Ethical Dilemmas in Policing

Application:  Policing

Ethical guidelines and laws should guide the actions of police officers. This, however, does not always happen. One very public example of unethical and illegal conduct by police officers is the 1991 Rodney King case, which resulted in police brutality and racist treatment of an African American suspect by White officers. The officers were formally charged but eventually acquitted. Regardless, the public began to seriously question the conduct of police officers.

Another example of unethical conduct is when police officers choose not to act. Consider a scenario involving a traffic accident, for example. Suppose a traffic accident occurs on a state highway directly in front of two police officers—one from the county and the other from the city. If the officers decide not to intervene and instead to call the State Highway Patrol (SHP) given the accident occurred on their roads, their behavior might be considered unethical. After all, the police officers could at least give their names to the parties involved in the accident should an issue arise regarding who was at fault.

Accepting gratuities is another example of unethical conduct. In 2003, a young officer was offered a free meal at the restaurant across the street from the police academy. He graciously accepted the offer as he had heard that the particular establishment was one that “popped,” a term officers use to identify places that offer free services. His weekly trip soon became a daily trip, and after his wife lost her job, he began showing up every morning to get breakfast for his entire family. The manager never complained, but upon discovering the arrangement, the owner reported the officer, who was immediately removed from the police academy. Did the officer make a mistake by accepting the first meal? Or was he just foolish in thinking that a daily breakfast for five wouldn’t be noticed? Some officers accept gratuities, while others argue that doing so sends you down a “slippery slope” toward more unethical conduct. In this assignment, you explore ethical and legal issues that arise in law enforcement and consider how to most appropriately address such issues.

To prepare for this assignment:

  • Review the assigned pages of Chapter 8 of your course text, Policing America: Challenges and Best Practices (pp. 199–209 and 212–227). Pay attention to the variety of ethical concerns that officers encounter on a daily basis. In addition, focus on the ethical guidelines outlined in the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics.
  • Review the audio, “Assessing Appropriate Police Use of Force.” Consider the questions raised about unethical conduct related to restraint and use of force.
  • Review Chapter 9 from the course text, Policing America: Challenges and Best Practices. Focus on the variety of legal issues that officers may encounter. Also, consider how the outcomes from liability cases might help officers appropriately address legal issues that may arise.
  • Review the scenario on page 230 of your course text, Policing America: Challenges and Best Practices.
  • Identify at least one ethical and one legal issue in the scenario.
  • Think about how you might address each issue, using specific ethical standards and laws (including case law from court cases).
  • Consider whether deception by police officers is legitimate in this scenario or any other scenarios.

Submit a (2 page) writing assignment by Sunday October 02, 2016:

  • Briefly describe at least one ethical and one legal issue in the scenario.
  • Explain how you would address each issue. In your explanation, be sure to include how specific ethical guidelines and laws (including case law from court cases) might apply.
  • Explain your thoughts as to whether or not deception by police officers is legitimate in this scenario or in any other scenarios. Provide reasons for your answer. Be specific.


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