Ethical Decisions in Unethical Environment

Introduction

The current paper discusses various ethical issues related to the field of public relations and moral judgment, as well as professional behavior of law enforcement officials. Since the mission of the police is to protect the constitutional rights of citizens, police officers must be guided by ethical principles in relation to the matters of citizens’ privacy and operational candor. Therefore, it is necessary to study the inclusion of ethics in legal training sessions for law enforcement authorities.

The principles of a democratic society are mostly associated with the idea that democracy requires public confidence in the integrity of the state and social institutions, such as the government, courts, police, and others. These principles form the basis for ethical requirements for civil servants and set standards of their behavior. Not a single organization is so intertwined with the actions of government, as the police are. The police are the arm of the state, which should protect against anarchy and preserve the rule of law and the proper processes in a democratic society. The police, as an institution, actually reflect the health and vitality of the social fabric. If the police are well-organized and managed from a legal and ethical points of view, the society to which it is intended to serve will take it as a democratic institution of the state and the city. The police provide law enforcement officials to either represent or distort the ethics and values ​​of a democratic government. The perception of law enforcement is the barometer that determines the sense of peace and well-being in the general state of society.

When such problems as political instability, crime, and social injustice violate basic principles of democracy, social stability, and lead to civil unrest, society turns to the police to restore order, protect life, and property (Malmin, 2012). Today, there is an erosion of the public confidence level in the law enforcement agencies and police, but as confidence is crucial to the functioning of the police in society, it is important to ensure that the standards of the police behavior were at the right level and do not undermine the public confidence. The democratic state uses the police to apply the coercive force on its behalf. Therefore, in order for the trust that underlies the state and public relations to remain intact, the police must act ethically using the power they have (Sunahara, 2004). Ethical behavior is not only a norm on which relations between the police and society should be based, but also the protection of the police workers’ interests. To be certified, one must meet certain standards, and one of those standards is the moral character.

For the successful inclusion of the principles of integrity and ethics in the work of the police authorities, it is necessary to understand the nature of law enforcement profession. Police officers are subject to greater risks to their lives in the process of ensuring the safety of their citizens; therefore, the work of the police is one of the most selfless and noble professions. Management should make every effort to maintain the compliance of all employees to the highest ethical standards to preserve the public confidence. Honesty is manifested not only in words but also in deeds, coupled with democratic principles; it can ensure that the police can perform noble democratic public service (International Association of Chiefs of Police, n.d.).  

All the police departments have their own culture, which determines the efficiency of the organization. The key issue is that this culture has to be carefully designed, or it will simply evolve without meaning and direction. The police culture reflects some of those organizing principles that are the basis of its belief. Since any structure operates within the framework of their beliefs, it is reflected in practice, ranging from the selection of recruits practices, policies, and procedures for organization, training, and development, and finishing with the actions of officials in law enforcement situations (Community Relations Service, 2003).

Since society is constantly evolving and changing, a variety of situations that require looking for the right and ethical solutions is also growing and changing. Therefore, all government officials must develop the skills of ethical decision-making, which requires continuous ethics learning. Ethics, as well as professionalism, are important parts of professional training. Learning is a process, and not a one-time event. As learning is a continuous process throughout an officer’s career, training and ethical standards should occur during the whole service.

For the ethic to be viable, coherent, and effective and at the same time influence the internal politics department, its control systems, training and reporting, supervisors must constantly train staff in the general principles knowledge of integrity and ethics and the specific ones. Education of general concepts and principles is necessary for all staff at every level and in every assignment. Specific and concrete integrity and ethics are required for the implementation of each task in a police agency. Ethics education should be one of the main activities of law enforcement agencies in the preparation of service training. In addition to the academic ethics, it is also necessary to carry out an internal ethics training for all the police structures using the following methods: first, the study of each particular subject to discuss the ethical point of view when making the required decisions and, second, be capable of modeling ethical dilemmas using role-playing scenarios. Such an approach to learning will enable one to not just get the theoretical basis, but also to contribute to the development of necessary skills. At the same time, employees must be able to fully appreciate the way they benefit from training on integrity and ethics (International Association of Chiefs of Police, n.d.) .

Ethical and Unethical Police Solutions

No other profession requires from its employees to make the complex legal and moral decisions that affect the lives of others and the police themselves. Officers need to catch criminals, ften putting their own lives at risk, displaying the courtesy and respect, kindness, and compassion for citizens. At the same time, they should make legal decisions in just a few seconds being in stressful situations, as someone’s life may depend on it. For these and many other reasons, a police officer is a very special profession (Malmin, 2012).

Nothing is more destructive for a police profession, as well as for its separate structures than the detection of acts of unlawful actions of officers and their unethical behaviors. The consequences of unethical behaviors are innumerable. If a police officer violates the civil rights or the law goes against the interdepartmental policy, it threatens him with a reprimand, demotion, loss of job, loss of reputation, lawsuits or imprisonment, loss of family and friends, and, on the basis of this, the possible suicides. This department will also suffer because of morale plummets; the employees of this department will suffer from ridicule and additional checks by the public authorities or supervisors. A community will lose confidence and become apathetic in relation to any legitimate interests of the police, including cases of so-called committed injustices because of misunderstanding or intolerance of policing officer safety practices. Any unethical acts of the police can be described “as a small acquisition by a major cost.”

Also, managers have their personal consequences of being in a hierarchical relationship of subordination with the offender, when a detected offense destroys careers and, thus, their welfare. Professional destruction does not end in dismissal or demotion. It is difficult to find a follow-up because very few people agree to hire an officer, who was once dismissed for the violation of ethical principles. Public humiliation for an employee and his family becomes a publication in the media of corruption or other serious violations, which often lead to domestic problems and the destruction of families. Thus, if an organization will be able to prevent unethical practices, literally it will save lives and well-being of its employees (International Association of Chiefs of Police, n.d.).

Relations between Police and Suspects 

The internal police affairs are usually shrouded in secrecy, hiding departmental policy that encourages the cover. This situation causes public suspicion and erosion of trust in the police. It must be remembered that the police departments are the subdivisions of government, rather than the independent entities. Police officers often abuse their power and official position during the arrest of suspects. Sometimes police officers use verbal abuse, lies, violence and physical force, undue situation: shooting, beating, or false arrest. A police officer must remember that detain, search, request information, and answers to the questions must be performed in accordance not only with the professional behaviors and compliance, but with the code of ethics. The Code of Ethics sets the framework for the behavior of the police in the fight against the suspects by strengthening the need to act fairly during the arrest, detention and investigation of crimes. One of the basic ethical principles, in the exercise of its powers, is the responsible exercise of power, properly, fairly and without causing harm to others (NSW Police Force, 2015).

Relations Between the Police and the Victims of Crime

If a person has been a victim of crime, he/she is entitled to be supported by law enforcement agencies, such as the police and courts (Ministry of Justice, 2014). Very often shameful and unethical behaviors of police officers in relation to victims of crime lead to the fact that crimes are not registered and, therefore, are not being investigated. The victims are not receiving the necessary assistance in accordance with the law, and, consequently, lose their hopes for justice. The criminals escape justice, and may continue to commit crimes and create more victims, so that the confidence to the police can be damaged. Such a situation arises not only because of poor management, inadequate training or poor supervision, but also because of the compromising or unethical behaviors. Quite often, unjust court decisions are submitted on the basis of incorrect or inaccurate testimony of police officers that can talk about corruption in the police, which was the part of the police subculture.

For transformation of the existing subculture, it is necessary to guide the management actions in the areas of greatest risks and increase the value of efforts to manage accountability and integrity to reinforce ethical standards (Whitehead, 2014).

Interpersonal Relationships and Operational Frankness in Dealing with Administrative Matters

During the execution of their duties in service for the society, police officers are often called upon to make difficult decisions. They have to make decisions at their own discretion in difficult situations. These difficult decisions are not always easy to do, knowing that it can lead to difficulties or personal discomfort. The police have to be true to their oath, professional principles, and achieve the goals of the department. Also, they should not allow personal motives influence the decision-making process (The Los Angeles Police Department, 2016).    

The new code of the police ethics imposes on officials to report misconduct among employees. This applies to the cases where officers have information about illegal or unethical behaviors of employees, such as violence, corruption, lies, bad faith performance of duties. Although, it is very difficult to expect that police officers act as informants. It is quite difficult to do because of the affections, emotions, and conflicting duties. It takes courage, self-examination and to be convinced that the administration, the public and staff will not protect the image of the organization, but of the informants. Informing in any field or profession can lead to the conflicts and incompatibility. This requires courageous decisions, in which the duty of an officer and ethical loyalty will be able to cancel a distorted understanding of nobility, received at the police subculture.

Leaders need to recognize and discuss the conflict that arises because of the distorted understanding of loyalty and professional responsibilities. To protect tthe integrity, profession leaders must support ethically correct decisions and explain officers that they are emotionally and mentally prepared to make such difficult decisions. It is important to report the misconduct of police officers, posing professional interests above personal ambition, understanding of the greatest good for all on an immature emotional reaction. The administration should use a disciplinary action against those members who violate the policy of the department, and to those who “cover” the inappropriate behaviors and support those who report violations of professional standards.

However, there is a new trend towards a better understanding of the role of loyalty in the professional policing environment and understanding the benefits of early intervention to improve the work of management and increase productivity (Martinelli, 2014).

Subculture of the Police

Like many others, the professions of law enforcement system have their own subculture. Subculture is a part of the public culture and represents a holistic education. Subculture is a set of accumulated worldview values ​​and rules of a group of people united by specific interests.

Since the work of the police carries many unique experiences, its subculture may be stronger than family ties. Further work outside the defined schedules leads to the feelings of isolation, which further strengthen the subculture. Police officers are under pressure associated with exaggerated sense of mission to their role in the police point out the importance of male labors, ready to use force, show suspicion, prejudice and defensive solidarity with their colleagues. Such a culture is reflected on streets when the police are focused on a fairly aggressive performance of their duties with a zero tolerance in relation to the individual and fear of arrest is considered the best way to prevent criminal behaviors.

Since the police subculture is considered quite corrupted, the loyalty to the group is more important than the integrity, morality and independence. When loyalty against the subculture becomes too strong, solidarity follows after that and it has a negative impact on ethical values. A typical subculture mentality creates a stronger loyalty, than to the profession or the organization’s mission, which entails a sense of separation between the group and the company or administration.

Thus, the appearance of conflict with the need to choose between what is ethically right and commitment to other members becomes inevitable. There is a clear line between constructive dedication that leads to the command coherence and misguided loyalty, which sets group against the execution of mission of general law enforcement. A sense of pride from doing difficult and dangerous work in the subculture develops the superiority of their members and various departments. This leads to a sense of “untouchability” and impunity.

Two characteristics that are always present in the police culture are cynicism and moral conservatism. Such professional thinking deeply permeates law enforcement organizations from the top of the management hierarchy up to the recruits. The analytical view of the police subculture offers a view of the changing nature of how the police see the world (Malmin, 2012).

Positive Aspects of the Police Subculture

At the heart of what is good and what is bad in law enforcement, there is a strong sub-culture that permeates most agencies. It has positive aspects as well, which are often overlooked in the analysis of the police subculture. A large proportion of the constituent elements of the subculture help the employees to survive in a complex and emotionally-intensive work. Such values ​​as teamwork, support, empathy, allow employees to cope with stress. The officers, who are constantly faced with dangerous situations, can rely on his comrades, who have important values ​​such as courage, sacrifice, camaraderie, loyalty. Loyalty itself is neither goodness nor defect, and becomes a moral value as applied to a particular situation or action. Loyalty and fidelity, which makes police officers risk their lives to save another police officer, is a virtue, because every human life is valuable. Loyalty and fidelity are the dominant attributes of a police culture that transcend time and space. The police appreciate these versatile qualities necessary when faced with a hostile world. In such a world, loyalty and faithfulness ensure the safety and success.

Positive attributes emphasize on the uniqueness of the police profession, which is the police insiders, those who are potentially worthy of trust. The constant presence of a subculture assists in the transfer of good practice in a collision between life and death, the conversion of a newcomer to the experienced police officers (Sunahara, 2004).

The Impact of the Negative Aspects of the Police Subculture on the Law Enforcement

Despite the positive aspects of the professional culture of policing, which a company defines as ethical, a tactic used in the framework of the police subculture includes deception, lies, violence to call a confession or to get cash benefits. The study of the police ethics culture helps to distinguish between “gray” areas in which the police work. A common theme in the discussion of the police subculture indicates that the police culture negatively entrenched cynicism, masochism, “loyalty above all else” and the overall mentality, built on the principle of “us versus them.”

Negative attributes of steel such as prejudice, alienation, suspicion and authoritarianism, distorted understanding of loyalty. Loyalty is a “gray” area of the police ethics, as an improper interpretation of the concept of loyalty is a cover to justify this principle of how not to “wash dirty linen in public” (Sunahara, 2004).

The police subculture begins to soak in with the police academy and has a devastating effect on the outlook of the new recruits. Quite often, stories instructors adversely affect the formation of ethical values of the police. Instructors instill traits such as cynicism, suspicion and authoritarianism in recruits. All these factors contribute to the fact that, as the result, recruits after graduation solve very serious ethical dilemmas that arise during the service (Malmin, 2012).