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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Essay on Professional Ethics - Proposal to Address Police Misconduct

Essay on Professional Ethics - Proposal to Address Police Misconduct

            Every professional encounters ethical issues and dilemmas.  Lawyers are torn between serving the ends of truth and justice and promotion of their professional careers.  Doctors are torn between saving lives and submitting to the wishes and desires of their clients, in certain instances.  Accountants oftentimes choose between serving the needs of the large corporations or accurately preparing truthful financial records.  Law enforcement officers are also torn between preventing crime and promoting their own self-interest. 
            The only difference is that there is greater moral expectation among police officers.  Most people can live their lives knowing that lawyers, doctors and accountants only promote their own selfish needs rather than protecting the integrity of their profession.  However, it is very unacceptable for a law enforcement officer to be morally corrupt, contemptible and vile.  Perhaps one reason for the high ethical expectation is that the whole system of peace and order relies upon the public’s perception that if a person’s right is violated or a crime is committed, the police officers will be able to do identify the criminal and bring him to justice.  This is affirmed by J. Kevin Grant, “the mark of a civilization is how well its policemen have breathed and absorbed the spirit of liberty.... Police are the guardians of our civil liberties.... They have an unequal opportunity to show the downtrodden and the momentarily despairing how to cope in a free country.” (Grant 2002, p.2)
            There are, however, organizational and operational challenges to the law enforcement officer’s efficient performance of his job.  Among these challenges are: the growing level of temptation flowing from the illicit drug trade, the challenges posed by decentralization and Community Oriented Policing (COP), and the compromising nature of police organizations. 
            According to O’Malley, many law enforcement officers nowadays fail to conform to the high ethical standards because they are lured by the large payoffs coming from drug syndicates.   Nowadays, there is a high degree of involvement among police officers in drug syndicates.  In addition, O’Malley stressed that recent trend of decentralization and COP have affected the rigid and strict culture of law enforcement officers.  With this new trend, law enforcement officers are now more focused on their role as problem solvers.  The rigid and strict structure has now been replaced by unmonitored actions with less accountability.  Another reason is the organizational culture of loyalty over integrity in the police force.  In certain instances, this culture is observed and followed regardless of the knowledge of the commission of crime by their superiors or fellow police officers. 
            Among the other challenges mentioned is the absence of a strong leader whom police enforcement officers can emulate and look up to for inspiration.  This is confirmed by Edward J. Tulley who said that a person must do the right thing always even if nobody is looking.  The sad thing however is that there is nobody now who is willing to set a positive example.
            Another challenge is the absence of a formal code of ethics among police organizations, or even if there is a formal code the same is not being practiced by the police force.  A code of ethics is a set of principles which serve as a guide for law enforcement officers to observe when faced with an ethical dilemma. 
            The lack of training or formal education is also a reason why law enforcement officers commit misconduct. I believe that no person would intentionally do something that is wrong.  The problem however is that when people are faced with an ethical dilemma their lack of understanding of better ways to deal with the situation sometimes impels them to make a wrong decision.  The task now is to make ethics a part of the training for law enforcement officers so that compliance with the code of ethics becomes a matter of instinct. 
            The absence of a stringent hiring and selection process is also a barrier for compliance with high ethical standards.  The conduct of interviews and psychological testing are important because there are people whose psychological profiles do not match with the profile of that of a police officer.  While it is true that there are some people who can be educated and trained to become ethical police officers there are some whose personalities do not match that of a police officer.  

Proposal to Address Misconduct in Police Organizations
            Police organizations should not only address misconduct.  It is a reactive response to the problem of police misconduct.  I propose that we deal with the problem from the aspect of prevention and punishment.  Prevention is better because its effect is long-tem and it is a more proactive way of dealing this problem.  The first priority should be to institute a system of rewards for those officers who have exhibited virtuous and ethical conduct while in the line of duty.  There is no better way to promote a high standard of ethical conduct than awarding those who will exhibit exemplary conduct.  The people who will determine the recipients of the award will be the fellow police officers. 
            The second proposal is ethics training for police officers.  The problem however is that some police organizations read their code of ethics only at the time they are in school.  The last time they may perhaps read their code of ethics is at the time they take their oath as police officers.  Learning is a continuous process.  Knowledge is power.  If police officers will be properly and sufficiently trained on what constitutes proper and improper conduct as police officers, they will know what to do in certain situations.  Ethics training will empower these police officers to do what is right.  While there are police officers who are incorrigible, they only constitute a small population of the entire police officers.  The training modules should encompass every aspect of police work.  This includes diligently accomplishing all paper works in a case; documenting in the reports and other paper works only truthful statements; filing a report in case of knowledge of any lead in an ongoing investigation; being impartial and truthful in conducting a criminal investigation; and other matters which a police officer regularly encounters while on the job. 
            The third proposal is to thoroughly screen and conduct exhaustive background checks on all applicants for police officers.  Even after the police officer takes his oath and performs his job, background checks should always be conducted and should be done by an independent investigator without the knowledge of the police officer. 
            From the aspect of punishment, there should be effective communication between the senior police officers and junior police officers that misconduct is seriously punished by either a suspension or termination from service.  In this regard, senior police officers must see to it that all the members of the police force know what acts are considered misconduct and the punishment for these actions.   The senior police officers must show that every law enforcement officer is made accountable for his actions.  

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