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Criminal Justice Ethics


CriminalJustice Ethics


Lawenforcement can be regarded as the pinnacle of integrity, which meansthat police officers are usually held to higher ethical standardswithin their personal and work life. Nevertheless, the public stillcomes across stories of officers being convicted or their serviceterminated for contravening the laws that they took an oath touphold. Each day, police officers find themselves wedged in a tightspot in which they are expected to choose and act under pressure,while simultaneously weighing competing interests and values ladenwith considerably emotional and dynamic situations. This paperexplores the ethical principles underpinning the criminal justicesystem in light of the tests that police officer encounters withregard to their professional standards, authority, power, andemotions. The interview with practicing professionals within thefield of law enforcement involved two officers: Officer John Bargasiand Officer Pedro Ortiz of the Summit Illinois Police Department. The responses provided by the police officers are addressed in thepaper, intertwined with my own interpretations and insights relatingto the officers’ responses.

Interviewwith two Members with Police Department

Ethicsis mainly considered to represent a set of moral principles thatinforms human behavior, especially on the responsibility to do theright thing. It is often argued that it is only normal for thecriminal justice system to submit to illegitimate, inappropriate, andunethical behavior as such, the criminal justice system is perceivedto operate in ethically-dangerous circumstances in which theemployees are largely expected to utilize discretion.Ethicsprovides an alternative to reliance on instinct, emotion, or personalvalues, which cannot adequately supply answers to moral dilemmas. Ethical considerations are pertinent to decisions on the use offorce, discretion, and due process that police require when makingenlightened moral judgments. Ideally, police should depend oncitizen cooperation in availing services within a democratic society.

Thefield of ethics is often overlooked as the driving force behindpractices, policies, operations, and procedures within the criminaljustice system. In the criminal justice system, ethics permeate themost mundane and custom activities to the most precariouscircumstances that necessitate the utilization of force. Theoreticalperspectives in ethics can be categorized into two core groups,namely: deontological and teleological theories. Deontologicalapproaches judge ethical value of the actions as per individual’sduty or responsibility to act.Teleological theories, on the otherhand, explore the ethical values of a decision or action guided byits consequences. Normative ethics can be regarded as central toethical decision making within the criminal justice system. One ofthe overriding principles within normative ethics relates to thepremise that an individual’s conduct ought to take intoconsideration moral issue.


Corruptioncan be regarded as one of the most prominent contemporary ethicalissues hampering provision of justice. Research into policecorruption illuminates understanding of the phenomenon motivated bythe hope of eliminating the behavior that has largely served to dentthe overall authenticity of law enforcement. The other contemporaryethical issue encountered by police officers relates to utilizationof excessive force (police brutality), abuse of authority and publicoffice, which is made worsened by an institutional culture, whichconceals unethical behavior (Arrigo&amp Claussen, 2003). Some of the incidences in which police has been found to be brutalinclude Rodney King case and New Orleans case. In the latter case,the police shot six civilians, killing two, in the name of selfdefense, but it later emerged that the civilians were unarmed. Thiscase perfectly illustrates unethical behavior in the law enforcementagencies since the police officers went at great lengths to cover-upthe incident by planting a gun, fabricating some of the witnessaccount, and falsifying reports.

BesidesRodney King case, there are other instances in which the police havebeen found in illegal or ethically compromising positions. Some ofthe cases entail police being involved in drug dealing. For instance,a 1998 report by the General Accounting Office cites instances onpublicly reported police corruption in a number of cities includingMiami, Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, and New York. There are otherinstances in which police officers have been convicted fordrug-related offences in which on-duty police officers involvedthemselves in serious criminal activities including: stealingmoney/drugs from drug dealers undertaking unconstitutional seizuresand searches handling theft items (such as drugs and cash)shielding drug operations engaging in the provision of falsetestimony and, compiling and submitting misleading crime reports.

InterviewQuestion # 1: Why are ethics and character so significant within thearena of law enforcement?

OfficerJohn Bargasi cited the saying that “power corrupts and absolutepower corrupts absolutely” to portray why the power that lawenforcement enjoy may predispose them to misconduct (Bargasi&amp Officer Ortiz, Personalcommunication, March 3, 2014).Theinterviewees acknowledged that becoming an ethical individual is ajourney in which individual ought to evaluate his or her values andmorals as they confront everyday choices. Police officers are oftenheld in high regard by the society since they are considered stewardsof sacred, public trust and enjoy discretion to apply force anddisregard constitutional privileges in circumstances where it islawfully justified.

Theofficers highlighted that there are multiple motives that policeofficers should strive to do the right with the biggest motive beingpublic opinion. For instance, a police officer that accepts freebiesfrom client may find himself or herself in a compromising situationwhen he or eh is expected to avail special favors such as letting thesubject of the hook. Ethicsand character are pertinent within the arena of law enforcement sincelaw enforcement officer consistent face ethical dilemmas relating to:how to exercise authority without bias or how to exercise authoritywithout exploiting relationships with clients for personal gain(Carter&amp Wilson, 2006).

Theinterviewees noted that ethics is essential for all people and policeofficer should not be an exception. The criminal justice and publicpolicy field features numerous ethical issues that law enforcementofficers must be able to navigate successfully such as issues to dowith war on drugs and terrorism, capital punishment, and heightenedsurveillance on the citizens or information sharing (Jacocks&amp Bowman, 2006).Police officers may also encounter challenges deriving from ways ofdealing with human rights issues such as the administration ofinhuman or unusual punishment. Other ethical issues emanating frompolicing policies entail racial profiling, utilization of force, andutilization of police discretion. InterviewQuestion # 2: Is the law enforcement agency more ethical today, orwere they more ethical a decade ago?

Theinterviewees felt that the police have become more ethical relativeto a decade ago owing to the ongoing improvement witnessed in theservice (Bargasi&amp Officer Ortiz, Personalcommunication, March 3, 2014).Police recruits undergo stringent screening and internal oversight,which makes the police more ethical relative to a decade ago. Thisview is informed by the fact that, in the last few decades,significant strides has been made within law enforcement professionas police agencies increasingly avoid recruitment of candidatesmanifesting low ethical standard. Furthermore, police department haveplaced significant attention towards identifying onboard employeeswho may fail integrity test, early on within their careers. Thisinforms the interviewees’ observation that police officers are moreethically today when compared to a decade ago. Indeed, a thoroughunderstanding is necessary to fully appreciate the extent, nature,and organization of corruption that exists since, otherwise effortsto combat the vice would be counterproductive (Cronkhite,2013). InterviewQuestion # 3: Why do law enforcement officers engage in misconduct?

Theinterviewees completely understood and concurred that the workenvironment may be less than perfect and intimidating. Policemisconduct encompasses a contravention of department policies, acontravention of the law itself, and a contravention ofconstitutional safeguards. OfficerJohn Bargasi and Officer Pedro Ortizadmitted that some police officers engage in misconduct since this isa high-pressure job filled temptations, in which any momentary lapsein judgment can generate a catastrophe of misconduct (Bargasi&amp Officer Ortiz, Personalcommunication, March 3, 2014).When addressing police misconduct, OfficerJohn Bargasi noted that majority of police officers who engage inmisconduct are usually disgruntled, especially owing to distress fromfamily and loss of faith with life, the profession, or colleagues(due to systemic corruption). Officer Pedro Ortiz also added thatpolice officers are sometimes unable to make ends meet with theirsalaries, which stem frustration and an appetite for crime.

Basedon the interview, it is apparent that some of the leadership inpolice departments accommodates mediocrity by failing to demand thehighest degree of conduct in the police department, which generates aclimate seasoned for misconduct. Performance,in police work, is largely measured by aspects such as the number ofarrests made, drug recovered, or weapons recovered. As such, policeofficers usually find means of accomplishing the tasks to avoidmissing promotions of being engaged in specialized assignments. Thisarrangement entices some police officers to “cut corners” orcontravene the law, or even engage in unethical conduct. The push forresults by the supervisors make some officers to disregard how theresults are obtained, which make some officers to view it as alicense to gain results at all costs (Meine&amp Dunn, 2012). The equating of policing with “war” shapes the war mentality,which is another source of integrity issues. The work environment inwhich the pressure to generate results is bigger than the pressure toobey the rules renders police officers to perceive that they areundertaking what is required of them by their organizations and thepublic, at large. Moreover, the fear of punishment does notadequately deter or alter unwanted behavior. InterviewQuestion # 4: Do police officers feel that there is adequate trainingprovided in ethics?

OfficerPedro Ortizrecognized the need for refresher training courses at thedepartmental level so as to reinforce and refresh officers memory andnor inundate them with information. Although,ethics training is considered a staple within academy instruction,Officer John Bargasi and Officer Pedro Ortizlamented that there was inadequate training in ethics at the policeacademy level (Bargasi&amp Officer Ortiz, Personalcommunication, March 3, 2014). The interviewees observed that they have been personallyencountering difficulties in making decisions relating to ethicaldilemmas. This highlights that the training in ethics has beeninadequate in making police officers aware of and accommodative toethical issues, helping police officers develop critical thinkingskills, and become more personally responsible.

Sincepolicing is a profession, there are a set of ethical requirementsthat police officers must adhere to guarantee that their service ismorally and ethically responsible. Training in ethics aids policeofficers to develop analytical skills and reasoning capabilities thatare pertinent to aiding police officers appreciate the pragmatic andtheoretical issues involved within the criminal justice system (Ruiz&amp Bono, 2004). Although, the training academies highlighted the significance ofpolices that spelt out ethical mission and set out the standards thatall officers ought to observe, the training is not faultless. Thisis informed by the fact that, there are numerous instances in whichpolice officers have failed to promptly appreciate the ethicalconsequences of diverse actions and moral principles underlying theirconduct. InterviewQuestion # 5: Whether ethics training should be provided as anon-going process for police officers?

OfficerJohn Bargasi and Officer Pedro Ortizadmitted that ethics training ought to be offered as an on-goingprocess since one can never know everything. Ethics training oughtto be an ongoing process and there exist noteworthy programs thatform part of the new employee training. Nevertheless, it is essentialto appreciate that some of the law enforcement agencies are deficientwhen it come to ongoing training. The bulk of police officers launchtheir career with high ethical beliefs and moral standards, but theyears of dealing with stressful situations, erode some of theofficers’ morals making them cynical and desert the notion ofmaintaining high ethical standards.

Inorder for the law enforcement to be good at recalling information onethics, ethics training should be continuous to ensure they maintainhigh level of ethics. Both officers have an open mind and were opento do all that was necessary to be ethical. Ethics training ought tobe offered as an on-going process for the law enforcement officers toensure that all officers have a moral compass to guide them in theirwork. Officers are often provided with training accompanied by asignificant quantity of rules and regulations to guide theirday-to-day duties (Pollock,2014). Ethics training should highlight the fact that law enforcementofficers do not necessarily have the opportunity to direct the policerole however, police officers enjoy absolute control over theirintegrity and professionalism, which must be taught and equallypracticed. Interview Question # 6: Do Police officers feel thateducation and/or training in ethics would minimize cases of policecorruption?

OfficerJohn Bargasi and Officer Pedro Ortiz acknowledge that education ortraining in ethical can play a big role in minimizing or eliminatingcases of police corruption (Bargasi&amp Officer Ortiz, Personalcommunication, March 3, 2014). The officers were quick to point out that corruption in policestarts with mundane things such as accepting small things, which giveway to bigger and more appalling actions. In Officer Pedro Ortizcited that there are temptations everywhere and police officers arein risk of engaging in corrupt activities if they are not careful.The officers’ believe that training would aid officers to minimizeincidences of corruption so as to minimize lapses of judgment. Officer Ortiz also acknowledged that some officers “have thickheads” and training may sometime fail to reduce corruption ashighlighted by pervasive incidents of accepting bribe to turn a blindeye to criminal activity.

Thecauses of corruption within the police encompass factors that areinherent to policing as a job the organization of law enforcementagencies the character of police culture the chances for corruptionoccasioned by “task” and “political” environments and, thedegree and nature of efforts placed in limiting corruption. Theinterviewees’ appreciated the role that training can play ininculcating integrity (typified by prudence, courage, justice, trust,intellectual honesty, and responsibility) among the law enforcementofficers. Training in ethics can play a big role in eliminating thepolice subculture that act as a vehicle that spreads corruptionthroughout the department (Braswell,Pollock, &amp Braswell, 2012). The police subculture emanates from the fact that the police workdetails numerous experiences that are distinct to the field to theextent that the subculture becomes stronger relative to the officers’family ties. Furthermore, the police officers work schedules thatare largely outside the normal realm can yield to feelings ofisolation, which further entrenches the ties to the subculture. Thispossibly explains why newer police officers are eager to admit towitnessing unethical acts perpetrated by other officers relative tothose officers who have had more time on the job.

Mostimportantly, the law enforcement officers appreciated that leadershipoccupies a special place in police work and the head of thedepartment should carry the ultimate responsibility for anyshortcomings in the police work. As such, leaders in law enforcementagencies have a critical influence in preventing corruption owing tothe fact that they hold significant impact in molding organizationclimate.As one of the interviewee explained, principled leadersought to safeguard their own egos, seek to put on good appearancedevoid of attempting to intimidate the subjects under them. Theinterviewees believe that principle-based police leaders should workwith their subordinates by adopting a critical step toward generatingan ethical climate by establishing an agenda that shapes the moralpurpose of the department (Byers,2002). Although, leaders play a crucial role in shaping the overall climatewithin the department, they alone cannot guarantee the maintenance ofhigh degree of integrity since uncaring and inept officials’actually foster misconduct, despite the efforts made by ethicalsupervisors in fostering an ethical workplace.

Apossibility still manifest no matter how conscientiously that ethicalofficers do their work that first and second-level commander may notkeep their officers inclined to act unethically. The proportion ofofficers to supervisors remain highly skewed to foster adequateoversight nevertheless, the interviewees acknowledged thatleadership in law enforcement agencies is not singularly defined byrank, but all officers ought to exude some leadership skills sincethey largely operate without direct supervision.Mentoring of theyoung police officers can make corruption to spread, especially ininstances in which a void is generated by the absence of powerful orcohesive leadership. Such a scenario may saturate the department withunethical officers seeking to boost their ranks. Hence, it isessential that effective leaders sharing analogous goals be competentto set the standard that the subordinates can subordinates canemulate (Hunter,1999). The highest level of ethics that will safeguard leaders fromundermining their integrity in lieu of expediency can suppresspossible misconduct.

Theadmission by Officer Pedro Ortiz that, the criminal justice system isstill involved in coercion, owing to the numerous and variedopportunities to abuse of power, indicates that there is still a lotof ground that need to be covered during the training of policeofficers in ethics. However, the few bad apples does not obscure thefact that majority of police officers are good, highly dedicated, andhave a passion to serve the public. Both Officer John Bargasi andOfficer Pedro Ortiz showed good character and had a lot of patienceand understanding of issues relating to ethics (Bargasi&amp Officer Ortiz, Personalcommunication, March 3, 2014). During my interview, I gained an impression that the officers wereconfident and proud of the ethical choices that they have made, whichin part, reinforced my admiration and confidence in the work done bypolice officers in law enforcement.

Theinterview with the two police officers gave me the impression thatthey deeply believe in intrinsic goodness of the humankind however,this can be considered idealistic since there are numerous cases ofpolice officer engaging in unethical conduct. It is pertinent thatmore effort is put in police ethics training with a strong focustowards constitutional principles such as due process, checks andbalances, fundamental freedoms, and right to speedy trial. Some ofthe standards on ethical policing that police should pay attention toinclude fair access, public trust, objectivity, team, safety andsecurity.


Lawenforcement agencies requires strong and ethical leadership so as todirect the tone for the police departments and leading by example,and shying away from selecting the easy path in lieu of ethical path.Evidently,policing demands perfection and uncompromising ethics and eventuallyhinges on every employee’s own degree of rationality, knowledge,and dedication to moral excellence. All police departments must worktowards maintaining ethical conduct, whose absence can be detrimentalfor any department, community, or the nation.Although, lawenforcement officers sometimes make mistakes, ethical misconductshould not be tolerated under any circumstances. It is essentialthat police departments place efforts towards establishing anatmosphere in which honest officers can freely act devoid of reprisalor ridicule from their colleagues.

Ethicalpolice organization necessitates the conscientious commitment to theexisting standards and policies, reinforced by the capability tospotlight an individual or collective tendency to veer off theexpectations, and the audacity to confront those deemed responsiblefor the malfunctions. As such, law enforcement agencies must be readyto screen candidates and recruit the most conscientious recruitssince they enjoy an enhanced level of integrity. Once hired, theleaders within the law enforcement agencies must work to generate anatmosphere of integrity and ethics. The promotion of such a climateis central to the reduction of unethical behavior. Law enforcementadministrators ought to encourage their police officers involve inoff-the-the-job actions that foster balanced work life.


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