuspects house to make an arrest (Barajas & Hendry, 2017). The unethical issuewas presented when officers didn’t have concrete evidence to arrest thesuspect, therefore they planted drugs to make an arrest.
The police subcultureplayed a major role in the investigation because all three officers involved inthe incident kept it to themselves. It wasn’t until the Maryland PublicDefender’s Office got a hold of the footage and saw the incident that it wasreported. The officers involved used the “cop code” to remain silent and notgive up the other officers. If the officers had used the formal code of ethics,the outcome would have been different. If the laws and policies of propersurveillance would have been followed, the officers would have gathered enoughconcrete evidence against the suspect and would have made a legal arrest.However, the lack of integrity and the misused of powers led the Baltimoreofficers to act unethically.
Conclusion Inconclusion, Klockars (1984) description of police authority, power, persuasionand force remains a key concept of determining the ethical standards that comeswith control. Every day police officers are presented with different scenarios,and a choice to do what is right or wrong must be made. Even the smallest ofthings such as gratuities can be misconstrued into something bigger. Theintegrity of an officer and the police department solely lies in the hands ofeach individual officer.
One “bad cop” can open a chain of misconductallegations of a police department. To avoid unethical behavior its importantto remember the oath that was taken and to recognize what is right and what iswrong. A decent amount of force must also be used when making an arrest, andabove all, policies must be followed. When all department policies arefollowed, the chances of engaging in unethical behavior diminishes.
To remainin compliance or in good standing with a department its imperative to alwayshold oneself to a high standard and do what is right even when no one is looking.