Ethics is a discipline that deals with differentiating the good and the bad with obligation and moral duty. Therefore, with regards to the future career in law enforcement, ethics will be useful for the following three reasons:
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- Becoming more aware of the existing moral and ethical problems in everyday work;
- Developing critical thinking, decision-making, and analytical skills;
- Understanding how to use personal authority to meet the established goals.
Integrity is a characteristic of a person that exhibits ethical principles at work; it is a fundamental value that the majority of law enforcement employers seek in their workers. It is important for the future career because it will help build close relationships with co-workers and the public through trust and honesty.
While all three concepts are important to be incorporated in the work of a law enforcement professional, there are some differences when it comes to affecting the decision-making. The two aspects in which three components are different are associated with the application of either Deontological or consequentialist theory. While Deontological theories focus on doing the “right” actions that should conform to the relevant obligations and moral duties (May 2014), consequentialist theories focus on the “goodness” of an action’s consequence (Peterson, 2013). Therefore, depending on the approach a law enforcement officer takes in the process of decision-making, the perception of ethics, morality, and the law will differ.
Both the personal and professional life of a law enforcement officer should align with the principles of morality, law, and ethics in order to serve the community. One way in which an officer can use all three concepts in professional and personal life is to live a safe and honest life and make sure that those people who he or she protects are doing the same. Another way to practice morality, ethics, and law is holding oneself to a high standard of whether or not an officer is wearing a police badge or is on vacation. Presenting oneself as a moral individual at any time of the day or week will allow the officer to gain trust from the public and become an example for others.
The law enforcement code of conduct chosen for this answer is the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics in the State of Virginia. The purpose of the Code is to make sure that all officers of Virginian departments have a full awareness of their responsibility to preserve their personal integrity as well as the integrity of their agency. The two most important aspects of the code are associated with the duty of police officers to never “act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudices, animosities or friendships to influence my decisions” (Central Virginia Criminal Justice Academy, 2017, para. 5) and to accept that their badge is a “symbol of public faith […] and a public trust to be held so long as I am true to the ethics of the police service” (Central Virginia Criminal Justice Academy, 2017, para. 5).
Starting from the beating of Rodney King and public riots across the US, the State of Virginia pays extra attention to protecting their police from acting upon their prejudices when interacting with the public (Mays, Johnson, Coles, Gellene, & Cochran, 2013), which is associated with the first aspect of the code mentioned above. As to the second aspect, ensuring the trust of the public is associated with the general purpose of the law enforcement activities within the state.
Central Virginia Criminal Justice Academy. (2017). Law enforcement code of ethics.
May, J. (2014). Moral judgment and deontology: Empirical developments. Philosophy Compass, 9(11), 745-755.
Mays, V., Johnson, D., Coles, C., Gellene, D., & Cochran, S. (2013). Using the science of psychology to target perpetrators of racism and race-based discrimination for intervention efforts: Preventing another Trayvon Martin tragedy. Journal for Social Action in Counseling and Psychology, 5(1), 11-36.
Peterson, M. (2013). The dimensions of consequentialism: Ethics, equality, and risk. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.