POINT OF VIEW
REDEDICATING OURSELVES TO
LEADERSHIP AND ETHICS IN LAW ENFORCEMENT
Vane R. King
Flint, Michigan, Police Department
"Our problem is not to find better values but to be
faithful to those we profess." John Gardner
Corruption, drug abuse, conduct unbecoming an
officer--these are just a few of the dangerous and troubling
they strive to meet their responsibilities in today's rapidly
changing and highly intricate social environment.
Unfortunately, just as the criminal activity law enforcement
officers are sworn to combat grows more violent and
this area, but the modern temptations facing today's officers
officers and police managers.
Ethical issues and values are most certainly not a new
concern in law enforcement. However, they have never before
been so publicized nor have the stakes involved been so high.
As Patrick V. Murphy, former New York City Police Commissioner,
notes, "Corruption, brutality, racial discrimination, improper
conduct by police is high--an excess of preventable crime, a low
level of respect for the police, and a loss of citizen
cooperation on which police effectiveness depends." (1)
Because aberrant police behavior results in shattered lives
and an erosion of public confidence and support, ethical
concerns in policing remain great. Officers and managers alike
are expected to perform their duties in a wide variety of
nterpersonal situations where values and ethics are of
tantamount importance. Functioning with minimal supervision and
little time for reflection, they are required to make complex
and crucial decisions, many of which are irrevocable, (2) during
values and ethics may denigrate, and the prolonged effects of
this can be harmful and far-reaching. And because police
officers continue to face ethical questions, administrators must
In 1956, the National Conference of Police Associations,
Enforcement Code of Ethics. Leaders in law enforcement, as well
as rank-and-file officers throughout the Nation, offered their
ethics offered solutions to many of the police officer's
But times have changed, and according to various media
their collective values, but to their faithfulness to those
values. Many outside law enforcement view the police as having
"doughnut shop ethics." As Bruce Benson and Gil Skinner wrote,
"Police think nothing of accepting `harmless' gratuities--the
free coffee, the half-price meals, `badging' their way into a
movie." (3) Unfortunately, tomorrow (or is it today?) these
assaults. By starting off small, they can lose control and
allow themselves to go too far. The local headlines tell the
To begin, law enforcement managers must provide an
atmosphere conducive to proper value judgments by their
officers, especially during those situations where the outcome
s based on discretion. To accomplish this goal, they must
nurture a more highly developed sense of ethical responsibility
and an inner code of ethics.
Police leaders set the moral tone of the department;
therefore, they are obligated to set an ethical example for
others to follow. Whether they want to accept it or not, top
management serves as a key reference point for all subordinates.
employees see their supervisors engage in questionable
managerial practices. What is needed more than anything else is
While police leaders control the working environment and
to their staffs--fairness, honesty, reliability, and
Managers must begin with self-motivation. The key is the
for me?" Satisfaction in law enforcement must come from doing
the job to the best of one's individual abilities and not be
As the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics points out, the
mission and duty of law enforcement is to protect and serve.
The code addresses many issues, including human and
constitutional rights, prejudice, conduct unbecoming an officer,
values, fairness, unnecessary force, public trust, public faith,
and being true to the ethics of police service.
Unfortunately, there is no practical way to measure the
effect that ethics codes have on personnel, (6) even though codes
"serve as a living document of organizational standards and
beliefs, values, and commitment, these codes are only words,
deas, goals, and philosophies--ideas that are easy to vocalize
but hard to implement. However, "codes can play a useful role
n reminding those tempted by misconduct of the shared goals of
the profession." (8)
Law enforcement administrators can use codes to clarify what
s meant by ethical conduct. Then, by using these codes, they
motivate employees to be "faithful" to themselves and their
The quality most admired at every level of an organization
s integrity, followed closely by competence. These are
essential characteristics of effective leadership that influence
attitude, as well as behavior. Therefore, police managers must
be firmly committed to personal integrity.
At times, sticking to this commitment is difficult.
However, doing so is likely to be more than its own reward.
consistent, principled, and fair. (9)
Top administrators not only set the environment for the
effective, they must be willing and able to discipline violators
of ethical standards. Inaction by the administration
constitutes approval of the individual's behavior, hurts
employee morale, and weakens public confidence.(10)
Education and Training
Police leaders should also use education and training to
assignments, evaluations, promotions, and hirings are meted out
n a systematic fashion.
If officers are given the proper education and training,
they have received the tools to do their jobs. But, they need
more than theory. They need up-to-date practical application,
experience, and knowledge.
With proper research and application, answers to the
majority of unethical situations faced by police officers can be
challenge the contemporary officer's thinking about moral values
and ethical conduct, the police profession needs to incorporate
law enforcement ethics directly into the training provided all
and continue through short-term seminars to management programs
and courses." (11) As leaders provide position reinforcement for
theory to become reality, ethics will be kept at the forefront of
training and left open for discussion at all levels. When
the advice and counsel from others can heighten moral
Today, there is perhaps more sensitivity about ethics and
The profession has matured, but much is left to be done. Law
enforcement must be prepared to combat a new level of
temptation, where the rewards for "selling out" can be great
and general social codes have become more relaxed.
Police leaders must develop an ethical environment that
eliminates public suspicion and lessens employee temptation--one
that creates faith and confidence in a justice system that is
fair and just for all. More importantly, they must set the moral
example, and initiate and promote ethics training and education.
Police leaders must challenge and develop law enforcement
thinking in terms of moral values and ethical conduct by
communicating and supporting realistic approaches to ethical
top police executives and a firm commitment to making policing a
full-fledged profession, we can go a long way toward providing
meet the ethical demands of the important positions of public
trust they hold." (13) Today, law enforcement does not need to
find better values, but we do need to rededicate ourselves to
leadership and ethics and the basic values of our profession.
(1) Patrick V. Murphy, "Ethical Issues on Policing,"
Criminal Justice Ethics, vol. 4, No. 2, Summer/Fall 1985.
(2) Interpersonal Communications Training Program, Lansing,
Michigan, Community College, November 1975.
(3) Bruce L. Benson and Gilbert H. Skinner, "Doughnut Shop
Ethics: There are Answers," The Police Chief, December 1988,
(4) James Bowman, ed., Essentials of Management: Ethical
Values, Attitudes and Actions (Port Washington, N. Y.:
Associated Faculty Press, 1983).
(5) Supra note 1, p. 95.
(6) Donald R. Cressey and Charles A. Moore, "Managerial
Values and Corporate Codes of Ethics," California Management
Review, vol. 25, No. 4, Summer 1983.
(7) Harold W. Metz, "An Ethical Model For Law Enforcement
Administrators," Justice Profession, vol. 1, No. 2, Fall 1986,
(8) William Heffernan, "Two Approaches to Police Ethics,"
Criminal Justice Review, p. 32.
(9) Barry Posner and Warren Schmidt, "Values and the American
Manager: An Update," California Management Review, vol. XXVI,
No. 3, Spring 1984, p. 215.
(10) Supra note 7, p. 75.
(11) Supra note 7, p. 76.
(12) Supra note 1, p. 95.
(13) Ibid. p. 96.