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Investigation and Law Enforcement Ethics
Law Enforcement Ethics Defined
In a police science class at Pasadena City College, students were asked
to pool their thoughts on a definition of police ethics. After
considerable discussion, the following definition emerged: Police
ethics is a set of rules and regulations devised to guide officers
in determining whether their personal conduct is right or wrong.
It was the
opinion of this class that ethics in any profession develops a right
conscience among its individual members and that such a conscience is
helpful in law enforcement to assist officers in doing the right thing.
Other recognized professions--medicine, law, and education--have
developed ethical codes to serve as clearly defined ideals and
principles for their members to follow in solving the everyday problems
of right and wrong that arise in their work.
football or participating in life, one must recognize and observe
professional standards of behavior and exemplary conduct. The
opportunity to abide by such necessary standards confronts officers
daily in law enforcement.
As a case in
point, an officer in a West Coast city spotted a local judge's car
parked illegally. The officer had just been advised in a police training
school that morning before she went on duty that all laws, including
traffic laws, are applicable to all people, regardless of race, sex,
creed, or station in life. But she hesitated because she wanted to avoid
the possible embarrassment and trouble that could result for the
department. Nevertheless, the lessons in the morning class were well
learned, and she tagged thejudge's car. Her decision proved to be a wise
one, for the judge publicly praised her courage in doing the right
thing. The judge paid the article tells how two patrol officers were
publicly accused in false statements made against them during the arrest
and trial of a drunk patron and a bartender. As a result, the two
officers filed suits seeking damages from the tavern manager for
slander. A statement made by Director Hoover of the FBI was introduced
in evidence: "Law enforcement today is truly a profession." As a result,
a judgment in common pleas court was rendered in favor of the two
officers in the sum of $2,500 each. This recognition by the courts
underscores the concept that law enforcement today is truly a
A CODE OF
Without question, a
code of ethics is essential in a profession. Without it, a profession
could not exist. Moreover, the rules and regulations selected must reach
the highest standards. There must be no opportunity for compromise.
Professional ethics dictates the application of such absolutes as
"always" and "never." To be effective, the code must cover all areas of
endeavor, leaving no questions of right or wrong unanswered. Naturally,
it is admitted that no code could, when phrased only in words, encompass
every possible circumstance. However, within the confines of reason, a
sensible, attainable set of rules can be formulated.
A code of
police ethics must also embrace all basic objectives. The late Don L.
Kooken in his book Ethics in Police Service outlined the
following law enforcement objectives:
1. To elevate
the standing of the profession in the public mind and to strengthen
public confidence in law enforcement
encourage law enforcement officers to fully appreciate the
responsibilities of their office
3. To develop
and maintain complete support and cooperation of the public in law
4. To ensure
the effectiveness of the services by encouraging complete cooperation
of its members for their mutual benefit
5. To strive
for full coordination of effort in all official relationships with other
6. To consider
police work an honorable profession, and to recognize in it an
opportunity to render a worthwhile service to society
In order to
achieve these high objectives, the International Association of Chiefs
of Police (IACP), the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the California
Peace Officers' Association, and many other law enforcement agencies
have adopted codes of ethics. The FBI code appears in Figure 13-1. Other
police codes are given in the following sections.
To cover every aspect of the problems involving police ethics,
negative characteristics--unethical acts to be avoided--are listed as
of prisoners' property
of laws and regulations
of civil rights, false arrest, illegal search and seizures 8.
Discourteous conduct 9. Deliberate inefficiency 10. Failure to improve
of privileged communications
The most practical way to prevent unethical activity by law
enforcement officers involves judicious screening and selection of new
personnel; continual practical training of all officers, stressing
public relations and ethical conduct; and prompt dismissal of officers
who cannot obey the rules and regulations of the police profession.
LAW ENFORCEMENT CODE OF ETHICS
This code of ethics
was first created and publicized by the Peace Officers' Research
Association of California (PORAC). Subsequently, it was adopted by the
members of the California Peace Officers' Association and thereafter
universally promulgated by the International Association of Chiefs of
Police and the National Conference of Police Associations.
Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training of California, known
as POST, required the following code of ethics to be read and discussed
at all approved basic police schools. After discussion, the officers are
presented with the following printed code of ethics for their personal
use and limitation.
CODE OF ETHICS
As a law
duty is to serve mankind; to safeguard lives and property; to protect
the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression and
intimidation, and the peaceful against violence and disorder; to
respect the constitutional rights of all men to liberty, equality
I will keep my
private life unsullied as an example to all; maintain courageous calm in
the face of danger, scorn or ridicule; develop self-restraint; and be
constantly mindful of the welfare of others. I will be exemplary in
obeying the laws of the land and the regulations of my department.
Whatever I see or hear of a confidential nature, or that is confided in
me in my official capacity, will be kept secret unless revelation is
necessary in the performance of my duty.
I will never
act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudices, animosities or
friendships to influence my decisions. With no compromise for crime and
with relentless prosecution of criminals, I will enforce the law
courteously and appropriately without fear or favor, malice or
ill-will, never employing unnecessary force or violence and never
accepting gratuities. I recognize the badge of my office as a
symbol of public faith, and I accept it as a public trust to be held so
long as I am true to the ethics of the police service. I will constantly
strive to achieve these objectives and ideals, dedicating myself before
God to my chosen profession... Law Enforcement.
To stress the
importance and explain the specific problems in police ethics, the IACP
adopted the following eleven Canons of Ethics for Law Enforcement:
The primary responsibility
To protect life
and property and keep the peace of all people. To enforce the laws,
equitably and fairly, regarding all persons. The descriptions beneath
the canons are the author's.
Limitations of authority
must know the bounds of their authority and never abuse their police
power of arrest, search, and seizure.
Duty to be familiar with the law and with the responsibilities of self
and other public officials
should keep abreast of changes in the law, should attend law enforcement
conferences and schools for improvement, and should know their area of
Utilization of proper means to gain proper ends
officers must be the first to obey the law and not be a bad example by
flouting the law or granting special privileges to friends and
relatives. Moreover, they must not use the law for personal power or
Cooperation with public officials in the discharge of their official
This is a
two-way street, and ethical officers will always cooperate legally with
other departments, regardless of political or official affiliation.
must remember that they are public officials
24 hours a day.
Conduct on and off the job must be above reproach.
Conduct toward the public
officers always remember that they are public
Hence, they cannot be overbearing or subservient.
Conduct in arresting and dealing with violators
refrain from undue use of force or violation of
the civil rights of the public
Gifts and favors
not accept gratuities and gifts from the public.
Nothing must influence them or interfere with the
administration of justice
Presentation of evidence
investigations, police must seek the facts and must obtain the truth.
They must defend the innocent as well as enforce the law and gather the
evidence against wrongdoers.
Attitude toward profession
must regard their duties as a public trust, should strive for a
professional attitude, should help present a good image of police to the
public, and should endeavor to improve themselves and their department.
The FBI Pledge for Law Enforcement
Humbly recognizing the responsibilities entrusted to me, I do vow that I
shall always consider the high calling of law enforcement to be an
honorable profession, the duties of which are recognized by me as both
an art and a science. I recognize fully my responsibilities to defend
the right, to protect the weak, to aid the distressed, and to uphold the
law in public duty and in private living. I accept the obligation in
connection with my assignments to report facts and to testify without
bias or display of emotion, and to consider the information, coming to
my knowledge by virtue of my position, as a sacred trust, to be used
solely for official purposes. To the responsibilities entrusted to me of
seeking to prevent crime, of finding the facts of law violations and of
apprehending fugitives and criminals, I shall give my loyal and faithful
attention and shall always be equally alert in striving to acquit the
innocent and to convict the guilty. In the performance of my duties and
assignments, I shall not engage in unlawful and unethical practices but
shall perform the functions of my office without fear, without favor,
and without prejudice. At no time shall I disclose to an unauthorized
person any fact, testimony, or information in any pending matter coming
to my official knowledge which may be calculated to prejudice the minds
of existing or prospective judicial bodies either to favor or to
disfavor any person or issue. While occupying the status of a law
enforcement officer or at any other time subsequent thereto, I shall not
seek to benefit personally because of my knowledge of any confidential
matter which has come to my attention. I am aware of the serious
responsibilities of my office and in the performance of my duties I
shall, us a minister, seek to supply comfort, advice, and aid to those
who may be in need of such benefits, as a soldier, I shall wage vigorous
warfare against the enemies of my country, of its laws, and of its
principles, and as a physician, I shall seek to eliminate the criminal
parasite which preys upon our social order and to strengthen the lawful
processes of our body politic. I shall strive to be both a teacher and a
pupil in the art and science of law enforcement. As a lawyer, I shall
acquire due knowledge of the laws of my domain and seek to preserve and
maintain the majesty and dignity of the law; as a scientist, it will be
my endeavor to learn all pertinent truth about accusations and
complaints which come to my lawful knowledge; as an artist, I shall seek
to use my skill for the purpose of making each assignment a masterpiece;
as a neighbor, I shall bear an attitude of true friendship and courteous
respect to all citizens; and as an officer, I shall always be loyal to
my duty, my organization, and my country. I will support and defend the
Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and
domestic; I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, and will
constantly strive to cooperate with and promote cooperation between all
regularly constituted law enforcement agencies and officers in the
performance of duties of mutual interest and obligation.
The FBI pledge
for law enforcement. Courtesy of The Federal Bureau of
“The public has a right and a
duty to demand unimpeachable integrity from its public servants.” J.
Scott David Neff DC DABCO CFE FFAAJTS at the request of the honorable
now retired Senior FBI Agent, two times Pasadena Major, creator of many
of the first law enforcement agencies around the
world, Dr. John L. Sullivan Esquire PhD
FFAAJTS founder of the InfoJustice Journal.