“Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity.”
- W. Clement Stone
Integrity and honesty are critical traits to have in order to be an effective police officer. Society has given a lot of power to police officers and they trust that individuals serving as police officers will perform their duties with integrity and honesty. Police officers who fail to behave ethically violate that trust and must be removed from the job. Society cannot afford to have its citizens lose their faith in its police officers. As a serving officer, I can say from experience that almost every officer I have ever worked with always tried to do the right thing in the situations they encountered. Police officers would be extremely hard on another officer they felt was disgracing the uniform.
If a police officer proves himself to be dishonest, it will severely impact his/her ability to perform their duties, and may even lead to their dismissal. Dishonest police officers may have the following impacts:
1) Convicting innocent people.
2) An inability to testify if courts deem an officer is an unreliable / dishonest witness.
3) A loss of faith in the police profession as a whole.
4) An inability to convict guilty parties if defence attorneys can prove a police officer has a history of dishonesty (cases can be thrown out even if the officer is currently telling the truth).
Dishonest behaviour is often a slippery slope. There are obvious cases of dishonesty such as out right lies or fabrication of evidence, but there may be other instances of a lesser degree which may still lead to trouble. Filing reports with inaccurate information, preparing notes at incorrect times, excluding information that may be important to a suspect’s position, etc. It is important that police realize the ramifications of their actions and how they may impact their reputation in the future.
“Integrity is doing the right thing, even if nobody is watching.”
Police will often find themselves put in morally difficult situations. Police officers have a great deal of discretion they can exercise in life including the ability to issue a warning instead of writing a ticket to an offender, deciding which type of enforcement they choose to exercise when not responding to emergencies, and how to handle public disputes. Most people would agree that the system wouldn’t work if every police officer enforced every law to the letter. Police need discretion to perform their duties effectively, but they have to be careful on how discretion is applied. Some area that may cause problems with officers include:
1) Stereotyping a Group In Society – Some officers develop judgments about groups such as young people, ethnic groups, social classes, professions, etc.
2) Peer Pressure – It is very difficult when police officers find themselves investigating other police officers, or witness an officer do something wrong.
3) Personal Gain – There is a potential greed factor in every human, including police officers. They have to be careful they are enforcing the laws justly, and not acting for personal gain.
4) Gifts – Police officers are often offered free services from the community (coffee, lunch, etc.) Police have to be vigilant of how these gifts may influence their decisions and decide whether they should be accepted.
5) Concealing Behaviour – Police officers, as every human, will sometimes make mistakes. It is important to be able to admit to them and not try and conceal them.
6) Dishonest Behaviour - See above.
Having served as a police officer, I can say from experience, that it isn’t always easy to do the right thing. There are often pressures you face to look the other way, take an action that is questionable and push the limits of what is right and wrong. Doing the right thing can sometimes cause members of the public to take a negative view, create friction with fellow officers and possibly lead you into physical harm’s way.
“It is curious - curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare.”
- Mark Twain
Ethics is a very difficult course of study. Although there are instances where actions are clearly wrong, or unethical, there are many other situations which are morally grey and cause a great deal of debate. What we hope to do with this area is utilize our forum to discuss and debate issues which police officers often encounter. In the situations discussed, consider the position and the expectations of citizens in the community along with the feelings and concerns you would have as a sworn police officer. It is often easy to claim you would perform a specific way, only to find yourself behaving differently if you were actually involved in the situation in real life. It isn’t always as clear in real life as it is in a discussion without the pressure.