Police Ethics Capstone Project

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Police Ethics

Ethics, therefore, is not something that a policeman learns in the classroom -- yet, training classes are regularly scheduled -- and this picture of student not understanding why he is in the classroom is indicative of the problem of police ethics as a whole (Crank, Caldero, 2011). There is no established, realistic connection between policing and classroom ethics. The world of the streets is a different from the world of the textbook. This is one reason that the lengthy and often wasteful enforcement of discipline in law enforcement agencies seems negligent: it is dealing with personnel who have a negligible sense of the reason they are being investigated and/or punished. This paper examines the need to better guarantee police ethics through the development and implementation of an acceptable police ethics system, which incorporates education with corrective (i.e., punishment) procedure. Through literature review and interview assessment, this study concludes that the problem of transparency remains for law enforcement agencies and must be discussed in a future study.

The Problem of Police Ethics

1: Introduction


Police ethics involve more than just members of law enforcement agencies. They involve the community which those agencies are meant to police. Ethics are ideas or ideals that serve as the ideological foundation of any society. They serve as a rule of thumb, a guide to just behavior. Without a system of ethics, a society tends towards ambiguity in action/meaning and amorality, i.e., action without sense or just purpose -- action whose end is opposed to its purpose. The purpose of ethics is to conform action to ideal. But it often happens that ethical systems need an enforcement policy of their own (Braswell, McCarthy, McCarthy, 2012).

Police disciplinary procedures have been a source of disappointment for individuals who have been involved in the process and are concerned with its consequences (Westmarland, 2005). Similarly, executives in police departments have been frustrated with the time it takes to conclude investigations of police misconduct. This frustration is further aggravated by the rate at which their decisions are altered and revised by arbitrators, civil services boards and grievance panels involved in the investigation (Baca, 2007). The widespread opinion of police officers and their unions is that discipline is arbitrary and lacks the basic guarantee of consistency and fairness. The current disciplinary process is mainly punishment oriented, involves a considerable amount of time and allows numerous cases to be overruled on appeal (Baca, 2007). All these challenges leave one with the only option of devising a better way to address these concerns of police discipline.

This issue is important because it affects the way that police agencies police themselves. If their ranks are susceptible to corruption, then it must follow that the society which they police, serve and protect is likely to be just as corrupted. Researchers and academics agree that it is imperative that a solution be found that can better address the problem of police ethics (Barker, 2011).


This paper will provide a review of relevant literature as well as a qualitative case study analysis in order to better understand how the issue of police ethics is actually perceived by police themselves. Can policemen police themselves? Or are they susceptible to the same temptations of human nature as everyone else? In other words, how can one in a position of authority be expected to act in a manner consistent with that position?

Following the literature review and the statement of the research problem, is a discussion of the methodology. This portion of the paper will describe the nature of the study, how it was conducted, organized, and for whom it should have interest.

The third section of this paper is devoted to a discussion of the results of the research, whether they confirm the hypothesis, or whether the hypothesis need be modified.

The final section provides an analysis of the study's results. It offers a rationale for the findings, gives an explanation of what they mean/suggest, and concludes with a series of recommendations that might be used to address effectively the problem of enforcing police ethics within law enforcement communities.

Literature Review

Crank and Caldero (2011) state that "ethics" are widely perceived by policemen to be something that one learns "in the streets" (p. 1). It is a code that is unwritten, that is "about victims and the assholes who prey on them" (Crank, Caldero, 2011, p. 1). It is not something that applies to police officers, who are on the side of the "good" merely by virtue of their profession.
They may "bend" the law in terms of aggressively dealing with criminal suspects, but such action is justified by the fact that the criminal element is perceived to be needing "correction" of a physical nature (Westmarland, 2005). Crank and Caldero make the point that education of policemen is important to the process of guaranteeing police ethics. The problem is convincing them that the ethics taught them in the classroom are expected of them in the field. Their argument is especially pertinent to this study because it highlights the dissociation displayed between officers of the law and the law which they are sworn to uphold as it applies to them.

Ellis (1987) shows that police corruption in Canada might be not as prevalent and widespread as in the neighboring USA but still there have been significant incidences in the police department that warrant a call from disciplinary commission. The problem is fourfold and can be summarized thus: 1) it is a constant activity rather than something isolated; 2) senior officers evade investigating reports of misconduct; 3) officers on duty justify their misconduct by referring to their "good intentions"; 4) illegal police activity is prevalent across Canada (Ellis, 1987). Ellis uses a qualitative method to describe a world of law enforcement in Canada that lacks a fundamental ethical aspect: the association of action with ideal. Excuses and blind-eyes are rampant and police corruption unchecked -- unless it becomes a public "black-eye" for the agency. In such cases as police corruption is exposed in the public, it is dealt with perfunctorily in order to display to the public that police do police themselves. But the reality is that in the past half century they have not -- at least not at satisfactory levels (Ellis, 1987; Sewell, 1986; Forcese, 1992). Today's police ethics researchers are looking for a way to end this system of neglect.

According to Sewell (1986) a crime should not be considered a crime when undertaken by an officer on duty. In contrast Forcese (1992) states that the police department during the 1970s and throughout the 1980s was involved in corruption on every level in the department. According to Ellis (1987) the deviances that take place in the Canadian police department are rampant.

The conventional process of accountability in Canada can be categorized into two processes: the internal review process and the external review process. The internal review process is the disciplinary policies that exist in individual departments and the external review process entails the police board, police commission and civilian inquires. A third review process also exists called the civilian review process and is a subject of great controversy and scrutiny among the police departments due to privacy reason. As stated before, law enforcement agencies do not generally exercise a policy of transparency, i.e., open the doors of their agencies to public scrutiny. When the public does become involved, it is generally believed to be a cause of discomfort and/or embarrassment for the agency/officers under scrutiny.

Baca (2007), Curry (2004) and Hunt (2009) discuss current issues with the police disciplinary process. They examine the source of conflict within law enforcement, the source of mistrust, the focus of punishment, as well as limitations, inconsistencies and unfair outcomes. Each of these points will be discussed in the final analysis section of this study.

The issue of reformation attempts within the world of law enforcement has been adequately discussed by Grant (1992) and Hunt (2009), whose work spans more than two decades of analysis. Grant highlights the basic models of reform which are still in use today: the In-house Model, the Externally Supervised In-house Model; the Independent Adjudication Model; and the Truly Independent Model. These models are admittedly punishment (i.e., corrective-after -- the fact) oriented and thus do not address the problem of police ethics from an active learning perspective but rather attempt merely to "keep a lid on" unethical behavior before the public "catches wind." A discussion of the best model of correction is discussed in the analysis section of this paper.

Other attempts at reform have focused on the hiring process, the training process, supervision, performance evaluation and review, the way in which complaints are handled and reviewed, and the implementation of technology (such as dash cams). Hunt (2009) notes that many of these attempted reforms have become standard practices across Canada -- such as, for example, the implementation of dash cams in police cruisers. It is Hunt's argument that such.....

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