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Police Ethics and Police Rights

Write a response to the following prompt:

  • Describe the vital role of police leaders, especiallyfirst-line supervisors, in preventing and addressing problems of patrolofficer ethics.
  • What are the specific rights that police officerspossess, and what are the areas in which they have limitations placed ontheir behavior and activity according to court decisions and legislation?Do you think these limitations are necessary? Why or why not?

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Jacqueline Police Ethics and Police Rights

  • Ethics, such acomplicated word. Is there a time when it should not matter? Are theresituations when our ethics are allowed to take a backseat? In the world of lawenforcement this word is more difficult to define when its use is a must, orsimply assume to be used. For law enforcement world the concept that ethics isa constant should be reinforced by leaders on a daily basis because ethics areaffected by three factors: growing temptation from the illicit drug trade, thecompromising nature of police culture – loyalty over integrity, and thechallenges from being decentralized – the decision process becoming more of afirst – line offer process. 

  • These factorstend to test ethics on a daily basis, but two types of ethics still bringquestions into play: absolute ethics (good or bad) are the backbone of thelegal system, relative ethics (which are situational and can have varyingshades of grey to them) take aspects into account that create possiblecorruption situations (Peak et al, 2010, p. 218).

  • For leaders andsupervisors, the concept of deontological ethics, or ethics based on ones dutyto act, is important to instill (Peak et al, 2010, p. 217).  Basically theidea that, you, as an officer of the law, have an obligation to help do theright thing when you see any illegal act being committed. Sergeants especiallyare the first line of supervisors to any patrol officer. This first level ofsupervisor is extremely important and can be a defining role for it shows thesergeants perspective and ideals when it comes to ethics. 

  • Do you guide yourofficers under an ‘absolute ethics’ perspective which says there is only goodand bad; or do you allow your officers the ability to determine on their ownwhat is good or bad, or simply ok, this would be a ‘relative ethics’perspective.  This perspective allows for the possibilities of corruptionif the officer does not see what might be obvious or inherent evils in theirencounters, it also can allow an officer to see a situation and determine ifsomeone needs help with their situation, or simply needs to sleep a drunk offin the local booking office.

  • The concept thata patrol officer has the ability to say ‘you’re drunk but you’re not reallydangerous’, and yet at a different time pursue a dangerous offender through toapprehension is a very big ethically challenging job. Giving this right to anofficer one might think that officers have rights or abilities above and beyondthose of any normal citizen, this would be a false assumption. 

  • Although policeofficers have unions and supervisors to protect them and to assist them intheir time of need, some of the most basic rights that the average citizen holddear, officers are not afforded. Other than the Peace Officer’s Bill of Right’spolice officers have no ‘above and beyond’ rights.

  • Although a policeofficer is the employee of an agency, they are technically employed by thestate, and the state therefore has certain rights to limitcertain rights that regular citizens regularly have, such as limiting freedomof speech (the state can: limit what an officer on duty can say in regards toon – going investigations, can apply punishment to an officer that verballydegrades their own agency, can punish a supervisor for insisting that lowerlevel officers support any particular political candidate, uphold anyappearance statute (uniforms, grooming – mustaches and sideburns) (Peak et al,2010, 248); limiting freedom for search and seizure ( the state can ‘compel’officers to comply with search and seizure orders, and can force them to standin a line up, a ‘seizure’ of their person) (Peak et al, 2010, p. 248); limitingright to self – incrimination (the state can force an officer to forego theirright to self – incrimination as long as it is known that the information willnot be used for any future proceedings) (Peak et al, 2010, p. 249); limitingfreedom to religious practices (the state does not have to accommodate with anyreligious practices of any individual officer and can order said officer towork their given schedule despite any known or obvious religious obligations orpreferences) (Peak et al, 2010, p. 249).

  • Many other rightsthat the average everyday citizen would take for granted, law enforcementofficers simply do not have the conveniences of, and the state will not simplyoblige to them.  It seems a bit unreasonable that rights that affordedsomeone who does not work to protect their community, are not afford to someonethat does. It seems a bit unconstitutional if you ask me.

  • References:

  • Peak, K., Gaines,L. & Glensor, R. (2010). Police supervision and management in an era ofcommunity policing (3rd ed.) Upper saddle, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.ISBN: 9780135154663

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