Character and ethics are the society’s basic tenets. Without these tenets, human relations would become arbitrary and disorderly (Landauer & Rowlands. 2001). They assist in interpersonal interactions, the creation of agreements and law enforcement. As such, the issue of ethics is a significant issue for people all over the world, more so in law enforcement. Law enforcers are anticipated to be above accusation in the sense that they should not act in a manner to open them up for accusations (Mignone, 2005). The public expects police officers to be excellent, to exhibit such disposition like being above all the actions that would make a lesser person corrupt. I carried out separate interviews with two police officers as the respondents in my hometown. Not many officers were willing to participate in the interview. I was lucky to have the pleasure of interviewing two law enforcers but on condition of anonymity. For that reason, the said officers will be herein referred to as respondent one and respondent two. This paper tackles their responses to precise questions alongside my personal understanding of their replies. From my interviews, I got the impression that the two cops were somewhat proud of the ethical choices they make in their line of duty and were confident of always doing their best as law enforcement officers.
The Significance of character and Ethics in the area of Law Enforcement
When interviewing the first respondent, the following was found to be his perspective of the police force generally. On the importance of ethics and character in the field of law enforcement, he was of the opinion that ethics and character are inseparable. In law enforcement, the officer opined that there are numerous motives for doing the right thing. The first reason he offered was based on the public opinion, and this included their influence on young people who are growing to be citizens of the state and country. The respondent was of the opinion that if the law enforcers fail to have an excellent character they will fail in being a good role model. In fact, he postulated that if they set a bad example, the young citizens would grow to believe their actions are tolerable. For him, in order to enforce the law, it is necessary, first, to examine the things that possibly will sway them to conduct themselves in a poor manner. A law enforce should never allow anyone to alter their viewpoint in an unconstructive way. According to this respondent, doing so would be falling short of exhibiting good character. When I asked the respondent what between ethics and character is more important, he retaliated that they are both inseparable, but ethics leads to character. However, it was not lost to the officer that one can present an impeccable character but when it comes to following the rules of ethics, fail miserably. According to the officer, the lure of small favors from honest citizens has the capability of influencing the choice of an officer. This can easily impair their judgments. For instance if a person gives a gift to an officer, then the cop is covertly anticipated to return the favor in the form of forms of safety, extra presence of officers, or even disgraceful actions such as letting someone off with a caution and not a ticket.
When I asked the second respondent the same question, he presented me with insight into his position on the importance of good character and ethics. According to him, the field of law enforcement primarily involves numerous possible corruption situations. As such upholding of ethics and having a good character is paramount. An officer who catches a suspect with drugs on them can choose to do the ethical thing and show good a good character, which is turn the criminal in, or can let the criminal walk and confiscate the drugs, sell them and make money. An officer arresting a very abusing suspect can get mad and beat silence into him or show good character by doing the ethical thing, which is ignore him, cuff him and turn him in. The second respondent echoed the first one by opining that ethics and good character are so important in that law enforcers are meant to be role models for other citizens. He pointed out the double standards in doing what you are supposed to stop others from doing. He pointed out the folly of arresting a person who does a crime that you (the officer) commit when off duty. To him police officers are assigned the duty of enforcing the laws and protecting the people. To him they are, and rightly so, held to a higher standard than the citizens are held. They should show others that they are not above the law and demonstrate, by their deeds, how to coexist in the society. The cops, according to him, should follow the laws alongside upholding ethics.
Do the interviewees feel that in today, police have more ethics than they had ten years ago?
When I presented this question to the first respondent, he seemed to feel that cops are more ethical today than they were a decade ago. This he attributed to extra and improved learning alongside improved leadership. According to him, police officers are nowadays armed with more apparatus and information that enables them to work in a more ethical way and uphold a good character. He points out the fact that a decade ago, law enforcers were not as closely monitored as they are today and were never expected to uphold the ethical standards they are presently expected to uphold. For example, then, a free gift like a cup of coffee was acknowledged by the law enforcers as freebies that they merited for offering services to a society. These small gifts are now recognized as bribes. More stress is being placed on ethics. Delattre, on the slippery incline of corruption, opines that it all starts with a minute thing, which leads to bigger acts until the acts, turn unlawful (2006).
The second respondent had a similar response to this question to that of the first respondent. To him, the law enforcers are more ethical nowadays than a decade ago. This, he believes, is for the reason that the public is more watchful of the law enforcers than they were ten years ago. The cops know they are always being recorded on a camera, monitored, or reviewed. His contention, in my view, is that new technology has introduced novel methods of policing everyone. It ensures that officers stick to acceptable standards by introducing checks and balances that were non-existent ten years ago. Everybody, police included, is being watched. According to Delattre, (2006) the main shortcoming with this motivation for ethical conduct is that it is driven by apprehension for being discovered rather than the general ethics and character of the police force.
Why do police officers become involved in misconduct?
On the question of the reasons why law enforces get caught up in misconduct, the first respondent remarked that the cops he has known to be caught up in misconduct did so out of discontent. Discontent with their life and family alongside their work were cited. Niederhoffer, (1969) opines that loss of faith by the law enforcers in human kind normally generates private and departmental corruption. Cops find themselves not capable of making ends meet with their earnings. In high crime metropolis in which the cost of living is astronomical, police are incapable of paying their bills. The cops also discover that in such metropolis, they can get away with vices such as brutality, or skimming cash from drugs raids. This is so because no one will be willing to castigate an officer for beating up someone who has been selling drugs to their kid or notice a few dollar bills missing from cash from a drug bust as no one knew the original sum to start with. This respondent also hypothesizes that officers put in long hours among the worst elements society produces. They see their lifestyle, the money, and the trappings that crime comes with. Slowly they realize that they work more for far less and with their jobs, they will never achieve the material wealth the criminals have.
When the second respondent is accosted with the same question, he was of the same opinion with the first officer. According to him, the police swear and desire to offer a safe environment for the society but at times things go haywire in his private life and that could affect his professional life. Personal feelings can, though should not, impair judgment. An officer just having a bad day or with some prejudice acquired in his private life could get themselves caught up in misconduct. This respondent also held the view that an officer can get involved in misconduct for the same reason others do. Officers are after all human. It was also not lost to this officer that the force screening procedure for new recruits is not perfect. A few less-than-ethical elements sneak through the fissures into the force. When they get into the force, they feel protected by the badge to do their misdeeds. The second respondent opined that the society’s offhand approach towards unlawful acts at times rubs off on the law enforcers. The moment such an attitude is entrenched in mentality of the officer; it is only a matter of time before the officer commits the criminal acts.
Do the interviewees feel that police are trained enough in ethics at the level of the police academy? If not, why is that?
The first respondent, replied in the affirmative. The respondent pointed out that there is a recent upsurge in the teaching of Ethics for police officers in Police Academies in the country. This he attributed to a greater media and public awareness of allegations of Police Misconduct. He confirmed that there are both Recruit and In-Service level training for officers in ethics. In the officers opinion it was necessary to equip officers with all the laws and ethics, and train them on how to maintain character traits that are needed to become an excellent officer.
When queried on the same issue, the second respondent had an opposite opinion. According to this officer, police in the country are loosing it. Their seniors need to sit back and reflect on the training methods in existence. The methods require either a complete overhaul, extension or a revamp as, in his opinion; they are not working. He went on to assert that some gangsters behave in a more ethical ways than some officers in the country do. He pointed a case of an officer dismissed from the force for molesting female victims of crimes. For him, this was a testimony that training on character traits and how to deal with ethical dilemmas was not effectively offered. Anson, (1983) states that instruction in ethics for police has to be more specific and considerate of time limits. It is however important to note that this respondent was a veteran in the force and therefore may have not been aware of the new methods of training in the force colleges.
Should ethics training be offered as continual process for law enforcement officers?
The first respondent indentified the need to provide ethics training as a continuous process for law enforcement officers. In his view, an officer can never can never know a lot neither can he or she know it all. He impressed on me the need to learn or refresh novel methods to manage every day unique challenges. Officers must progress their awareness continuously; they must endeavor to uphold a high level of knowledge. The respondent suggested formal sittings as excellent method of teaching new ideas to solve new problems that may crop up. The respondent, in my view, was open-minded, could do whatever is necessary to advance his awareness of ethical conduct, and would recommend the same for the force. Unfortunately, as Delattre (2006) correctly points out scholars are not automatically people of good disposition. Ethics can be taught and drilled; however, the scholars must be of good character and ready to accept the teachings. They must be willing to act in the ethical behavior in which they are being trained.
The second respondent opined that ethics training should be offered as a continual process for police officers, however, it is important to understand no matter for how long you teach people of bad character they will never take in the teachings. He was on the opinion that there were persons in the job merely for the power. The veteran cop recalls seeing individuals who appeared to be of excellent character at the time when they began work only to disgrace the badge later in their career. These officers started swashbuckling around acting in a manner that is an embarrassment to the force instead of working to improve the relations between the police and the citizens. Officers like those were re-trained and assigned to a desk or some other non-public responsibility. If they were for another time unable to exhibit good disposition and ethical conduct, they were stripped of their budges and guns and expunged from the police force. This is also mentioned in Delattre (2006) where he says that police with uninhibited negative character traits ought not to be part of the police force.
Do the interviewees feel that training in ethics would reduce cases of corruption?
The first respondent communicated after a moment that he supposes that training would help to diminish the incidents of corruption. He was of the opinion that most of corruption is rooted into the unavailability of knowledge. According to him, unless law enforcers are provided with relevant training or education from others concerning how they are expected to conduct themselves, their single basis of information will be their own conviction that is based on their individual experiences. According to this respondent, a law enforcer who is endowed with ethical understanding will have good basis from which to build up ethical conduct. The respondent though points out that some individuals are simply crooked, and will always be crooked regardless of the education and guidance that is provided. He concluded that officers who are corrupt and irresponsible must be removed from their respective forces as fast as they are proved so.
The second respondent agreed in a similar fashion that educating the police in ethics would reduce, occurrence of police corruption. He held that since the late 50s and early 60s the levels and value of education for kids has been deteriorating. He remembers the initial norm that was allowed to deteriorate to nothingness, the Citizenship Class. This was the daily one-hour class from first graders to graduation. Students were actively persuaded and indoctrinated with ethics and morality ideas. This was to integrate them into a law-abiding community. He passionately talked about how the class taught decorum, law and why it is necessary, critical thinking, diplomacy, and judgment, among others. He opined that there was a need to incorporate education regarding ethics to the law enforcement team. He went ahead to lament that there is an apparent raise of instances where ethics have been overlooked among a minor group of law enforcers. This happens despite ethics training having been integrated into all force’s academies, he pointed out. He concluded that there was some inconsistency. This he attributed to the absence of ethical training at early stages. This has affected the ability of some individuals to obey the law even when they are enforcing it. He hypothesized that these crooked cops might perceive an apparent lack of role models for ethical conduct (within the police force and in the community as a whole) and deciding that to hold on to their role in the society is not only pointless, but also insignificant. The respondent was very passionate about this issue. He was of the opinion that early education is weakening the foundation of ethical and moral tenets. Adults with no ethical and moral foundation cannot at all time act decorously, civilly, or with an acknowledgement of the fact that ethics and morals are more desirable than anarchy.
During the interview with the first correspondent, I perceived him to be of an extremely fine character. He was patient and considerate. He took time to respond to questions thoughtfully and in an interesting manner. He exhibited a great character, and even politely declined a soda I offered him while I was interviewing him. Through out the time, he did not refer to anyone he has had the joy or misfortune to meet with contempt. He gave the notion that he considers that most human beings are intrinsically good and have the potential for greatness. Aged in his twenties, he is considerably fresh in the force and I perceived him to be a bit idealistic. I thought that either he is yet to be corrupted by bad mind-sets, or he really does exhibit the perfect quality that all law enforcers ought to be exhibiting.
In the two interviews, I was able to establish that both officers had been educated in ethics in the course of their service in the law enforcement agency. I sampled these two law enforcers since the two were from dissimilar training generations and dissimilar years. The second respondent had fifteen years of service under his belt while the first respondent had just five years of service under his belt.
Ethics and good character are gradually becoming more significant in law implementation. To be able to make and sustain a good working relationship with the society, and secure, professional working with suspects and criminals, it is paramount that an officer be able to manage all circumstances with a level of calm that will guarantee that everybody will come out of any situation alive and healthy. An officer devoid of the entrenched good ethics and character makes errors that can proof to be dangerous to a citizen, the officer or to the standing of the police department. If the public looses the trust and respect for the police, no citizen is secure. The police will not be capable of managing cases as they arise without the public support.
Nothing can be more destructive to the police departments and the entire law enforcement profession than acts of officer misconduct and unethical activities. The impacts of unethical acts and conduct are many. One effect of unethical conduct is that it exposes the police department to civil lawsuits. Setting up a defense against accusations not only drains an agency financially but also has a lasting reputation outcome. The second consequence is the individual harm suffered by the supervisors. People loose their jobs or stagnate in their career progress. The involved officers and their family also suffer a devastating public humiliation. Any allegation of unethical behavior in a police person tends to make them to be stigmatized by the community and this can persist in their lifetimes. Thus, by avoiding unethical acts, an officer will be helping a great deal.