The above ethics guidelines are often relegated to a secondary position of importance when it comes to actual law enforcement. Well-publicized cases often make us question whether or not officers pay any attention whatsoever to the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics. For example, a black student in New York, unarmed, was brutally gunned down by police officers who claim they thought he was reaching for his gun. Another New York immigrant was sodomized by a plunger and brutally beaten while in police custody.
However, these well publicized cases are an overt form of possible police misconduct and unethical behavior.There are much subtler forms of police misconduct at work that thwart the objective of respecting the constitutional rights of all men to liberty, equality, and justice. Take the following description of a police officer, one who, from an ethical standpoint, is not permitted to allow "feelings, prejudices, animosities, or friendships to influence" his decisions, "If there are two Nissan cars, one with black males and one with white males I'll follow the car with black males in it because my experience is that the majority of lookouts in my district are for black males. Who would you follow?I'm not going with the black guys because I want to get them, or because I think all are criminals. The bottom line is my experience shows that the majority of robberies are committed by black males. I'm playing the odds" (Shaver 7).
There are lots grey areas when it comes to this subject. One of the biggest problems in determining the level of ethics in police work is that statistics on the matter are nearly impossible to come by, "There are no statistics that would allow one to compare the number of suspects who have actually been set up by police to the number who claim they have been" (Impossible 1).Further, defendants who have been charged with a crime often have only their word against the word of police officers when it comes to a frame-up or planted evidence, "If the defense has nothing to back up the defendant's claim of a set-up, then it gets to be the police word against the defendant" (Impossible 1). Some experts claim that police officers willingly plant evidence if they think a suspect is guilty because they think in a way they are helping.One of the most publicized legal cases ever, the O. J.
Simpson murder trial, involved defense lawyers who claimed a bloody glove and other evidence had been planted at Simpson's home by Detective Mark Fuhrman. Evidence was never shown to prove this, but legal experts claim motive, opportunity, and some evidence to infer wrongdoing are often used as measures by juries to determine misconduct by police. In the Simpson trial, Fuhrman's strong racial bias was used as motive.However, experts contend that Fuhrman did not have the opportunity or motive to plant a bloody glove at Simpson's estate and that, "There isn't one shred of evidence that points to anyone planting any evidence in this case, let alone Mark Fuhrman" (Mark 1). Nevertheless, jurors felt motive and opportunity had been established despite a lack of evidence and Simpson went free.
The above scenario shows the intertwined relationship between law enforcement conduct and the justice system.Further, the fact that ethics and codes of conduct are man-made constructs makes providing officers with a recognized set of ethical standards difficult. For example, the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics also proscribes that an officer must keep their private lives "unsullied. " The term is vague and begs definition in the modern world. Often, vague terminology like this sets up a double-standard for police officers when it comes to interpreting ethics, which are basically value judgements made by others.What many individuals do in their private lives might be viewed as misconduct by a law enforcement officer, "The status of being a law enforcement officer makes sections of the code that address the private lives of law enforcement officials necessary in a code of ethics.
[Departments] address more universally acknowledged off-duty misconduct such as drug and alcohol abuse, instead of discussing how issues such as homosexuality and cohabitation are viewed in light of the code's requirement that law enforcement officers'keep their private life unsullied.We live in times where behavior seen by some individuals as acceptable or unsullied may be seen by others as misconduct for a law enforcement officer" (Brooks 1). Another issue at hand in modern police work is the problem of what I call supervisor induced ethics violations. In an effort to produce high numbers of arrests to satisfy their boss’s officers sometimes cut corners. The end result is usually an arrest of a guilty party but probable cause was ignored to get the arrest.
The reason these officers get involved is that they are threatened with the loss of their special unit status or preferred days off.The problem of ethics and misconduct is not contained within local police departments. It is also a problem at the highest levels and agencies of law enforcement in the country, including the FBI. Many charges of unethical conduct have been lobbed in the direction of the FBI, and this is particularly true when it comes to its crime lab and crime lab work.
Critics and even former FBI employees charge that crime lab work is often shoddy, often is conducted with a pro-prosecution bias, and a lack of monitoring and supervision within the FBI to ensure its employees are working in an ethical and unbiased manner.A former Ph. D. chemist and FBI special agent, Dr. Frederic Whitehurst, charged the following when it comes to the crime lab, "The unscientific nature of so much of what was being passed off as science in the FBI lab; the culture of pro-prosecution bias rather than scientific truth that pervaded the lab, including the possibly illegal withholding of exculpatory information; and the complete inability of the FBI lad or its management to investigate itself and correct these problems" (Kelly and Wearne 2).Charges of police misconduct and unethical behavior are so numerous and publicized of late, that even the White House has gotten involved in an effort to devise initiatives and policy recommendations for bolstering public confidence in law enforcement.
President Clinton announced he is "deeply disturbed" by allegations of police misconduct and further stated, "While each specific allegation will have to be dealt with on its own merit, it is clear that we need a renewed determination as a nation to restore those bonds of trust that have been absolutely critical to our success at lowering the crime rate" (Galvin 1).Among the charges of unethical behavior pinpointed by Clinton was racial profiling, a concept not so difficult to believe as we saw in the above example about the drivers to two Nissans. Civil rights and activist groups like the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, and the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium have lobbied the President to withhold funding from departments with poor records.Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies have been following a trend of bolstering public confidence in police officers and police conduct by instituting training seminars, sponsoring community involvement programs which familiarize citizens with officers, and by taking swift and decisive action against officers who are found guilty of misconduct, from planting evidence to police brutality. Among the president's suggestions was instructing the Justice Department to "expand police ethics training at 30 regional community policing centers and he proposed a $40 million increase in funding to improve police training nationwide.
He also called for a nationwide program to help more communities to establish Citizen Police Academies' to acquaint citizens with the work of law enforcement, and $2 million to help police departments recruit more minority officers. Police departments ought to reflect the diversity of the communities they serve'" (Galvin 1). Other law enforcement groups have also involved themselves in making sure that police cadets and recruits understand that proven misconduct carries with it a federal prison sentence, like the National Association of Police Organizations.Others have called for increased officer salaries and higher standards for hiring new officers.
Only with higher pay will police departments be able to recruit officers who have a higher level of qualifications. In conclusion, it is obvious that unethical police conduct occurs at all levels of law enforcement in the U. S. , including the Justice Department and system.
What is even more obvious is that ethics and codes of conduct are vague and difficult to define. Further, police officers are only human, and, as such, are as capable of misdeeds as those they are hired to police.Therefore, all police departments need to develop programs that aim at preventing misconduct and to deal with it when it occurs. Experts also strongly recommend that these kind of efforts need supported by a greater public awareness of what is expected of officers of the law and what role they play in ensuring those expectations are being met, "there is a need to inform the general public of what the department expects of its police officers and what role the public needs to play to ensure the success of these expectations.Corruption and misconduct too often appear as internal police problems, not matters of public responsibility" (Brooks 1). Thus, when it comes to ethics for law enforcement officers, the government and public must be involved in ensuring a code of conduct is being followed because officers are employed to fulfill the needs and reinforce the norms of the general public who sanctions the constructed ethics to be adopted in the first place.
Ethics for police are as much a public issue as they are a law enforcement one.