Police Ethics Misconduct and Corruption Term Paper

Pages: 10 (3074 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice

Police Reform

Policing is a difficult endeavor, but it is also one of the central functions of government, providing security for the citizenry and protecting the individual from the bad intentions of others. Arguably, the policing function in its broadest sense could be described as the rationale for the social contract that formed civil society in the first place, when people came together to form government in order to assure the individual protection from his or her neighbors. Inherent in the policing function is a requirement for ethical behavior on the part of the police themselves, who are expected to be spotless themselves as they guard against the crimes of others. Because those who become police are no more than human, however, ethical lapses and even outright criminality are not unheard of in spite of the culture of policing, laws governing police behavior, internal investigation systems, and so on. Often, in response to the discovery of unethical behavior by the police in a given city, the department responds by creating a new mechanism of control, issuing a statement of ethics to which officers are expected to adhere, creating a new office to oversee the issue, conducting internal investigations, and other actions to make the department more ethical. The issue will be considered in general and then viewed for two departments that have instituted some form of control in response to a perceived problem.

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Term Paper on Police Ethics Misconduct and Corruption Assignment

Delattre (1989) notes the pressures placed on police across the country along with the need to maintain a strong ethical system for police to assure the confidence of the public. The police have considerable power, but that power derives largely from the acceptance of the police by the public at large. When that confidence is undermined, the job is that much more difficult. Knowing this, the police have been professionalized over the last half century or so after problems were apparent in the previous era, when the police were not as thoroughly trained or as militarized, in some respects. The International Association of Chiefs of Police published a Law Enforcement Code of Ethics to promote ethical behavior, which begins,

As a Law Enforcement Officer, my fundamental duty is to serve mankind; to safeguard lives and property; to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation, and the peaceful against violence or disorder; and to respect the Constitutional rights of all men to liberty, equality, and justice (Delattre, 1989, p. 31).

Some police objected to this code because they saw it as either too demanding or too vague, and changing times made some of the requirements unclear as to meaning, such as "I will keep my private life unsullied as an example to all" (Delattre, 1989, p. 31), causing officers to ask if this meant they should not live with a lover.

The way the rank and file responds to criticism has itself been criticized and is often seen as a bar to any real reform. The police community often responds to corruption charges and investigations as an intrusion by "outsiders" into police business, leading to a closing of ranks that only makes it more difficult to see the real behavior of the police. Another reaction was to propagate the "bad apple" theory:

That is, in response to documented cases of corruption and brutality, police administrators would declare them merely isolated deeds by "bad apple" officers. Bad apples were morally corrupt individuals, rotten on the inside and hiding under a skin of respectability, and who were only out for themselves (Cohen & Feldberg, 1991, p. 10).

The answer given is to remove the bad apples so other officers will not be contaminated, with no acknowledgment that the department itself might be at fault.

As Lashley (1995) notes, "Only when the police fail to adhere to standards of ethics and duty will they obstruct the cause of justice they are sworn to serve" (p. 13). The recognition of this fact can be seen in the numerous investigations into police corruption, police brutality, and bad policing in general at various levels, including federal investigations as well as local investigations. An unfortunate response to much of the new criticism of police has been for the police to stop doing their job as intended. Many urban departments are finding it impossible to recruit new officers because of lowered morale, and many officers are avoiding enforcing the law in some areas because they believe they will only be giving critics a reason for making a complaint (Grigg, 2001, p. 10).

In other cases, however, the response has been more constructive.

Community Investigations number of police abuse cases in recent years have led to commissions in New York and Los Angeles offering suggestions for changes to reduce the racism in the ranks and to control excessive police aggression. The efforts to accomplish these goals have been mixed. Lambert (1995) writes about the use of psychological tests to weed out police who may have psychological problems. Critics cite the fact that the use of such tests has not accomplished the desired result of weeding out those who may be racist or who may use excessive force. A report by a community group known as Police Watch that monitors complaints of police misconduct in Los Angeles County shows that there has been no diminution in complaints after these tests were instituted. The use of these tests was in answer to a pledge to do something about the problem of racism and brutality among some police officers:

commission appointed to investigate the Los Angeles police recommended that officers be retested for psychological problems every three years. Other police departments around the country also beefed up their psychological screening (Lambert, 1995, p. 1).

In addition, black officers have charged that these psychological tests have been so subjective that they have been used to discriminate against minorities, making the instrument itself racist (Lambert, 1995, p. 1).

The number and influence of black officers has increased considerably since the beginning of efforts at integration, and since 1972 the number of black officers nationwide has doubled to more than 60,000. Between 1982 and 1992, the 50 largest police departments saw an increase in black officers by an average of 36%. In the last decade there have been black police chiefs in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, and Detroit. However, the mere act of hiring a larger number of black officers does not solve the problem of racism in the police department and does not create an equal playing field for the blacks with respect to the whites in the police department (Kaufman & Gaiter, 1995, p. 1).

Relations between the police and the black community have long been tense. In some regions, the police are viewed as an occupying army present not to protect the people but to control them and to keep them in their place. Numerous civil disturbances in recent decades can be traced to tensions between the police and the black community, from the riots of the summer of 1965 to the riot in Los Angeles after the first Rodney King verdict, from the problems in Crown Heights in New York to any number of disputed police shooting incidents in cities across the country. Even without a specific incident to set off a disturbance, there is often an underlying tension between poor black communities and the surrounding society, with the police serving as a symbol of that society:

The very complex, diffuse, interrelated, but still independent nature of the social, political, and economic institutions within American society, supported by layers and layers of public and private bureaucracies often manipulated by elusive, anonymous power brokers, perpetually frustrate the attempts of Black Americans to modify and reorder societal arrangements in their favor. Therefore, the "system" is identified as the culprit (Wintersmith, 1974, p. 2).

The fact that the police are the most likely target for black hostility and aggression, however, does not mean blacks do not have a real reason to fear the police or the rallying cry of "law and order":

For Black Americans this slogan connotes oppression, police occupation of Black communities, inequitable and selective police treatment, disregard for human and constitutional rights of Black citizens, and continued denial of equitable opportunity (Wintersmith, 1974, p. 2).

One of the ways to address this and other problems associated with the perception that the police are an invading army rather than a part of the community has been described under the heading of Community Policing. The term has different meanings in different places, and the way the approach is implemented does indeed differ from city to city.

Los Angeles

Different cities have implemented community policing in different ways and with differing results. In Seattle, a newspaper editorial reports on local efforts and on an assessment of those efforts. It is noted that a study of community policing projects throughout the city was conducted with interviews of countless citizens, business owners, city employees, and police officers about their experiences with community… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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