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Essay on Law Enforcement Code of Ethics

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Law Enforcement Oath of Honor: On my honor, I will never betray my badge, my integrity, my character, or the public trust. I will always have the courage to hold myself and others accountable for our actions I will always uphold the Constitution, my community, and the agency I serve. -International Association of Chiefs of Police. 2008 The IACP code or other codes of ethics for law enforcement have at least four major themes. The principle of justice or fairness is the single most dominant theme in the law enforcement code more recently, the IACP has endorsed the Oath of Honor, which is shortened version of the Code of Ethics. The law enforcement code of ethics has four major themes: (1) fairness, (2) service, (3) importance of the law, and (4) personal conduct.

Let’s start with fairness, this is the single most important theme in the law enforcement code. Police officers must uphold the law regardless of the offender’s identity. They must not use their authority and power to take advantage either for personal profit or professional goals. Second is service, police officers exist to serve the community, and their role appropriately and essentially concerns this idea. Public service involves checking on the elderly, helping victims, and in the community serve as a model. Taking a broad approach to serving the community by helping deal with problems such as broken street lights and dilapidated buildings. Thirdly they uphold the importance of the law. Police are not just concerned with lawbreakers, but also their own behavior must be totally within the bounds set for them by the law. In investigations, capture, and collecting evidence, their conduct must conform to dictate the law. Lastly is personal conduct.

Police at all times must uphold a standard of behavior consistent with their public position. This involves a higher standard of behavior in their professional and personal lives than that expected from the general public. “Conduct unbecoming” is one of the most often cited discipline infractions and can include everything from committing a crime to having an affair or being drunk in public. The idea, of our justice system, is that it is fair and unbiased and through the application of due process arrives at the truth before finding guilt and assuming punishment. The reality is that the law is made by humans with errors and misconduct resulting in innocent people being convicted, incarcerated, and sometimes executed. Reasons for misconduct could range from being greedy, lazy, and ignorant may be a start to understanding why they do what they do.

Let’s take a look at some examples of corruption within law enforcement departments. (Note: A police officer is corrupt when he or she is acting under his or her official capacity and receives a benefit or something of value (other than their paychecks) for doing something or for refraining from doing something.) Have you ever heard of the novel Serpico, written by Peter Maas, and the movie starring Al Pacino, which were great successes? Serpico tells the true tale of an honest NYPD plainclothes officer, Frank Serpico, who roams the police department and city government in an attempt to report corruption in his division in the Bronx. Serpico tells his supervisors, his commanders, the chief of personnel, an assistant to the mayor, and the city’s department of investigation his tale, and nothing is done; corruption remains rampant. Finally, frustrated in his efforts, Serpico and a friend, Sergeant David Durk report their allegations to a reporter for the New York Times. This leads to the formation of the Knapp Commission and widespread changes in the NYPD’s policies and procedures initiated by Commissioner Patrick V. Murphy, who was appointed soon after all the allegations were made. Don’t be fooled, corruption is everywhere. It’s even closer than one might think.

My last example of corruption happened in 2005. After Hurricane Katrina, there were allegations that New Orleans police officers participated in the large-scale looting spree that overtook the city. New reports indicated officers were at the scene of some of the heaviest looting in the city and some witnesses stated that officers were taking items from the shelves of a Walmart. Though this allegation reportedly involved fewer than 20 officers, more than 200 officers abandoned the city during the hurricane and were fired or suspended. Additionally in 2011, a federal jury convicted five New Orleans police officers of various roles in gunning down civilians during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and then covering it up.

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Five others pleaded guilty in what came to be called the Danziger Bridges Case. Corruption is not limited to the rank of police officers. In 2001, a city manager in Miami was charged with taking almost $70,000.00 from a youth anti-crime group while serving as police chief during the 1990s. He was on the charity’s board of directors for many years. He served a year in prison, was ordered to repay the money, and lost his police pension. Why is there so much corruption within police departments? According to Walker and Katz, there are several explanations for corruption.

  1. Individual officers explain that the blame for corruption is placed on the “rotten apple” in the department. (This is the most convenient explanation for the agency, but not widely accepted because hiring has improved and because some departments seem to experience more corruption than others do.)
  2. The nature of police work takes place with officers working alone or in pairs, and with or without supervision and the conditions of work often cause the officer to become cynical. Constant exposure to wrongdoing can lead the officer to believe that everyone is doing it.
  3. The police organization flourishes in departments in which the organizational culture tolerates it and the departmental integrity and expectations of being disciplined for certain acts are low.
  4. The police subculture’s emphasis on loyalty and group solidarity can lead to lying and cover-ups.

The effects of police corruption are evident within the community when citizens will not help the police if they do not trust the police. Citizens must feel that they will be treated fairly and with respect. Morale within the department will suffer from misconduct, as officers may feel they are “painted with the same wide brush”. Officers may find their work or personal lives made more difficult or complicated in an inappropriate manner due to an incident involving someone else. Just one or two incidents of corruption can ruin a department’s reputation and destroy the trust the community has in the department. It’s really easy to sit back and point out what’s wrong with our local enforcement. The problem comes in when we want to find a solution to the problem of corruption. Local police officers are just the bottom of the corruption ring. This ring runs all the way to judges and the juries. Really any and all things that deal with law enforcement.

To start with, I think it’s very easy for someone to cross the line when dealing with ethical issues. Policemen and other lower-level lawmen are paid very poorly, and as my grandparents used to say, you get what you pay for. Maybe instead of paying the judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and other high-ranking officials, they can pass some type of raise to our men and women in blue. If you really sit back and look at it, the lower-level law enforcement personnel are not paid much considering they are away from their families for birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and all other important dates that may come up. I suppose what I am saying is give a man a break, you don’t want them to break the law by taking handouts or bribes, then pay them a little more.

Sweeten up the pot. See where I come from, everyone knows just about everyone. Living in such a small place allows everyone to see the effects of police corruption, and a lot of residents refuse to help the local police because about half of our force is corrupt or related to the accused. For example, the house across the street from mine is owned by an old man and his wife, whose child lives with them along with his girlfriend. Here a few weeks ago, I have seen the young man (Dakota) and his girlfriend who looked like they were used as a punching bag. (I suppose their back on drugs and got into some type of scuffle.) Now, understand both my husband and myself have reported the strange vehicles that go to the house across from ours.

The end ones like brand new Corvettes, Cadillacs, etc. We have advised our local enforcement (repeatedly) about how these vehicles pull up to the house, look around before exiting their still-running vehicles, walk up the front porch, ring the doorbell, the door opens, an arm comes out of the house, and then back in, then back out again handing the visitor something, then the visitor exits the porch, goes back to their vehicle and drives off. We have reported this suspicious activity, along with our neighbors, but nothing is ever done. Where does this information go? Is it falling on deaf ears? For the next week we will see a few extra patrols in our neighborhood, then poof they’re gone and the cycle starts over again. This pattern of ignorance has gone on far too long. Clearly, no one cares about this little town. Maybe our whole police department is corrupt or maybe the detectives are in on it. Who knows? I suppose it’s easy to turn the other cheek when it’s not your neighborhood (or town). I’ve also noticed some of our town’s officers, come from other surrounding towns. Maybe they’re corrupt, receiving payoffs and allowing drugs to run rapidly through that particular town, and when the Feds start looking into the town’s records, they run to the next town. What’s the remedy, going from town to town, sheriff’s department to sheriff’s department is not working for me. It’s time we as citizens stand up and voice our opinions. After all, our chief of police is voted in, let’s get him out. Then open an internal investigation, and dig deeper than what’s on the surface. The only solution to this problem is the public, after all, we vote them in and we can vote them out. Sometimes the solution is so clear but we just refuse to see it. You swore to protect and serve the community, where are you?


  1. Dempsey, J. and Forst, L. (2014). An Introduction to Policing. Police Ethics and Police Deviance. Pages 226-258.
  2. Peterson, F. (2019). Legal Consequences of Unethical Behavior. Retrieved from:
  3. Roufa, T. (2019). Ethics in Law Enforcement and Policing. Retrieved from:
  4. US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. (2019). Addressing Police Misconduct Laws Enforced By The Department of Justice. Retrieved from:>Home>Civil Rights Division

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