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Ethics and Decision-Making in Public Safety Essay

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Introduction

The contemporary world presents us with many ethical challenges that require critical thinking and evaluation. Despite the large number of ethical theories that have been developed over the past few centuries, navigating moral choices and making ethical decisions remains a difficult task. Naturally, ethics has also made its way into the public sector. For example, Frederickson and Rohr argue that ethical decision-making and leadership are crucial to reducing corruption and improving responsibility (3).

For people who are tasked with protecting the public, ethics is also crucial. Today, public safety organizations operate in the context of a complex political and social landscape, which affects their work in multiple ways. Where the work of these organizations collides with political matters, leaders have to promote and facilitate ethical decision-making in order to ensure positive relationships with communities and adequate protection of the people. Thus, ethical leadership is an important notion that can help public safety leaders to resolve critical ethical challenges in their work to promote welfare and safety. This project aims to study the importance of ethics for public safety and explore how political changes and ethical decision-making in public safety are interrelated.

Ethical Challenges in Public Safety

There are many ethical challenges faced by public safety organizations and their employees on a daily basis. Most of these challenges are persistent, as they are highly influenced by external factors, including political and social. Promoting ethical decision-making and ethical leadership can help public safety workers to ensure adequate protection of the people while at the same time avoiding controversy and damage to the reputation. The key three challenges to public safety organizations in contemporary America are diversity, disability, emergency, and crisis management.

Diversity

Globalization is among the key socio-economic trends affecting the work of public safety organizations in developed countries. The significant inflow of people from different nations and cultures has assisted in the development of diverse communities. Although it promotes cultural sharing and offers unique social experiences, diversity also creates barriers to communication due to linguistic, behavioral, or cultural differences.

Establishing positive communication patterns with local communities is crucial to public safety organizations, as it allows them to be more effective in their work. For instance, communication with local people allows the police to establish crucial partnerships to aid in crime prevention (Hughes and Edwards 197). In addition, effective communication is essential at times of crisis, when the information has to be disseminated and obtained faster than under regular circumstances. Thus, diversity presents an ethical challenge due to the possible cultural differences between the local people and public safety workers.

Furthermore, diversity impacts relationships within the society, both on the community level and nationwide. Racial discrimination and bias against certain cultural groups can affect public safety organizations.

For instance, the long-standing controversy surrounding police brutality towards black people has impaired the trust of minority groups in public safety organizations (Kirk et al. 81). Similar issues arise when the police participate in the government’s immigration efforts. According to a study by Kirk et al., the participation of the police in harsh immigration enforcement can lead to the alienation of immigrant communities from the law and, thus, their impaired willingness to cooperate with public safety organizations (95). Therefore, diversity presents an ethical challenge for public safety organizations by creating barriers to communication and creating opportunities for racial and ethnic discrimination.

Disability

As noted by Brucker, Americans with disabilities usually experience impaired well-being compared to people with no disabilities (431). They are also subject to economic and health disparities, which affect their social life (Brucker 431). As a result, they are also exposed to increased fear of crime, which increases their need for protection. However, lack of specific measures to ensure a healthy relationship between the police and disabled persons has led to their lower satisfaction with local police services: “Persons with disabilities are more likely to perceive their neighborhoods as unsafe […] and are less satisfied with police services than persons without disabilities, even when controlling for individual characteristics” (Brucker 441). Therefore, addressing the needs of disabled people is an ethical challenge that requires the attention of public safety leaders.

Emergency and Crisis Management

Emergencies and crises present public safety workers with unique challenges, as they require fast action for the maximum benefit of the people. However, at times, ensuring people’s safety requires difficult decisions. For instance, disaster relief efforts usually require massive resources; if more than one area is critically affected, public safety leaders and managers have to make decisions on the allocation of resources, which might help some people while harming others.

Another frequent challenge for public safety officials is crisis communication. For example, as noted by Lewis and Gilman, public safety workers might feel prone to make promises about the disaster or crisis relief in order to calm down the affected population (108). However, these promises might be impossible to fulfill in a given time, which will later result in loss of reputation or trust in the source of the message. Thus, it is important for public safety officials to apply ethics to communication decision-making in order to avoid unwanted consequences.

Public Safety Organizations and the Political Landscape

Politics also poses significant ethical concerns for public safety organizations that have always operated on the periphery between politics and people. However, in some cases, the political involvement of the police and other public safety organizations affects their work and their effectiveness in serving the people either positively or negatively. The two key examples that will be used to illustrate the different aspects of the relationship between public safety and politics are the South African crisis in the 1930s-1960s and the recent tension between the police and the American government.

Shear studies the relationship between the police and politics during the nationalist crisis in South Africa, which lasted over two decades from 1939 to 1963 (173). Shear notes that the position of while policemen on the war largely depended on their degree of participation in it: “whether they took the ‘Africa’ oath, and, if they did, whether they went up north; whether, if they stayed behind, they were interned on suspicion of being OB members, or, if not interned, they participated in the arrests and interrogation of their colleagues; whether they were in the uniform or the detective branch; and whether they were officers or in the lower ranks” (180).

Evidently, the division of police workers into two opposing camps was largely due to the political climate of the country and their personal involvement in political matters. Such deep engagement of the police in political matters impaired its capability of serving the people. In particular, those supporting the government’s white supremacist efforts posed a significant threat to the black population of the country.

Today, the involvement of public safety organizations in politics is not as obvious, and the majority of leaders try to maintain a neutral stance on political matters. However, there are still cases where public safety leaders have to engage in political matters. For instance, the recent approach to immigration policy, taken by the American government, has sparked a significant debate in many layers of the public sector, including public safety organizations.

In response to the strict immigration enforcement, the sanctuary state bill initiative was proposed. According to Ulloa, the bill would “prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies, including school police and security, from using resources to investigate, detain, report or arrest people for immigration enforcement.” Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has recently voiced his full support of the bill, stating that it would help to retain trust and cooperation with the immigrant communities.

Indeed, by aiding in deportation efforts, police officers might lose their authority and trustworthiness with local immigrant communities, which could impair the effectiveness of their work. Beck’s decision was thus driven not only by ethical values but also by practical concerns. Balancing the two in the contemporary public safety environment is crucial to ensuring the safety of people.

Benefits of Ethical Leadership for Public Safety Organizations

As evident from the previous section, ethical leadership is the primary tactic that can help to support and promote ethical decision-making in public safety organizations. According to Van Wart, “the ethical leadership model focuses on moral management at a more transactional level and ethical standards at the organizational level”(460). Ethical leadership helps to install ethical standards into the essence of the organization, thus ensuring that both individual employees and the organization overall are ethical. For public safety organizations, the benefits of ethical decision-making can be both external and internal.

Community Relations

First of all, by promoting ethical decision-making, leaders can ensure the excellent reputation of their organization. Ethical organizations are usually perceived as more reliable and trustworthy, which ultimately helps them in building positive community relations. People’s trust, in turn, promotes effective communication and collaboration between public safety workers and the local people, thus allowing organizations to be more effective in improving safety and security. Secondly, ethical decision-making enables leaders to balance the interests of all parties involved and choose alternatives that offer the best possible outcomes. Public safety leaders are required to maintain positive communication with the public as well as the government agencies (Svara 14). In a lot of circumstances, these parties represent opposing forces. Ethical leadership ensures that all decisions do more good than harm to both parties, thus allowing public safety organizations to avoid conflicts.

Workforce Improvement

Ethical leadership also has a significant effect on workplace culture, which improves workforce characteristics. For example, Hassan et al. found that ethical leadership improved employees’ willingness to report ethical problems, which in turn assisted in building ethical corporate culture (340). Moreover, ethical leadership contributed to employee commitment, which is an important factor in reducing turnover and increasing citizenship behavior (Hassan et al. 340). Ethics was also found to have a significant impact on workers’ performance. For instance, Menzel states that ethical organizations are more likely to succeed in performance improvement efforts than unethical ones (11).

Another important research that offers an insight into the effect of ethics on public organizations is a study by Beeri et al., which found that ethical programs improved the participation of employees in ethical decision-making and improved organizational ethics climate (73). Overall, ethical leadership provides numerous organizational benefits that could help public safety organizations to be more effective in meeting their goals.

Results

As part of the project, an interview with a public safety work was carried out to obtain a comprehensive perspective on the topic. The interview focused on ethics, politics, and leadership in public safety organizations. For instance, the respondent agreed that public safety organizations are at times influenced by political matters, both directly and indirectly. The direct impact of politics on public safety originates from laws and policies issued by the government, whereas the indirect impact occurs when public safety officials are involved in political action. The respondent also noted that their individual work was not in any way affected by politics. The interviewee also reflected on the conflict between necessary and ethical actions: “In some cases, ethical decision-making can be compromised if the required actions are not entirely ethical.”

The interview also indicated the same ethical challenges pertaining to the work of public safety employees as explored in research. The respondent also viewed cultural diversity and discrimination as important issues that create difficulties in ethical decision-making. However, another ethical issue suggested by the respondent was legal considerations associated with certain actions and circumstances: “Laws and regulations might also prevent us from acting ethically in a major crisis, such as a terror attack or an environmental disaster.” On the whole, the results support the conclusions obtained as part of the literature review. The interview also confirmed the positive effect of ethical leadership on public safety organizations.

Connection to the Franciscan Tradition

The values of the Franciscan Tradition were an important factor in choosing the specific topic for the project. Although the project does not focus on religion, the subject is still relevant to the Franciscan Tradition. Ethical decision-making and ethical actions usually promote values similar to those that are embedded in the Franciscan doctrine. For instance, harmony and peace are among the key Franciscan values. When applied by public safety organizations, ethical decision-making allows avoiding conflict and promoting cooperation between different parties.

Moreover, the project’s topic also responds to Franciscan values of service and stewardship. As shown in the above sections, ethical leadership allows fostering an ethical climate in organizations. It also helps in promoting integrity and positive community relations. This allows public safety organizations to be more efficient at their job by improving workforce performance and commitment while at the same time building trust in local communities.

Conclusion

All in all, it is clear that contemporary public safety organizations are affected by a variety of external factors. In particular, the political and social climate can create significant challenges for public safety workers and leaders. Nevertheless, ethical decision-making is a valuable tool that can help to balance the interests of all the stakeholders while at the same time improving the effectiveness of public safety agencies. Ethical leadership, on the other hand, offers a framework that allows integrating ethics culture and ethical decision-making into the organization in a way that is beneficial for both leaders and workers. Using ethical leadership and ethical decision-making, public safety organizations throughout America could improve their operations and achieve their goals.

Appendix 1

Experiential Learning

Introduction: Hello, my name is (*) and I want to talk to you about public safety, ethics, and politics and how the relationship between these concepts influences your work in public service. Your identifying information will not be available to third parties and that the interview is fully confidential.

Question 1. What is the impact of political environment on the work of public safety organizations?

Note: According to research, public safety organizations are influenced by the current political environment. I would like to know if the respondent’s experience correlates with the research findings.

Answer: Political environment can have both a direct and an indirect impact on public safety organizations. First, new laws and policies can change the ways we do certain things by requiring us to follow a different procedure. The indirect impact on public safety organizations occurs when leaders are somehow involved in politics. If that is the case, they can make decisions that are in favor or against the political conflict.

Question 2. As a public safety worker, do you feel any pressure to act in accordance with recent political efforts? Why or why not?

Note: As seen in Ulloa’s article, public safety officials can make decisions and voice opinions that contradict recent political efforts. The response to this question will help me to understand if regular workers believe they have similar freedom in their choices.

Answer: For me, politics is a separate concept that I do not have to be involved in. As long as there is no new legislation or policy affecting my actions, I do not feel required to follow a certain path. But this might be different for officials and organizations’ leaders as they are often involved in politics.

Question 3. How does ethical decision-making help your organization to achieve its goals?

Note: Research suggests that ethical decision-making can implore employees’ perception of work, promote community trust, and help the organization to create a positive image. However, the respondent might highlight some other benefits.

Answer: Ethical decision-making helps us to respond the needs of the community and to protect people’s rights, which is our end goal. For example, it can help in determining the best course of action in a particular situation, which would be most beneficial for the community.

Question 4. How can ethical decision-making be influenced by political, social, or other circumstances?

Note: As shown by Svara, public safety-decision making is often affected by external forces. The respondent’s answer could clarify the influence of circumstances on ethical decision-making.

Answer: In some cases, ethical decision-making can be compromised if the required actions are not entirely ethical. Laws and regulations might also prevent us from acting ethically in a major crisis, such as a terror attack or an environmental disaster.

Question 5. What are the key ethical issues affecting your work as a public safety employee?

Note: Although many authors commented on the ethical issues that affect the work of public safety organizations, the respondent might offer further insight into the topic.

Answer: Policing diverse communities is the main ethical issue, in my opinion. People from certain cultural or religious backgrounds require us to use a different approach, which is not always possible. Personal opinions can result in discrimination or bias, and not translating those into practice might be difficult for some people.

Question 6. How does ethical decision-making help to promote community relations?

Note: It would be useful to know if ethical decision-making can aid in building community partnerships.

Answer: By acting ethically, we can earn people’s trust and approval, which improves our relationship with the people we protect. Ethical actions also show people that we consider their needs carefully before making a certain decision.

Question 7. What do you think are the features of ethical leadership?

Note: The answer to this question would allow comparing scholars’ view of ethical leadership with the perception of individual employees.

Answer: Ethical leaders have to be excellent at communication and attentive to people’s needs and concerns. They also have to avoid bias in their judgment and be good at problem-solving.

Question 8. Do your organization’s leaders use ethical leadership approach? Why or why not?

Note: Although ethical leadership has many benefits, it might be challenging to implement and maintain, which is why I want to know more about the respondent’s experience.

Answer: I believe that our leaders use ethical leadership under most circumstances, as they make appropriate decisions and always try to avoid harm. However, in times of crisis, they usually rely on established procedures and principles rather than on ethical judgment.

Question 9. What is the effect of ethical leadership on the internal operations of your organization?

Note: The answer would help to understand if the findings of Beeri et al. can be supported by the respondent’s experience.

Answer: In my opinion, ethical leadership promotes a sense of involvement and responsibility while also allowing officers to act independently and use their knowledge effectively.

Question 10. How does a code of ethics shape your decision-making in different circumstances?

Note: Codes of ethics are among the key tools supporting ethical decision-making, which is why I would like to know how the respondent applies it in practice.

Answer: I try to follow a code of ethics in my work. However, some cases require us to think outside the box and to rely on our own knowledge and feelings rather than on a set of rules.

Appendix 2

Annotated Bibliography

Beeri, Itai, et al. “Advancing Ethics in Public Organizations: The Impact of an Ethics Program on Employees’ Perceptions and Behaviors in a Regional Council.” Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 112, no. 1, 2013, pp. 59-78.

In this article, the researchers attempt to explain the role of ethics in public organization by linking ethical behavior and organizational performance. Using a quantitative methodology, the authors examined the influence of an ethics program on workforce characteristics, such as citizenship behavior, quality of work life, and other. The study found that the program was effective in improving workforce characteristics and compliance with the ethics code, which makes it relevant to the discussion.

Brucker, Debra L. “Perceptions, Behaviors, and Satisfaction Related to Public Safety for Persons with Disabilities in the United States.” Criminal Justice Review, vol. 40, no. 4, 2015, pp. 431-448.

The purpose of this study was to explore the perceptions of police work expressed by persons with disabilities living in the U.S. Research found that people with disabilities were more likely to have negative perceptions and fears related to the work of the police. The results add to the discussion about how ethical decision-making in public safety organizations affects different populations, which is why this source is valuable to the project.

Frederickson, George H., and John A. Rohr, editors. Ethics and Public Administration. Routledge, 2015.

In this book, the authors explore various dimensions of ethics applicable to the public administration context. For instance, the authors examine controversial practices, such as whistleblowing, as well as the importance of codes of ethics in public organizations. Lastly, the book also addresses ethical leadership in public administration, which makes it relevant to the project.

Hassan, Shahidul, et al. “Does Ethical Leadership Matter in Government? Effects on Organizational Commitment, Absenteeism, and Willingness to Report Ethical Problems.” Public Administration Review, vol. 74, no. 3, 2014, pp. 333-343.

The article describes a study of ethical leadership in public settings. In particular, the researchers used a quantitative methodology to define the influence of ethical leadership on important organizational outcomes, such as commitment and reporting. The results of the study stress the importance of ethical leadership for public organizations’ leaders, thus offering valuable information for the present project.

Hughes, Gordon, and Adam Edwards, editors. Crime Control and Community. Routledge, 2013.

Although the book is focused primarily on the concept of community policing, its application and effects, it also offers some useful insights into the work of public safety organizations. In particular, the authors describe the importance of community involvement in policing, as well as the necessity to consider the needs of local people in political decision-making. Overall, the book is significant to the exploration of how ethical decision-making can help public safety organizations to be more effective.

Kirk, David S., et al. “The Paradox of Law Enforcement in Immigrant Communities: Does Tough Immigration Enforcement Undermine Public Safety?” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 641, no. 1, 2012, pp. 79-98.

In this article, the authors discuss one of the most controversial issues in contemporary America – the immigration law and its relationship to public safety. The researchers used a quantitative methodology to study the various aspects of policing in the context of tough immigration laws, such as legal cynicism, duality of justice, and more. The study is useful to the exploration of current ethical issues, as the immigration debate continues to be one of the most pressing public safety concerns in America.

Lewis, Carol W., and Stuart C. Gilman. The Ethics Challenge in Public Service: A Problem-Solving Guide. Jossey-Bass, 2012.

This book aims to provide an overiew of ethical challenges that exist in public service and the possible ways of addressing them. The authors consider topics such as policing, working with government officials, and ethical decision-making in their book, which offers a comprehensive view of ethics in the context of public sector organizations. The work contributes to the project by providing practical solutions to common ethical problems and by discussing the changing relationship between ethics and public service.

Menzel, Donald C. Ethics Management for Public Administrators: Leading and Building Organizations of Integrity. ME Sharpe, 2012.

Donald Menzel is an experienced scholar of ethics and its use in public sector companies. In this book, the author addresses the complex link between ethics and governance, as well as the concepts of integrity, performance, and risk management. The author also examines the history of ethics in public sector organizations, allowing the audience to witness the practical implications of ethical or unethical decision-making, thus contributing to the exploration of ethics and public safety in this project.

Shear, Keith. “Tested Loyalties: Police and Politics in South Africa, 1939–63.” The Journal of African History, vol. 53, no. 2, 2012, pp. 173-193.

In this article, Shear examines the relationship between the police and the state based on the example of South Africa. The researcher used a qualitative approach to explore the domestic turmoil that hit the country in 1939-1963 and the role of the police in it. On the whole the study highlights the involvement of the police in political matters, thus providing a useful framework for studying the link between public safety and politics in practice.

Svara, James H. The Ethics Primer for Public Administrators in Government and Nonprofit Organizations. Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2015.

Svara’s work offers a concise guide on the use of ethics in governmental and non-profit organizations that explores the key aspects of ethics relevant to public service. For instance, the book concerns themes such as moral agency and responsibility, codes of ethics, the influence of circumstances on ethical decision-making, and more. Most importantly, however, this book relates public sector work to ethical theories, thus facilitating the discussion of ethics’ role in organizational decision-making.

Ulloa, Jazmine. “L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck Endorses ‘Sanctuary State’ Bill That Eric Holder Hails as ‘Constitutional’.” Los Angeles Times, 2017. Web.

This news article discusses a recent debate on the Sanctuary State Bill and the decision of L.A. Police Chief to endorse it. The Bill is important to the relationship between the police and the state, as it prevents police officers from taking part in deportation efforts. The piece contributes to the discussion by providing a modern-day example of ethical issues that arise from the link between public safety and governance.

Van Wart, Montgomery. Dynamics of Leadership in Public Service: Theory and Practice. Routledge, 2014.

The book offers an exploration of various leadership tools and styles and their application in public service. Among others, the author explores the benefits of ethical leadership for public safety organizations. The book is useful to the project as it outlines the effect of ethical leadership on public sector organizations.

Works Cited

Beeri, Itai, et al. “Advancing Ethics in Public Organizations: The Impact of an Ethics Program on Employees’ Perceptions and Behaviors in a Regional Council.” Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 112, no. 1, 2013, pp. 59-78.

Brucker, Debra L. “Perceptions, Behaviors, and Satisfaction Related to Public Safety for Persons with Disabilities in the United States.” Criminal Justice Review, vol. 40, no. 4, 2015, pp. 431-448.

Frederickson, George H., and John A. Rohr, editors. Ethics and Public Administration. Routledge, 2015.

Hassan, Shahidul, et al. “Does Ethical Leadership Matter in Government? Effects on Organizational Commitment, Absenteeism, and Willingness to Report Ethical Problems.” Public Administration Review, vol. 74, no. 3, 2014, pp. 333-343.

Hughes, Gordon, and Adam Edwards, editors. Crime Control and Community. Routledge, 2013.

Kirk, David S., et al. “The Paradox of Law Enforcement in Immigrant Communities: Does Tough Immigration Enforcement Undermine Public Safety?” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 641, no. 1, 2012, pp. 79-98.

Lewis, Carol W., and Stuart C. Gilman. The Ethics Challenge in Public Service: A Problem-Solving Guide. Jossey-Bass, 2012.

Menzel, Donald C. Ethics Management for Public Administrators: Leading and Building Organizations of Integrity. ME Sharpe, 2012.

Shear, Keith. “Tested Loyalties: Police and Politics in South Africa, 1939–63.” The Journal of African History, vol. 53, no. 2, 2012, pp. 173-193.

Svara, James H. The Ethics Primer for Public Administrators in Government and Nonprofit Organizations. Jones & Bartlett Publishers, 2014.

Ulloa, Jazmine. “L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck Endorses ‘Sanctuary State’ Bill That Eric Holder Hails as ‘Constitutional’.” Los Angeles Times, 2017. Web.

Van Wart, Montgomery. Dynamics of Leadership in Public Service: Theory and Practice. Routledge, 2014.

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