Ethics and Code of Conducts in the Police Departments


The provision of efficient, effective, and adequate service should be the focus of all the governmental departments. Focusing specifically on the security forces, they would focus on performing their roles and solving the problems of the citizens while regulating themselves to make sure that they do not overuse the powers they have on those that they are serving. In addition, the quality of their service may at some level be judged by the satisfaction of those who should benefit from it. Police forces have been in the limelight in history for arising enmity between them and the public, and this to some extent, has contributed to the evolution of the methods and styles of policing as solutions are sort and being implemented to existing challenges and problems. Three factors, namely challenges posed by decentralization, temptation from the illegal drug trade, and the compromising nature of the police organizational culture, have been indicated as affecting ethical issues in law enforcement in the United States in the last few years. One way of regulating the conduct of the officers is through the establishment of rules and regulations through which they should adhere when serving or at the workplace. However, better methods which go beyond adherence to rules and regulations and punishment as a result of non-adherence, to methods that foster understanding among the policemen on the need and advantages of the work ethics and relationships between them and the communities. Further, better methods are needed to empower the police to respond to the changing environment at the workplace and the related challenges. In addition, the public itself needs to be sensitized on the need for embracing coordinated efforts between them and the police to aid in wiping out crime and reduce enmity to the police forces.

Traditionally, the officers’ adherence to an established code of conduct has been tried through the application of a written set of rules and procedures. These have failed to serve as a workable guide for action in many instances, where they have been too numerous and detailed in nature. Further, civil liability has failed as a strategy to prevent police officers’ misconduct and has resulted in a few structural changes in policing. Today, there are methods of policing that emphasize the rendering of services to the community. For example, community-based policing goes beyond crime resolution into serving the community. Although the initiative may on the one hand beneficial as focusing on the community needs to fight crime, it has further opened opportunities for police officers to be engaged in more criminal activities such as bribery.

There is needed proper management of the police force in order to make sure that proper code of conduct and work ethics are given priority and strictly followed. Monitoring and review programs, proper and effective reporting mechanisms are needed, so as to be able to counteract any arising misconduct among the police officers.

Work ethics and Values

The ethical behavior of an individual is influenced by the individual’s personal values and environmental background (Holmquist, 1993). Because individual values and therefore behavior, differ among individuals, there is a need to establish a uniform practice in the ethical accountability in the public and the private sector. This can be established through a formal code of ethics. Although it is possible to write a set of regulations describing ethical behavior expected to be followed or displayed in various circumstances, it is hard if not impossible to cover all cases. Therefore, it is necessary that the police officers be encouraged to do what is right in every situation, in addition to following the rules and regulations. In this light of view, leadership within the police department is of paramount importance.

The mere statement of the values and written ethics do not constitute the change or impact in the police department just as they don’t, in the business environment. These values and ethical conduct declaration or statements must be followed by practical steps that try to implement positive values and proper work ethics. In addition, a shift from a traditional setting where the police mainly dealt with a crime after it had happened has lost wholesome meaning and must be accompanied by structural and institutional changes in all police departments and management. Police administrators must themselves display ethical behavior while handling matters, and in addition, participate in ethical management through practical steps like training for ethics, taking affirmative steps towards ethical issues, and a good moral tone. The presence of an ethical climate in local government was linked to values of teamwork, excellence, quality of service, effectiveness, and efficiency of service in a study carried out in 1993 (O’Malley, n.d.). Thus managers in police departments may require to emphasize high performance in an attempt to ensure higher ethical practice.

One of the areas of exposure to unethical behavior among the police is the excessive use of force. Police officials sometimes operate in conditions of uncertainty and a violent world and may find themselves in need to use force. In addition, the usage of force is sometimes allowed to some extent by the rules and regulations covering the police forces, although this might be to only some extent. Acting in an ethical manner or making ethical decisions when required and when not necessarily required by the law may be very challenging in the face of hard circumstances and the violent environment that the police officers face. A high level of discipline among the police officers may highly determine their willingness to participate in ethical behavior, while high integrity will have more influence in dealing with temptations of participating in corruption through, for example, involvement in the drug trade, than would the obligations set in the laws and ethical codes of conducts, because the operations of the police are sometimes secretive and clannish.

The importance of ethical behavior needs to be understood among police officers in an attempt to encourage them to participate in ethical behavior. In addition, the side effects of unethical decisions need to be explored also. Ethical behavior helps the police force to achieve high efficiency, excellence, better quality of service, effectiveness, and teamwork. Better quality can be conceived when policemen display professional service in their duties without participating in shoddy work. Effectiveness may be influenced in a positive direction through solving people’s and community needs not only through established procedures but also those acceptable procedures in the eyes of the community and general public. However, the police must be keen not to work in the interest of specific groups in order to be termed as effective. This is because the good interest among the smaller groups may not be for the better interest of the larger public. The police, therefore, need to be tactical, and the centralized control may be justified under such circumstances. Because the police generally work to maintain law and order, the focus on a community-based initiative to solve community problems may be further enhanced by ethical decisions and practice in their operations to make the public gather surmountable trust and confidence in them. Ethical practice will make the members of the public either cooperate with the officers in their efforts to maintain law and order or fail to cooperate with them.

There are increasing chances of participation of police officers in corruption related to the drug trade either through enticements or stealing large sums of money involved. A study attached the personality traits to the participation in undercover work. These traits include self-confidence, assertiveness, fast-talking, and outgoing nature; and they have also been linked to “predisposing officers to corruption and psychological distress” (Bladow, 1994 and O’Malley, n.d.). Community-oriented policing has seen the traditional methods of accountability and control revolutionized. Traditionally, accountability was possible through a strict chain-of-command structure in the police force. The decentralization of the police has been encouraged through a Community-oriented policing approach, and the imposition of strict controls in this policing style has been indicated as counterproductive (O’Malley, n.d.). There are long-standing features of the police organization culture that need an address in order to foster the growth of work ethics and ethical relationships between the police and the communities. The police work also in tough environments which may be stressful, and that may influence even the well-intentioned police officers to compromise. Research differs in opinion on whether the selection process should be used to boost ethical practice or not. While some support identifying violence-prone officers during employment process through psychological testing, others support training to reduce violence and stress management programs for the current officers (16). While the first one supports a preventive method, the latter supports a curative method. The latter may provide better solution because external and internal factors are responsible in determining ethical behavior among police officers. This is because dealing with the current situation may demand extra-efforts than just control mechanisms. Another better approach would be involved in the compromise between the two, where a comprehensive selection process which includes psychological testing, would be interlinked with control or intervention methods.

The law must exist to reduce the level of freedom among the police to participate in criminal offenses like corruption and excess usage of force, even in community-oriented policing. In the development of the ethical standards and the code of conducts that determine the operation of the police, the circumstances under which they operate and the acceptability of behavior and conduct as factors, need be considered. Further, the conditions and the environment under which the police operate in must be improved so as to provide the necessary ground for combating ethical-related issues. It is not in order to ignore the police needs and demands while demanding from them the need to act ethically. Improper conditions that are not favorable may boost unethical practices, for example by increasing stress and don’t-care attitude among the police officers. The management need consider aligning ethical requirements with changes in the working conditions. The working conditions need encourage and favor the police force to participate responsibly in the community building and maintenance of law and order.

Although the set of ethical rules and practices may be necessary, true ethical culture must be driven from encouraging the police to own the transformation process and work responsibly. Without improved work conditions such as shift and duty scheduling, remuneration and administration, rules and regulatory obligations may only increase stress and ineffectiveness.

Training and education

Training programs can be used to introduce or enhance ethical behavior among the police officers. The training should be aimed at, among other things, making the police officers aware and be familiar to the established code of conducts and the desired practice. These programs need also address other concerns such as reduction of violence, stress management, use of force and incorporate behavioral science classes. Regular training programs can be used to ensure that police are conversant with ethical issues. A certain study showed that officers trained in anger management had fewer incidences of use of excessive forces when arresting people (20 and O’Malley, n.d.).

Education programs boost the professional practice of the police officers which can improve efficiency and quality of service. In addition, they can be used to equip police officers with the necessary skills to cope with the working environment, in addition to furnishing them with the necessary skills to cope with individual challenges, empower them to deal with stress and manage it, and emphasize the need for teamwork. Such programs should also be used to empower the police officers understand relationships between them and the public in general, and how it can be enhanced. Education programs also hold the greatest arena on which innovative methods of policing and dealing with crime may be conveyed and understood. This is because developments in technology and informational systems have, and may further complicate crime control and maintenance of law and order.

Selection process as an intervention strategy

Although the strategy has been criticized as a method of solving ethical issues within the police, it holds potential efforts to dealing with the non-ethical behavior among the police because un-ethical behavior is linked to individuals’ personal behavior and values. Because there are values and internal factors that can be assumed as supportive to ethical behavior while others as being not supportive, identification of these values and determination of their compatibility to police ethical standards and philosophy would be a fair judgment. These can be identified through extensive background checks, psychological testing and conducting interviews. Use of hiring process to deal with ethical issues can be supported by the indication presented by Carlson that many of the minority officers hired under programs that had lowered testing standards and relaxed background checks, had been involved in corruption cases well-publicized among the police in New York City and Washington D.C. (1994; qtd. in O’Malley, n.d.). However, further evidence must be sought from extensive and all-inclusive research.

Continued monitoring, analysis and reporting mechanisms

Ethical standards can be boosted if real situation is known, cases and problems identified, and intervention measures implemented. This is possible through efficient monitoring, analysis and reporting mechanisms and programs that police management need concentrate at. Continued surveys, interviews and studies that seek to establish the specific needs for ethical practice; means of achieving it and best way of implementing measures that boost ethical standards need be launched and maintained. These programs and initiative, however, must not seek to frustrate the individual initiatives of the police officers, for example, through community-oriented policing.


Work ethics among the police are vital both in practice and law. Ethical practice has been linked to performance, personal behavior and values, and is also influenced by external conditions such as the working conditions. Programs need be launched and maintained to boost ethical practice, monitor, analyze, control and correct ethical standards. These include training and education programs. Other intervention measures include stricter hiring process that is sound to ethical practice.


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  2. Bladow, J. Good Guys As Bad Guys: The Temptations of the Undercover Cop. Omni, 1994
  3. Boyle, D.B. Police Violence: Addressing the Issue. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. 1993
  4. Carlson, T. Washington’s Inept Police Force. Wall Street Journal. 1993
  5. Gabor, T. The 1990s: The Time for Aggressive Police Officers. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 1994
  6. Holmquist, D. Ethics: How Important Is It in Today’s Office? Public Personnel Management, 1993, 537-544
  7. Lee, C. Ethics Training: Facing the Tough Questions, Training, 1986, 30.
  8. McGowan, W. The Corrupt Influence of Police Diversity Hiring. The Wall Street Journal. 1994, A12.
  9. O’Malley Timothy. Managing for Ethics: A Mandate for Administrators.
  10. Travis, M.A. Psychological Health Tests for Violence-prone Officers: Objectives, Shortcomings, and Alternatives. Stanford Law Review. 1994, 1717-1770
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