Purpose of a Code of Ethics in Police Agencies


Purposeof a Code of Ethics in Police Agencies

Thepolice have a duty of enforcing the law, and this responsibilitydemands high ethical standards from them. The fact that policeofficers have to work within the law while serving the community alsoillustrates the significance of integrity within the profession. Asthe police conduct their duties, including the maintenance of peace,they also have tremendous powers that facilitate their officialconduct. Moreover, it is necessary for them to be principled as theyexercise authority. Although the police might encounter moraldilemmas while on duty, a code of ethics promotes high moralstandards within the profession.

Individualsthat work in policing agencies sometimes have to make difficultchoices, and they face pressures for misconduct while going abouttheir official duties. Some of the responsibilities of the policeforce include the prevention of crime, the provision of emergencyassistance, and the maintenance of order (Wolfe &amp Piquero, 2011).Equally important, they have the power of arrest that gives them theright to use force, but they also have to be ethically responsiblewhen doing so. The police also have to balance concerns about thestress that comes with their discretional authority in life and deathsituations as well as their personal safety (Meine &amp Dunn, 2012).However, officers still have to consider different variables as theyface such ethical dilemmas because their compliance with the law ismandatory.

Moreover,the law enforcers encounter different situations that require theirattention, and the code of ethics is meant to guide them to do theright action so that they can gain the public trust. Those in thepolice agencies should understand that serving the community is oneof their fundamental duties, and public trust is an ethical standardthat they have to uphold. An increase in ethical issues might lead toa reduction in public trust (Meine &amp Dunn, 2012). For instance,people might cite police brutality as a negative aspect thatcharacterizes some of the policing bureaus. The police could,however, indicate that the use of force is necessary for somecircumstances, especially when an individual is resisting arrest. Theregulatory restrictions that come with the code of ethics engenderself-respect among the officers, helping them conduct themselves inan appropriate manner.

Whenthe police fail to observe the constitutional safeguards, they wouldbe acting in an unethical way, and this aspect cannot be acceptableto the agencies. Different variables can explain the reason as to whysome police officers engage in misconduct, and some of the predictorsof unacceptable behavior include individual, community, andorganizational characteristics (Wolfe &amp Piquero, 2011). Forexample, some officers might fail to uphold the law when they singleout an offender’s identity and treat him or her differently. A codeof ethics should make the police agency personnel to understand thatthey have to be fair to every individual regardless of his or heridentity.

Theother predictor of police misconduct that illustrates thesignificance of a code of ethics for the officers is the community(Wolfe &amp Piquro, 2011). The police could appear to treat membersof a particular community in a different way from others due to thefactors that typify the area they live in, such as high crime rates.Although the law enforcers might have justifications for takingcertain precautionary actions in high-crime areas, a code of ethicsshould make them understand that they should always observe theprinciple of justice. Social inequality challenges police legitimacy,and officers could be focusing on aspects that do not have an impacton crime rates while ignoring the actual causes of criminalactivities.

Inthe majority of law jurisdictions, law enforcers can use theirdiscretionary powers to administer justice by arresting people,detaining them, as well as conducting searches (Wolfe &amp Piquero,2011). Although the police play a significant role in the protectionof people’s rights, they might encroach on individuals’ libertythrough the irresponsible use of their discretion (Walsh &ampConway, 2011). However, when the law enforcement refer to the code ofethics, they will be reasonable and consider all the circumstances sothat they can take the appropriate legal action when undertakingtheir duties.

Policeofficers should not engage in discretionary misconduct whileenforcing the law, even in situations where arresting suspects, usingforce, and interrogating them is necessary. A code of ethics placeslimitations on the actions that the police take when gatheringevidence (Meine &amp Dunn, 2011). Unprofessional conduct is,however, not the only form of police misconduct, as various otheractions by the law enforcers reflect unethical behavior. Forinstance, when police officers racially discriminate members of thepublic when gathering evidence, they would be disregarding the codeof ethics. The ethical principles place limits on the actions thatofficers take on people regardless of their racial or gendercategory.

Acode of ethics in police agencies should also guide the law enforcersto be impartial as they serve members of the community (Meine &ampDunn, 2012). When law enforcers take an oath of office, they promiseto conduct their duties honorably and honestly. Many individuals inthe society need the help of the police in different circumstances.For instance, victims of crime need the assistance of the police, andit is the law enforcers’ duty to ensure that they attend to themsince they have the responsibility of maintaining law and order. Byadhering to the code of ethics, officers ensure that they treat allcitizens with consideration and dignity.

Policeadministrators who fail to observe the code of ethics apply policiesblindly without knowing how the variable of misconduct affects therates of crime (Wolfe &amp Piquero, 2011). For instance, theneighborhood context might influence the rates of crime in aparticular area, and the police could use more force as they dealwith the residents. When officers are in such situations, they mightfind it difficult to choose the right course of action since theycould be assaulted in high crime areas after they fail to makejudgments quickly. While discretion gives the officers the option ofmaking an arrest, poor relations with the community members thatresult in police brutality could be problematic.

Acode of ethics in police agencies is also meant to protect citizensagainst unwarranted police violence. Even though the police areauthorized to use reasonable force when offenders try to evade arrestor when criminals appear to be a threat, unnecessary harassment ofpeople could be considered as brutal. Police agencies find itdifficult to maintain public trust when ethics violations occur amongthe law enforcers (Meine &amp Dunn, 2012). The code of ethics inpolice agencies should guide the officers not to treat members of thepublic in an inhumane manner, and to avoid the use of force wheneverit is possible.

Thepolicing occupational culture has some aspects that could hinder theeffectiveness of the values and ethics of police organizations. Someofficers create social groups that give them a sense of identitywhile at the workplace, and when conducting their duties. For theofficers in a homogenous social group, one aspect that might explaintheir misconduct is the adherence to a code of silence (Wolfe &ampPiquero, 2011). Officers have the responsibility of ensuring thatthey uphold their integrity, as well as not condoning the wrongdoingsof their colleagues. However, others might use the homogeneity oftheir social groups as an excuse to keep silent when their colleaguesare corrupt or use excessive force. A code of ethics in policeagencies reminds the officers about the significance of having highmoral principles in situations that involve misconduct.

Onefactor that might make some sections of the police to adhere to acode of silence is the value system in an agency (Meine &amp Dunn,2012). Some officers might have stereotypes of the groups of peoplethat they often come into contact with, and this is what makes someof them fail to use their discretion responsibly. A code of ethicsmakes the police develop healthy relationships with members of thepublic, and it also enables them to retain the confidence that peoplehave in their abilities to work within the law. On the other hand,when the police fail to testify against their colleagues who engagein acts of corruption, they would not be observing the code ofethics, and this taints the image of an agency.

Whilesome officers might consider the code of silence to be essential totheir work, it promotes vices within the agencies, and this resultsin the distrust of the police from the public. The development of asense of loyalty among the officers comes about due to the uniquedemands that the agencies place on the law enforcers, which generatesa subcultural attitude (Wolfe &amp Piquero, 2011). When the membersof the public lack confidence in the police, they cannot effectivelycooperate and fight crime within the community. A code of ethics inthe police agencies makes it clear that acts of corruption would notbe tolerated, and every officer is expected to uphold high levels ofintegrity.

Thelaw enforcers might engage in corrupt acts in a variety of ways,including the use of discretion for the wrong reasons, as well asachieving police goals through illegal means. Besides, the rewardsthat officers obtain through corrupt means do not necessarily have tocome from members of the public, since they could also obtain favorsfrom the police organization. However, most of those that engage incorrupt practices did not have ethics training during theirorientation into law enforcement (Meine &amp Dunn, 2012). Thisaspect illustrates the significance of the ethical principles as away of promoting high moral standards in police agencies.

Someof the employees of the police force are forced to engage innoble-cause corruption, where they act illegally with the aim ofachieving a greater good in the society (Wolfe &amp Piquero, 2011).The involvement of the police in noble cause corruption might makethe officers compromise their integrity even though they would bemaking a moral commitment to fight crime. Although this form ofcorruption might facilitate the achievement of a greater good, itcould also make some officers justified in doing what some mightconsider being misconduct. While the code of ethics might not givethe police a leeway to engage in noble-cause corruption, actions thatshow that the police are morally committed to their duties cannot beunethical.

Thecode of ethics should be effective in reducing the general forms ofcorruption that have the potential of adversely affecting theintegrity status of the police force. When officers fail to receivetraining on ethical decision-making, they are more likely to engagein corrupt practices (Meine &amp Dunn, 2012). Bribes are one of thecommon ways through which some of the police undermine theeffectiveness of the justice system, and it is also a problematiccorrupt practice. When the law enforcers accept bribes, they tend tooverlook criminal behavior, and this is an unethical practice. Thecode of ethics in police agencies ensures that officers treat everyindividual equally, and not allowing other aspects such as monetaryrewards to influence their official conduct.

Thepolice have to be accountable as they serve the community, and theyalso have to be responsible for their professional performancestandards. When police officers obtain evidence from individualsthrough unconstitutional or unfair means, they would be defying theexclusionary rule that prevents them from taking such actions (Walsh&amp Conway, 2011). This form of unfair treatment often occurs toparticular groups of people such as the minorities, and it has aninfluence on an officer’s discretion. The exclusionary ruledelivers accountability dividends, and by ensuring that the policycomplies with the appropriate standards, it also enhances theeffectiveness of the ethics code.

Prejudicialattitudes among the police affect the decisions that they make, andthe officers might fail to protect the weak against oppression.Instead of pursuing justice for some groups of people in the society,officers that are prejudiced may develop negative stereotypes of suchindividuals, and this distracts them from their officialresponsibilities. A code of ethics, however, advocates for moralcompetence among the officers and ensures that they treat everyindividual equally.

Thetraining of the police on the appropriate ethical conduct is anecessary factor in the promotion of high moral standards in theagencies. The legal system and the tort process are not effective inthe prosecution of police officers that demonstrate unethical conduct(Meine &amp Dunn, 2012). The officers’ attitudes towards membersof the community affect the way they perform their duties, and socialinequity might influence the police to persecute the marginalizedpeople in the society. By infusing the ethical principles in theofficers, it will be less likely for them to conduct themselves in anunethical manner.


Thepolice have to consider different variables as they face ethicaldilemmas because their compliance with the law is mandatory.Thosein the police agencies should understand that serving the communityis one of their fundamental duties, and public trust is an ethicalstandard that they have to uphold. Someof the regulatory restrictions that come with the code of ethicsengender self-respect among the officers, helping them conductthemselves in an appropriate manner. Acode of ethical conduct in police agencies is also meant to protectmembers of the public against unwarranted police violence.Equallyimportant, a code of ethics in police agencies ensures that officerstreat every individual equally, and not allowing other aspects suchas monetary rewards to influence their official conduct.


Meine,M. F., &amp Dunn, T. P. (2012). Policing the police: Using ethicseducation and training to combat official deviance. Journalof US-China Public Administration,9(9),1069-1075.

Walsh,D. P., &amp Conway, V. (2011). Police governance and accountability:overview of current issues. Crime,Law and Social Change,55(2-3),61-86.

Wolfe,S. E., &amp Piquero, A. R. (2011). Organizational justice and policemisconduct. Criminal Justice and Behavior,38(4),332-353.