Why a Code of Ethics is Needed Within Police Agencies Abstract The police play a very important role in our society. They protect us from criminals and dangers. But it is possible for certain cultures of secrecy to develop in police departments. It is therefore necessary to have a code of ethics to prevent the “the blue wall of silence” from becoming too prominent. The police play a very important role in our society. They protect the public from criminal elements, investigate crimes, and by their very presence on the streets deter crimes from happening.
Many people believe the police are heroic. Still, there are people who don’t respect them and call them names and think they are corrupt. When talking and thinking about police officers it is important to avoid caricatures, and to carefully research the profession in a sociological way. One of the most important concepts to talk about is what is called the “the blue wall of silence” the code of silence among police officers that protect them when they do something wrong. This is a bad thing and that’s why a code of ethics is required in police agencies.
Often when the police accidentally shoot someone there is a lot of community outrage, but it can be very difficult for the public to see what caused the shooting as the investigation is often internal. When the results come out they might be favourable to the police officer, eliciting more anger. People want to know that their police officers are being held to the highest possible standards. Because only police officers can investigate police officers, there is a temptation to look the other way when things involve partner and colleagues in various precincts.
This, however, is not acceptable to the public at large. A few years ago there were a number of such situations in Los Angeles and New York. Joseph McNamara, a former chief of police in Kansas City, thinks that current police culture is to blame for these problems that end up reinforced by the blue wall of silence. He particularly faults the aggressive street-policing tactics that led to Dorismond’s [a bystander shot by NYPD] death.
The fundamental duty of police, says McNamara, is to protect human life. But in many places that understanding has been superseded by a militaristic approach, one that allows for an acceptable number of casualties and that views much of the population as hostile. The result, says McNamara, is that police officers who should be protecting us are asking people to commit crimes (Cose). Part of the key to solving this problem—which is not a necessary evil—is to ensure that police are taught loyalty principles not just to one another but to their profession.
Police officers might be inclined to look the other way when their partner makes a mistake in the course of duty (the code of silence does not usually extend to looking the other way while an officer takes bribes), but we should also remember that as police officers we represent a very honourable tradition and also the state. It is vital to uphold the tradition and what it stands for. Small children everywhere (as well as lots of adults) look up to police officers as paragons of decency and as highly respectable individuals.
Fortunately, there appears to be a trend to help deal with this ethical issue. One expert says the Idaho State Police Department has successfully dealt with this ethical issue or begun to deal with it. "Officers told me how they would attack new officers with peer pressure if they thought the new officers were committing minor infractions of policy, " says Trautman, who taught several ethics courses to the Idaho department. "In other words, it is the reverse of the code of silence. You are the bad guy if you commit an offense in their organization. ” (Mullen) This is definitely something for the NYPD, for example, to consider adding to their training stages.
Ethics should be a mandatory requirement and enforced by peer pressure whenever possible. It is clear that when one officer is more aggressive or has a stronger personality than his partner, the bad officer may be able to get away with more—as his partner feels a duty to stay quiet. This is a serious problem that to be addressed. Another important issue needs to be elaborated on.
Police officers represent a different kind of institution than others in the public service. There job is to enforce and apply the laws that everyone must live by. So for them the watchword must be integrity. This code of integrity that requires the best of each individual officer is created and developed by the social milieu within each precinct. If everyone around is behaving badly than the social standard for ethical behaviour is very low: it’s that much hard to do good. In fact there may even be negative peer pressure on you that forces you to conform to the low ethical standard.
That’s why ethical codes can be so important in getting a group of people to agree and act in line with a common standard. As Milan Pagon writes in his study of police ethics: People are social. Whatever problems they have with their physical environment, they have to solve them in groups, which creates a new set of problems. They must cope with a social environment as well as the physical one. The social environment produces two further needs: for a social structure to coordinate social efforts, and for means of communication.
The implication for ethics is that we must take account of each other in all our actions. We have obligations to the group in general and to other members of the group of particular (Pagon). Structure and reinforcement are to key to establishing successful ethical regimes that can be engrained in an police culture. The blue code of silence is very detrimental to the public’s trust in police officers—whose jobs are funded by taxpayers and who are supposed to protect the public.
It should be discouraged in every way it can. Police officers are people too and they will always be subject to human weaknesses but it is important to improve their training to prevent them from protecting each other when they have done something bad. The key to doing this is to establish ethical standards that are strongly enforced and realistic. People have a tendency to reflect the behaviour that they see around them. If they see bad behaviour they will assume it is acceptable.
Across the board ethical standards that can be implemented in social situations are key to changing the culture in ethically-challenged precincts. References Cose, Ellis. “Cracks in the Thin Blue Line. ” Newsweek. April 10, 2000. www. eisenhowerfoundation. org/docs/NewsweekCracksInTheThinBlueLineApr10.pdf Mullen, Anne. “Breaking the Blue Code. ” Metro Times. August 11, 2000. http: //www. metrotimes. com/editorial/story. asp? id=869 Pagon, Milan. Police Ethics and Integrity. Police Studies. September 2003. http: //www. police-studies. com/papers/police-ethics-integrity. pdf