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Morality And Ethics In Law Enforcement

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 2601 words Published: 16th May 2017

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Ethics is defined as study of moralitys effect on conduct: the study of moral standards and how they affect conduct. Morality is accepted moral standards; standards of conduct that are generally accepted as right or wrong. The paper will attempt to show dilemmas that law enforcement agencies face and why it is necessary for the law enforcement agencies to establish efficient and effective guidelines for law enforcement. It will show that it is also important to consider the ethical perspectives of the general public as well. The primary responsibility of the law enforcement agencies is to work for the benefit of the society and serve the community but law enforcement agencies have to make sure that their actions and policies are in conformance to the ethical standards of the society and do not violate any ethical or moral principle.

Theories of Moral and Ethical Behavior

Most ethical theorists start from a point which looks at what is being judged or evaluated as good or bad, right or wrong, and they usually look at one of two things: the inherent nature of the act and the consequences of the act. The theory of formalism was developed by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). Kant’s approach to ethics begins with an analysis of ulterior motives. Something could look good, and really be bad; and vice-versa, something could look bad, and really be good. Kant then proceeds to analyze the acts of “Good Samaritans” to see why they do good things for complete strangers. What is important is whether or not the Good Samaritan is doing the good thing out of the kindness of their heart or whether they expect payment, glory, or the return of a favor. Only if something springs from a desire to do well with no expectation of reward or benefit, can we truly say the “goodness” of an ethic has been achieved. The question then becomes: “Under what circumstances will people sincerely do good with no expectation of benefit?” Kant says the answer is when people are “doing their duty” and the concept of duty becomes an important part of ethical formalism.

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Utilitarianism was developed by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). Bentham’s approach to ethics makes extensive use of the “pleasure principle” which holds that humans are always predisposed to maximize pleasure and avoid pain. The root word in utilitarianism is “utility” which means “useful.” If something is useful in the short-run, then that is called act-utilitarianism. If something is useful in the long-run, then that is called rule-utilitarianism. Bentham’s second book (Bentham 1780) became a foundational document in utilitarianism and introduced the notion of a “hedonistic calculus” which was meant to distinguish things with “social utility” from things that are selfish. From 1791 to 1794, Bentham actively campaigned for his model prison based on what would become the philosophy of punishment known as deterrence. Deterrence is likewise divided into individual or specific deterrence and societal or general deterrence. Specific deterrence often takes the form of an older principle called incapacitation. The idea is to make it impossible for an individual to commit another crime, at least while they’re in prison. Specific deterrence calls for inmates to be closely guarded and monitored at all times. In fact, Bentham proposed a type of prison system known as the Panopticon design. The principle here is that others will want to avoid criminal behavior because of the example provided by punishment. A person is punished not so much because they deserve it, but in order that others will not be inclined to do the same or similar thing. This kind of goal makes prisons as responsible for crime prevention as police are expected to be.

Ethics in Policing

The vast majority of police officers are honest and ethical but all of them pay the price for decreased public confidence and trust when there is little respect for police ethics. Public perceptions affect all of policing, go to the heart of police role in society, and involve ethical issues. Trust is the main ethical issue in this approach to police ethics, and in learning about trust, we also learn about other irrational forces in society, like fear. This kind of focus on police ethics is also a focus on societal ethics. Facts make little difference here, as it doesn’t matter whether we can trace the roots of public mistrust to any specific event; what matters is perception, and how those perceptions influence the morality of a nation as a whole.

An ethics code is an absolute necessity for law enforcement agencies. They provide an ethical and moral compass for personnel. An example of a well written code is the following:

Criminal Justice is a scientific discipline and those who teach, research, study, administer or practice in this discipline subscribe to the general tenets of science and scholarship. They also recognize that the discovery, creation, transmission and accumulation of knowledge in any scientific discipline involves ethical considerations at every level. The Code of Ethics of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS) sets forth 1) General Principles and 2) Ethical Standards that underlie members of the Academy’s professional responsibilities and conduct, along with the 3) Policies and Procedures for enforcing those principles and standards. Membership in the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences commits individual members to adhere to the ACJS Code of Ethics in determining ethical behavior in the context of their everyday professional activities. Activities that are purely personal and not related to criminal justice as a scientific discipline are not subject to this Code of Ethics. The General Principles contained in this Code express the values and ideals of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences for ethical behavior in the context of the professional activities of individual members of the Academy. The general principles should be considered by members in arriving at an ethical course of action in specific situations, and they may be considered by the Ethics Committee and the Executive Board of the ACJS in determining whether ethical violations have occurred and whether sanctions should be applied. The Ethical Standards set forth enforceable rules for the behavior of individual members of the Academy in specific situations. Most of the ethical standards are written broadly, to provide applications in varied roles and varied contexts. The Ethical Standards are not exhaustive–conduct that is not included in the Ethical Standards is not necessarily ethical or unethical. The Ethical Standards should always be interpreted in the context of the General Principles. Violations of the Code of Ethics may lead to sanctions associated with individual membership in the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, including restrictions on or termination of that membership. (Code of Ethics, 2000)

Personal codes of ethics are prevalent within the police community. This can be like a firearm; personal codes can be dangerous but have many benefits. An example of a personal code is the following:

Therefore, my code of ethics would begin with the following statement.

1. Always maintain the highest integrity, honesty, and impartiality.

2. All current laws, be they federal, state, or local jurisdiction must be maintained and upheld.

3. Be of equal mind when dealing with all of my duties whether enforcing the law, or teaching the application.

4. Will not discriminate against a person based on their, gender, race, religious credo, social background, or disabled status.

5. Will maintain confidentiality within the boundaries of the law.

6. Never use my position to garner favors, nor imply that favors could be gained.

7. Will support and follow the Bill of Rights and our constitutional rights as outlined by our founders.

8. Understand and recognize that this code of ethics is a guide to be able to create and maintain an atmosphere of safety for those involved in the Criminal Justice system. (Mathewson, 2008)

Duty consists of the responsibilities attached to a role; discretion is the ability to choose between two or more courses of action; and discrimination occurs when a group or individual is treated differently for no justifiable reason. These three terms are discussed together because they shed light on the problem of what is the right thing to do when it is so often the case in policing that there is no flawlessly “right” thing to do.

Ethics in Corrections

Trying to imagine society without an established legal system of punishment is quite difficult. Inflicting pain may not be the best way to get somebody to change. To inflict pain deliberately, and to do it right, requires that some morally acceptable way be found of doing it. It is a must to raise important moral questions about the appropriateness of a punishment institution in order to reduce dilemmas.

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Prisons as an institution symbolize the ultimate punishment that society can impose upon anyone who breaks the law. However, the moral and ethical issues associated with prisons go beyond the law, and include the “why” and “how” of prisons. The “why” and “how” questions correspond to John Rawls’ two rules for justifying punishment. The assumption has always been that studying prisons reveals much about how a civilization is to be judged. As society evolves, it is expected that prisons will simultaneously evolve. Therefore, the social and moral issues associated with corrections are intimately connected with the social and moral issues that a society faces. That is one reason why there have been so many shifting and changing correctional policies. As societies change, corrections change. The key point here is that there are few standpoints to really judge the “why” of prisons morally or ethically. There are few ethical principles that truly allow the study of whole penal systems and their place in society. Take away the offenders and you’ve lost your rationale for punishment. On the other hand, there is no shortage of ethical systems which easily permit us to see criminals’ punishment as deserved. For us to see this, we usually need to see some “how” regarding the actions that occur in prisons.

Ethical Leadership

Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal. One of the more basic ethical problems with leadership is the management-line personnel divide. This divide is basically a case of jealousy in organizations based on an underlying sense of unfairness in how others became managers. It is the problem of administrators being disconnected from the “front line” predicaments and “little things” at the bottom which causes administrative policies to be split from reality. This is the “great divide” that nobody talks about, and that’s an ethical dilemma. Another great dilemma is the question “is it better to be loved or feared?”

All organizations have a power dimension and an authority dimension. It is easy to see the authority patterns in such things as the chain of command, but it is not always easy to spot power patterns. Power can be defined as any leadership behavior which influences the values, beliefs, or climate of the organization. Power forces people to change their minds about something, not simply out of persuasiveness or force, but out of sheer, blind, realistic, accommodation to the fact that there is no other way. Max Weber, the famous sociologist, said there were three types of power: charismatic, traditional, and legal-rational. French and Raven’s The Bases of Social Power extends that typology into five types of power: legitimate, reward, coercive, expert, and referent. Legitimate is based on a subordinate’s belief that the superior has the right to give orders, not just on the basis of rank, but on the basis of legitimacy, a sense of right, or socio-legal obligation. Reward is based on the ability to bestow formal or informal rewards, such as pay, promotion, praise, recognition, special favors, or overlooking rule violations, personal idiosyncrasies, and ethical lapses. Coercive is based on the ability to punish, recommend punishment, or make punishment happen by engaging in rumor, harassment, mental abuse, or making someone’s work difficult or unpleasant. Expert is based on a subordinate’s belief that the leader is a true expert and one in whom confidence is placed without question because they have attained special knowledge and are also familiar with the tasks performed by followers. Referent is based on friendship, liking, respect, admiration, or the desire to emulate and be like the leader not just because of charisma but because of a belief that the leader will come to their rescue or aid at some time of great need.

The delegation problem is perhaps the biggest problem in criminal justice leadership, since delegation is what allows lower-level employees to get things done. There is a right way and a wrong way to delegate as a leader. The most commonly repeated saying in textbooks is that you never delegate without giving away authority. When you delegate some of your administrative tasks to a subordinate, you are actually giving away responsibility. The problem often arises, however, that this subordinate doesn’t have the authority or power to obtain the needed compliance or cooperation from co-workers. That’s a lack of authority. To get beyond this paradox, most modern principles of delegation say that you should only delegate things that are part of your subordinate’s professional development. According to Jack Kuykendall and Peter Unsinger, “The Leadership Styles of Police Managers”, not enough delegation goes on in criminal justice agencies. Subsequent research has shown it to be more commonly replaced by “micro-managing.” Basically administrators in criminal justice seem to prefer keeping their hands in just about everything. The most frequently used styles of leadership in criminal justice are the telling-selling style and the participating-selling style. The telling-selling style uses a little more two-way communication and the leader is concerned about employee “buy-in” to the decisions that have been made. The participating-selling style is frequently seen when the administration see the workforce as a whole demonstrating average levels of maturity, competence, and willingness. This style will not work, however, where there are regular disciplinary matters. In conclusion, there is no one right leadership style for all situations. Your perception of people and the organization will dictate your choice of styles. Leaders must be flexible, always assessing how important it is for the organization to be relationship oriented or task oriented. A lot of police administration will tell you that an administrator should not fraternize with the workers off-duty. It may be that in criminal justice what is needed instead is more getting together on and off the job, as long as the proper boundaries can be sustained.


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