Ethical Issues Related to Police
On the whole, the police are becoming more morally unethical and corrupt nowadays. Ethics raises a lot of concern when it comes to police practices and their perception by the public. A number of questions have been posed in the public arena pursuing the main purpose to gauge the matter and ascertain whether such accusations are valid. On several occasions, the media have put the police force into the spotlight in relation to unethical practices captured and reported repeatedly by the public whistleblowers and victims. A different explanation would be that it is a general public perception that has made the police to be “unethical” in their conduct such that a mistake is more noticeable than a good deed. A police officer is required to carry out all duties indiscriminately and not limited to partiality, bias, favor, blood ties, race, sex, religion, or political affiliation. Instead, an officer of the law should discharge duties as mandated by the Constitution, which means to uphold and protect the law, hence gaining public trust and confidence if not cooperation. One of the reasons why the police are becoming more unethical and corrupt is because of high living standards as compared to their meager pay. More police officers nowadays opt to take bribes so that they can keep up with high living standards. A question of ethical issues comes into play when the police appear to deviate from the public’s subscription or perception of proper police conduct versus unethical practices and behavior of the police themselves. In some cases, the unethical behavior is encouraged in the police department because of strict regulation and policies. In some instances, they have to cover up their dirty tracks because they fear consequences (Kleinig, 2008).
The public is very skeptical and cynical when it comes to the scrutiny of a force that is supposed to be responsible for their safety and order. Hence, a generalized perception and expectations suggest “vetting” of the police force. A single mistake made by one police officer is enough to poison the public’s view of the entire police force. The police are always fast in disciplining such scenarios with their internally instituted task force to correct the situation in the fastest way possible. This however does not sit well in the public domain and instantly triggers distrust and all sorts of accusations. What the public does not understand is that the police work is very challenging. “Shoot to kill” order has the most controversy in the public domain. A police officer has a mandate by the law to shoot to kill in self-defense. The public disagrees with this specific clause, stating that it gives the police extreme “powers” over human lives. The general perception is that power gives the police a right to end someone’s life and get away with it. A police person trains to shoot, including the “Double tap” to slow the assailant and a bullet to the head purposefully stopping the assailant from doing any harm.
A recognizable number of “bad” cops in the force have also been on the rise contrary to the public misconceptions in regards to the code of ethics. It is sad to notice that this immoral cops always getting away with such malpractices and hide behind the badge to evade justice. The New York Times has reported numerous cases of police brutality and misconduct. It might be a cold blood murder by an officer of law, as such raising eyebrows and unanswered questions. Cases like the one with Michael and many other unmentioned cases raise doubt in relation to ethical practices among the police force. Hence, to some extent, the public is justified to point accusing fingers at the police in terms of their general well-being (Kleinig, 2008).
Generalisation of the Police
Professionally, the police follow a clear set of rules and a code of conduct provided by the Constitution and the county police charter in different states. For instance, confidentiality should be a code upholding the highest regard in dealing with sensitive issues that need to be discreet, like protecting witnesses or safeguarding the evidence. The scene has however changed over the years due to pressure from the public dockets who have generalized the police as a mean group of people with their own interest at heart different from those of the public. This has in turn probed the police to have their own immune way of dealing with stereotyping by the public by turning a blind eye to the same public and having their own “terms” or “code of conduct” so as to watch their own backs. This brings about friction between the two factions such that the police are more inclined to believe their fellow officers rather than believing a total stranger when dealing with a case at hand. This has closed the gap between the top rank and the lower rank, creating a “force” that is more keen on watching out for their backs, which tends to be unhealthy when service delivery is concerned.
When a police officer gives 100 percent to safeguard the public’s interests and restore their confidence in the law and that public disrespects the officer by holding him in a bad light because of the mistakes of others, it brings about a negative aspect. The individual police will find comfort in not offering all to the public, which will result in some form of reluctance. End-based thinking will be eroded and it entails doing the best to the society, which will then raise an ethical issue. Care-based thinking will also be eroded in such a scenario because the police will now do well to the extent the public expects. Hence, the police would not be willing to risk life to safeguard life of another person. The “sticking” together by the police nurtures a bad relationship structure and leads to neglect rather than intellect (Kleinig, 2008).
Rules that govern the code of ethics within the police force need to be given a facelift to give further guidelines to the police task force in regards to dealing with such situations when their ethics is compromised. The Constitution needs to give a breathing space to the police by introducing campaigns that brand the police in a more positive light and counter many baseless accusations that have been cast. A major campaign may be launched with the objective to sensitize the public on the challenges the police undergo and the sacrifices they make to uphold the law and safeguard the public’s interest. The lack of this, therefore, will cause a drift between the police and the public and may lead to poor service and neglect, exposing civilians to more danger as far as the police are concerned. In some cities, statistics have proved that crimes have increased due to the neglect of the police who are constantly watching their backs as opposed to watching over civilians’ interests. The close relationship between the top rank and the lower rank will deny the ability to whistle blow and further increase complacency. It creates “a safe haven” to air their problems instead of tending to the civilians’ problems.
The police should be quite methodical and categorical in admitting mistakes or accidents by members of the task force in order to maintain their professionalism and brand as a government body that safeguards and upholds the law. A thorough investigation should suffice before laying the information out for public consideration. The police force should form an internal task force that is responsible for investigating, dealing with, or disciplining officers with obvious mistakes in fair terms to enhance transparency. The police should however take care of the situation before it reaches the media aimed at tarnishing the police name. Apologies should be very fast, as well as thoroughly genuine and assuring. There has been another perspective in regards to this matter, suggesting that the police’s apologize is a sign of weakness from a body that is tasked to defend the law and should not under any circumstances be put in a compromising situation in front of the public’s eye.
Concerns have been raised about the police not wanting to admit and apologize about their obvious mistakes to the public. Instead, they seem to carry out a cover up and act as if nothing happened in the first place. The case of Darren Wilson versus Michael Brown has brought about a contradictory outcome that saw the police officer Darren walking away as a free man, yet it is apparent that he shot the black teenager who was unarmed. The police force Mr. Darren belonged to did not apologize to the public, instead being happy about the verdict that saw Mr. Darren a free man. The police should have different reporting ways to know what to communicate and what not to communicate and they should use a guiding factor of principle and facts (Meese & Ortmeier, 2004).
The police should be quick to apologize for their mistakes. Whether the mistake is obvious or not, they should make an effort of apologizing. Many police officers think they are always right and, as a result, they are usually arrogant and rude even if they have made a mistake. Since police officers are also humans prone to make mistakes, they should admit they are wrong in case of an accident. This shows that they have acknowledged their mistake and they are ready to change. When the police fail to apologize for their mistakes, it clearly shows that they are not sorry and they will repeat it given a chance.
In some cases, the police are hesitant to admit their fault because they fear possible lawsuits that might be impounded on them. The police sometimes fear consequences of their actions and, hence, they do not admit they have made a mistake. They usually try to save themselves from the public embarrassment in case a cause of action is taken against them. For the police to lead by example, they should be accountable and responsible for their actions. They should accept consequences that come with mistakes they have obviously committed even if it costs them their job. Lawsuits are also to blame for the police’s denial of their mistakes. Consequences are so severe that an officer cannot risk admitting an obvious mistake.
Formation of Unions to Represent Police Officers
Forming a union to represent the police has many advantages. Police unionization will ensure protection of the police against abuses like mistreatment and uncomfortable or unsafe working conditions. The union acts as a watchdog for the police’s welfare and concerns. It ensures the police have safe working conditions and are not mistreated while on duty. The unions work to formulate policies that ensure the police life is valued and protected. In as much as the police work in itself is risky, the union makes sure that there are limits to the extent of engagement. The duty appointed to a police officer should not expose him/her to outright danger. The unions ensure that the humanity of the police is valued even though they are the society’s protectors. They also protect the police from uncomfortable working conditions. The unions ensure that the police officers work for a required period of time in the right working conditions. These unions overlook working conditions and assure that there is employment of other police officers in case of a shortage so that they are not overworked.
The unions protect the police from issues such as arbitrary hiring, long working hours, and arbitrary firing. The unions oversee the police’s job security and ensure that police officers do not lose their job because of someone’s opinion. The police union validates that if a police officer is fired, there is a legit reason and enough evidence behind the decision. Before a police officer is fired, he/she should be given fair hearing and judgment just as other employees in other careers. The union ensures that there is no bias in the police department. The unions insist on fairness in hiring and promotion of police officers. Promotion of employees should be based on merit and hard work, but not nepotism, racism, tribalism, or gender. The unions give the police officers a piece of mind as it ensures job security. They reduce chances of layoffs and benefit cuts. With the union in place, the police have the security about their jobs. Unlike before, the union ensures that the police earn their benefits and other rewards that come along with their roles. The police are not worried or stressed about uncertain firing or pay cuts (Kleinig, 2008).
The unions give the police an opportunity to speak and enhance their negotiating power. The union acts like a medium through which the police can communicate their grievances. It is a tool of negotiation for officers. It has empowered police officers as they have the same capacity as their commanders. Through the union, police officers are able to negotiate for better working terms collectively, which could be very difficult for an individual officer. The unions allow the police to bargain collectively for benefits, wages, as well as better working policies and living conditions. The union oversees both working and living conditions. This gives it the power to push and negotiate for the best option, which is almost impossible for an individual officer since the police are only to follow instructions and comply with already set policies and conditions. The union has seen the police negotiate for better pay and fair working policies.
The unions prevent the police management from having to address grievances one by one. Through the union, grievances of police officers can get addressed collectively. The union has formed a platform for issuing police grievances and seeking long-term solutions for them. This enables all officers to have their grievances attended to at once since they face the same challenges (Meese & Ortmeier, 2004).
The unions create a healthy long-term relationship between bosses and common police officers. They address the police grievances, hence reducing the level of conflicts between the management and officers at the ground. They provide for a smooth running of the whole department by ensuring fairness and a win-win situation for both the management and common officers. This has boosted better understanding and relations. The unions ensure the management body is responsible and accountable. The unions keep the police management alert. It ensures that commanders and other people in the management department fulfill their duties efficiently.
Reasons against Formation of Police Unions
The police union is not necessary in the police department since there are already formulated policies and set out ground rules, which ensure safety and welfare of police officers. The police department has effective and strict laws, which ensure good working conditions. The police agency has protocols, which assure that every officer is represented. The police regulations, acts, and oversight committee already cover the majority of issues that the union claims to pursue comprehensively.
The police union calls for higher expenses for the government and the entire department. Currently, all unions do is push for better payment and incentives for police officers. The government is now spending more money, but the output is the same. An increase in payment pushed by the union has not boosted performance of police officers in any way. The unions mostly focus on welfare, neglecting performance of officers. This renders the union irrelevant as performance of the police should be ensured before their payment and incentives are considered. Officials of the union also cost a lot because they have to get payments as well.
The union prevents firing of incompetent officers and it protects less proficient workers from firing and layoffs. The union has made firing and hiring difficult and, as a result, incompetent officers get protection. The unions have formulated policies and regulations, which make firing of an officer almost impossible. It has led to an increase of incompetent and less skillful officers in the police department. The union has increased the level of productivity of the police. The police are not result-oriented because they are sure that no action is likely to be held against them even if they underperform. Being afraid of getting fired and pay cuts made the police more aggressive and efficient in delivering their duty (Meese &Ortmeier, 2004).
Unionization makes the department a hostage of the union since officers now focus on negotiation and welfare instead of their real duty. The union has diverted the police’s attention from their main duties and roles as they now focus on their well-being more than on their real roles. This has lowered the standard in terms of performance and delivery of their services to the society. The union gives the management a difficult time, hence inhibiting their performance capacity. Constant lawsuit threats and court cases initiated by the union lead to massive distraction in terms of the delivery of duty. This decreases importance of the union. Union officials usually strive to push for court cases and threats to prove they are working. In some cases, they are responsible for inciting people against the management. The union is usually interested in politics rather than performance of its members (Meese & Ortmeier, 2004).
A union leads to a decrease in job opportunities in the police department. It inhibits the police department from acquiring highly skilled personnel. This is because the cost of laying off and maintaining new employees is too high. The management opts to stay with existing officers because of complicated union policies (Kleinig, 2008). Sometimes, unions focus on political reasons and agendas. They do not serve the purpose that they have been implemented to serve. Union representatives usually focus on politics instead of members’ grievances. People in charge use their union positions for their personal political reasons.
- Kleinig, J. (2008). Ethics and criminal justice: An introduction. New York, NY : Cambridge University Press.
- Meese, E., &Ortmeier, P. J. (2004). Leadership, ethics, and policing: Challenges for the 21st century. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.