Street Cop Ethics
Some Advice and Questions
in The Law Enforcement Trainer May/June 2001 issue (published by the
American Society for Law Enforcement Trainers). Posted
here with the kind permission of John Fuller.
Police Ethics & Codes
Street Cop Ethics
Christian Burial Case
US v Tobias
"Professional Codes of Ethics"
further discusses the power professionals have over people's lives
and the responsibility to exercise it fairly.
"Nobody ever gave a cop
something for nothing.”
O. W. Wilson
The police service in this country is more closely scrutinized and subject to more uninformed, biased criticism than any other occupational group, with the possible exception of presidential candidates. The average street cop is expected to conduct his or her personal and professional life with more integrity and decorum than most other citizens, however unrealistic and difficult that may seem at times. For you apprehensive police trainers, a few street-smart pointers to pass along to your soon-to-be rookie cops:
If it’s impossible to remain courteous, and unfortunately sometimes it is,
always remain civil.
Mind your telephone manners. Always return phone calls, even when you know the caller will be unreasonable or hostile. Not returning business calls is highly unprofessional and is a frequent source of citizen complaints against police officers.
In confrontational encounters, as much as possible, keep your mouth shut. When dealing with a citizen with an obvious antagonistic agenda, ignore verbal attempts to irritate you and don’t be goaded into street-corner arguments. Cops saying the wrong thing at the wrong time account for the great majority of citizen complaints, whether justified or not.
Enforcement Training Links
International Association of Chiefs of Police
Ethics Training in Law Enforcement
- Ethics Training Subcommittee of the IACP
Ethics Toolkit: Enhancing Law Enforcement Ethics in a Community Policing
Your dazzling commentary on contemporary social issues and your enlightened cultural theories are totally irrelevant and immaterial while you are on-duty. Keep your personal opinions and biases strictly to yourself.
Understand what "face" means on the street, particularly in minority, disadvantaged neighborhoods. Never humiliate anyone in a totally devastating manner in front of their friends or family, no matter how obnoxious their behavior or attitude. Always leave room for some self-respect in any encounter, regardless of the circumstances.
By the same token, understand that "face" also applies to you. Never walk or shy away from an obvious arrest or enforcement situation–It will bother you forever–and it might get the next cop who has to deal with that same individual
hurt or killed.
Remaining calm and collected in the face of verbal abuse is one of the hallmarks of a professional policeman. If you can't stand being called bad names, you're in the wrong business.
Don't be provoked into a unnecessary use of force incident. Meet force with force and don't get hurt, but don't go over the line and engage in an obviously brutal response. When the resistance stops, the force should stop. Beating a drunk into the sidewalk because he insulted your mother is police brutality, plain and simple.
“Law Enforcement ethics
- the Continuum of Compromise" a framework for understanding and teaching how the transition from
"honest cop" to "compromised officer" can occur.
Violence by Police Officers
California Peace Officer's
The Golden Rule applies, always! Treat the citizen in the same manner as you would like to be treated, given the circumstances. Likewise, don't give short shrift to the dirt-ball, street people; sometimes even the weirdoes and the crazies have interesting stuff to tell the police.
Cultivate your "street face." This is the look of bored detachment and supremely confident nonchalance that veteran street cops affect when the rocks and bottles start flying. Even the juvenile “gangstas" emulate the look and swagger of these seasoned street cops and patrol commanders.
A few words about police corruption (Yes, there is such a thing in this day and age), mainly bribery. These may have been playful little larcenies to the old-timers, but times have changed radically. And how would you like to spend a couple of years in a very small room for taking what amounts to “chump change” to overlook a violation of the law you were sworn to uphold?
If someone insists on “doing something" for you, ask them to write a commendatory letter to your Commanding Officer. A personnel file bulging with laudatory and complimentary letters can be very helpful at certain critical points in your career.
Public opinion polls about police
and criminal justice (Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics)
Criminal Justice Ethics (John Jay)
Mercies: A Former Officer Reflects on Police Discretion in Malaysia
Bribery can include money, gifts, or favors. “Kickbacks” for illegal services
are probably the most prevalent form of contemporary police corruption. Citizens are legion who will offer money to police officers to make traffic violations “disappear,” including those business people who think nothing of offering money or gifts to cops for extra service or favorable considerations.
A gratuity to all intents and purposes is a bribe. Taking $50 from a gambler to overlook a late night card game equates to accepting a six-pack from a liquor store proprietor to close him up on Friday night. The only difference is in degree.
Question: “Well, how about a free cup of coffee or half-price for a meal, what's the harm in that?"
Answer: "Nothing really, just ask yourself why the guy is offering you the freebies. Could it be that he wants you to give his place more attention than you give the other businesses on your post? Think about it—is he entitled to extra-special attention for the price of a burger and coffee?"
One of the occupational attributes of the veteran street cop is not accepting
things at face value. Always ask yourself what people have in mind when they offer you something for nothing. There is almost always an ulterior motive or hidden agenda.
Read and re-read the excerpt by O.W. Wilson at the beginning of this
article. Quote it as a mantra and remember it always!
The final word on bribery—don't do it; just plain don't do it—or you'll deserve all the bad things that will surely and inevitably happen to you.
"Ethics and Codes of
Ethics" from John Kleinig's The
Ethics of Policing
(Cambridge U Press) examines the history of police
codes of ethics and places it within increasing police professionalism
and a general growth of professional codes of ethics: "We are
required increasingly to put our trust in people and organizations to
whom we are significantly vulnerable and over whom we are able to
exercise relatively little control" (p 234).
Enforcing Ethics: A Scenario-Based Workbook for Police and Corrections Recruits and Officers
Force Under Pressure: How Cops Live and Why They Die
STREET COP ETHICS: DISCUSSION
This quiz consists of 15 brief, ethically-challenging scenarios a patrol officer might encounter during a typical duty-tour. This quiz might also be helpful in your police ethics classes and lectures, either for entry level or in-service, as a written exercise or as the basis for a class or small group discussion .
Read each scenario carefully and make a mental assessment indicating whether you think the situation is Ethical, Not Ethical, or Questionable. Don’t assume or otherwise “read” anything into each scenario that isn’t plainly stated.
By the way, there is no answer sheet. If you don’t have an instinctive “feel”
for an ethically-appropriate response, you really should review that specific
scenario with a colleague or supervisor whose judgment you trust. [Or
explore some of the links on this page.]
1. A liquor store owner on your post asks you to escort him to the bank two blocks away after he closes so that he can make a night deposit. It’s 11 PM and it’s a high-crime area.
2. An automobile repossession man stops you on the street and offers you $25 if you can locate a certain car for him. He gives you his business card and tells you that all you have to do is find the car and call in the location, the same as his civilian “spotters.” No other involvement on your part is required.
3. A tow truck company proprietor approaches you and requests that you notify him telephonically of any accidents, or disabled or abandoned autos that require towing. For your cooperation, he indicates he will “make it worth your while.”
4. The local TV/radio station advertises rewards for tips from citizens on breaking news stories. You then call in information on a gruesome double-homicide you’ve just responded to, using a relative’s name.
5. You obtain several motor vehicle registration listings from your agency’s criminal justice information system computer terminal at the request of your brother-in-law who operates a bill collection service.
6. An attorney friend of yours requests that you notify him of any motor vehicle accidents in your sector that may be civilly actionable. All he needs is a copy of the accident report and he will take it from there—you will not be involved.
7. A local funeral director asks you to hold-up traffic at a busy intersection so that he can get a funeral procession moving away in good order.
8. Your supervisor tells you and other officers in your sector to report all attempt car thefts as “tampering” or “vandalism,” in order to hold down the increasing incidence of these Part I offenses in your sector.
9. You make it a practice to stop in the hospital ER located on your post on weekend nights for the purpose of peeking at the medical history sheets for the names, addresses, and DOB’s of patients being treated, and then calling in wanted checks to your agency’s Records Unit to ascertain any outstanding warrants. If you get a “hit” on an ambulatory person, you wait outside the ER, and when they leave, you arrest them.
10. When interrogating a juvenile burglary suspect, you strongly insinuate that unless he identifies his accomplices, you will take steps to have his mother removed from the social agency’s welfare rolls.
11. At the request of a local landlord, you knock on the door of an apartment and inform the tenant that he and his family will be evicted next week unless he pays his back rent.
12. You are newly assigned to a post and one of the veteran sector officers tells you: “Sandwiches at the deli are free, uniform cleaning at the laundry is half-price, and the convenience store guy provides free sodas and cigarettes whenever you stop-in.”
13. The proprietor of the gas station on your foot post offers you a key to the establishment’s office area, should you want to sit-down and relax while on the 12 AM - 8 AM shift, when they are closed.
14. You are investigating a series of child pornography offenses that have occurred city-wide. You have the name of a pedophile-suspect, but he has moved and you cannot locate him and all your investigative resources have come up negative. Your sister works at a credit reporting agency and you ask her to check her firm’s automated files to see if she can find a new address for this suspect.
15. The owner of a private ambulance company on your post who has been very helpful to you in the past, asks you to complete an accident report on a property damage accident involving one of his vehicles that occurred in another jurisdiction two days ago, which he needs for insurance purposes. He tells you that “it was just a fender-bender,” and that his driver can give you all the details you need for the report.
Maryland Police & Correctional Training Commissions