The most important thing to consider with ethics in the law enforcement profession is the maintenance of a public force that is above reproach. As law enforcement deals with the service and protection of the citizens of its community, the people need to know that those protecting them are not being corrupted. More than many other services, it is absolutely vital that those performing public works and important services regarding the safety of civilian populations behave ethically. This means that internal measures must be taken to minimize corruption and ensure that law enforcement officers act in the best interests of the law. The code of ethics must be maintained, and citizens cannot be allowed to do things to earn the favor of any police officers, as it makes them lose objectivity when investigating or dealing with criminal actions those same citizens may take (Raines, 2010).
In the instance of finding a new officer taking gifts from community members and local businessmen, I would be sure to record all these types of unethical activities regarding the new officer, writing down all of the times he received a gift, and from whom. Since reporting him right away is an option, I would just make sure to keep these records on hand, and be sure to make them available in the event of an investigation. To do otherwise would be to go beyond my purview as a police officer, and would risk myself professionally, particularly as he is politically connected. It would be my word against his; the best thing I could do is wait until he is under investigation, and present my information as accurately as possible.
The professional implications of the new officer’s taking of the gifts from local businesses include the potential for corruption regarding those who give the gifts. It presents an unfair bias toward those benefactors, which may translate into underreporting of criminal activities, or potential protection from police interference for those giving the gifts. It effectively places the officer in the pocket of local businessmen and community members, so that they are not subject to the full letter of the law if they commit a crime. It also means that the police officer in question is not adequately adhering to the Rules of Conduct set in place to prevent ethics issues, which includes receiving gifts. It is creating an institutionalized system of reward for being popular, and potentially for keeping shady political or criminal matters hidden.
New officers, especially, should have higher values than older officers – often, they are less cynical than their older peers who have not been promoted or who have stayed in stressful situations, and so they would normally have a much more stringent adherence to the code of conduct (Raines, p. 104). The keeping of unsolicited gifts is known as a conflict of interest, and it ensures that an unhealthy relationship forms between the civilian and the police officer that can lead to abuse of police privileges (Raines, p. 97).
In terms of the leadership of the police force, the situation and its continuation mean a great many things. First of all, the continued unethical behavior of this officer reflects badly on the supervisors, as they are not dealing with the behavior in an appropriate manner. It is possible that, due to the officer’s popularity, they are attempting to not ruffle feathers, or they may simply be ignorant of the gifts he is receiving. Either way, it shows a tremendous lack of oversight on the part of the supervisors. When a supervisor “condones the corrupt actions of those he supervises, or takes part in them, corrupt activities will continue unchecked” (Prenzler, p. 58). The supervisors have to decide whether or not to allow the officer to keep the gifts or not, and they have to determine whether or not they are being provided in a spirit of exerting influence over the officer. Whether or not they are, however, the mere reception of the gifts is unethical, and the supervisors must see that and stop it.
Prenzler, T. (2009). Ethics and accountability in criminal justice: towards a universal standard. Bowen Hills: Australian Academic Press.
Raines, J. B. (2010). Ethics in policing: misconduct and integrity. Sudbury, Massachusetts: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.