Sir Robert Peel, the founder ofmodern police culture, stated, “Policeseek and preserve public favour not by catering to the public opinion but byconstantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.” (Nazemi2015. PP5)In 1829 Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850), establishedthe Metropolitan Police Force in London and developed the Peelian Principleswhich defined the ethical requirements police officers must follow to beeffective.
Even though these nine principles detailed in Appendix 1 werewritten close to 200 years ago, they are as much applicable today as they werethen. The approach expressed in these principles is commonly known as ‘Policingby Consent’. In the United Kingdom this model of policing regards officers ascitizens in uniform. They exercise their powers to police their fellow citizenswith the implicit consent of those fellow citizens. ‘Policing by consent’indicates that the legitimacy of policing in the eyes of the public is basedupon a general consensus of support that follows from transparency about theirpowers, their integrity in exercising those powers and their accountability fordoing so. This paper will therefore examine ethics in more detail to give one abetter understanding of the expectations and ethical issues facing policeofficers today. It will explore the importance of police ethics relating to theuse of discretion in contemporary policing and will highlight that policeethics and the use of discretion are of critical importance in theprofessionalisation of policing and the best antidotes to police corruption,brutality, neglect of human rights, and other forms of police deviance.
(Neyroud& Beckley 2001,)Ethics, also known as moralphilosophy provide the theoretical basis for the principles of moral behaviourand sustain both the boundaries for morality and the pathways for properthinking about real life choices. Both ethics and morality are concerned withthe distinction between right and wrong. Ethics involves making moral judgmentsabout what is right or wrong, good or bad. Right and wrong are qualities ormoral judgments we assign to actions and conduct. Singer suggests “To live ethically is to think about thingsbeyond one’s own interests. When I think ethically I become just one being,with needs and desires of my own, certainly, but living among others who alsohave needs and desires”.
Peter Singer (1995: 174). Immanuel Kant’s ethicaltheories are built on the premise of duty and moral standards. It is the dutyof an individual to exhibit good morals and behave according to theexpectations of the society. Furthermore Kant’s theories distinguishes betweenwhat is good and bad (Timmermann, 2007, p. 167). Individuals have the decision to make choicesthat are good to uphold the moral standards. Another important concept inKant’s theory is based on the goodwill of an individual.
This is what makes an individual make adecision that is good or bad. The consequence of an act is not brought intoperspective, but the will or the motive behind the action is what matters. This theory can therefore beapplied in the modern policing practices to ensure that police officersfunction better by providing better services to the people (Timmermann, 2007,p. 167). Police will be able to makeappropriate decisions before taking an action to remedy a situation. Police ethics can thus be perceived as asystematic and continuous reflection on values and norms, or the systematicreflection on morality. Kolthoff posits that police ethicsare important because: “Given the natureand far-reaching effects of police tasks and power, integrity in public serviceis even more important for the police, who derive their social legitimacy fromcitizen confidence. That is, both the citizenry and competent authorities in ademocracy must be able to place their confidence and trust in the integrity ofthe police system, which, as the body charged with maintaining the law, is oneof the most important institutions for protecting the integrity of governance,business, and the community” (Kolthoff, 2007, p.
46).LaFollette, (2002) describes arethree identifiable branches in the study of ethics:Metaethics, is concerned primarily with themeaning of ethical judgements, and seeks to understand the nature of ethicalproperties, statements, attitudes, and judgements and how they may be supportedor defended. A meta-ethical theory, does not attempt to evaluate specificchoices as being better, worse, good, bad or evil; rather it tries to definethe essential meaning and nature of the problem being discussed. Some theoristsargue that a metaphysical account of morality is necessary for the properevaluation of actual moral theories and for making practical moral decisions;others reason from opposite premises and suggest that we must impart ideas ofmoral intuition onto proper action before we can give a proper account ofmorality’s metaphysics Applied Ethics is concerned with the analysis ofparticular moral issues in private and public life, a discipline of philosophythat attempts to apply ethical theory to real-life situations.
Applied Ethics is much more ready to includethe insights of psychology, sociology and other relevant areas ofknowledge in its deliberations. It is used in determining public policy. Normative ethics, is the study of ethical action. It is the branch of philosophical ethicsthat investigates the set of questions that arise when considering how thingsshould or ought to be, how to value them, which things are good or bad, andwhich actions are right or wrong. It attempts to develop a set of rulesgoverning human conduct, or a set of norms for action. Normative ethicaltheories are usually split into three main categories: Consequentialism,Deontology and Virtue Ethics:According to Neyroud, therelationship between ethics and the purpose of the organisation is critical toany understanding of the ethical challenges in policing (Neyroud 2006),therefore three branches of ethics can help police officers understand howtheir judgments concerning discretion, force, and due process will be evaluatedby political, legal, and social institutions. Policing is often considered acareer that is wrought with many ethical and moral complexities, creating alandscape filled with many “grey” areas (Neyroud and Beckley 2001).
The studyof police ethics is especially important in light of the functions and dutiesof the police. Police officers act as agents of formal social control, givingthem the power to exert more influence and control on the lives of other people(Walker, 1993). They use the law among a number of other resources tofacilitate the restoration of order and to impose symbolic justice. As aprofession, policing affords one the opportunity to act with little supervisionfrom others, yielding a significant amount of latitude in their decision-makingprocess.
Police work often requires officers to make split-second decisions aspart of their daily functions. When in difficult situations, it’s essential tohave a solid moral compass governed by a strong understanding of ethicalprinciples. Police decisions can affect life, liberty, and property, and asguardians of the interests of the public, police must maintain high standardsof integrity. By law, police are given the power to deprive citizens of theirfreedom by arresting them and the right to use force in the performance oftheir policing function, including lethal force in certain situations. Thepolice are therefore given great authority under the law, and that authority isto be employed ideally in enforcing the law and protecting the public. Ethical policing relies on a comprehensive integrated and dynamic ethicalframework of decision-making at strategic, operational and tactical levelswhich is flexible and balanced enough to assist in converting declaratorysymbolism into real life ethical judgements. Discretion in law enforcement, andespecially within policing, is critical to both the functioning of the policeand necessary for efficiency in the criminal justice system.
When the policeperform their official duties, there is a certain level of discretion they mustuse. Depicted in Figure 1, The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO)developed six basic legal principles in order to guide discretion and promotepolice compliance particularly with human rights. There has however been aconstant dilemma between enforcing the law to the latter and/or to the spiritof the law. When in training, police officers are staged with differentpossible scenarios that they may encounter when they are out on duty. However,the situations presented are not exhaustive and no set of regulations canaddress every possible circumstance, so police officers are given discretion todecide which laws will be enforced, as well as when, where, and how. The lawsdon’t cover all aspects and thus there are always new laws being put in placeallowing for the police officers to use discretion in the meantime.
There arealso situations in which the law is ambiguous and the police officer willdisregard the various interpretations of the law and employ his or herdiscretion in arriving at a decision (Rivera, 2006), therefore, individual andinstitutional ethics become critical. Police discretion is usually put to usewhen the officers are presented with many options to come up with one choicethey deem necessary depending on the situation at hand. Philosophers RonaldDworkin and H.L.A. Hart have referred to discretion as “the hole in the doughnut” (Dworkin, 1978, p.
31). Discretion isthe void in the middle of a ring consisting of policies and procedures.However, police are not always supposed to exercise discretion. In someinstances, the law and departmental policies do limit or eliminate thediscretion altogether. Discretion is usually bound by certain norms includingprofessional, legal, social, and moral norms (Scott, 2009).There are a number of advantages regardingpolice discretion in the fact that it allows the officer to humanely treatpeople, giving them a second chance, and improving on the public perception ofthe police.
If the police were to follow the laws to the latter, they will beperceived to be unfair by the society and hence rejected (Rivera, 2006) Discretioncan also be said to promote autonomy in the sense that the cops and thecommunity at large are not enslaved by the written rules it promotes realisticgoals and takes into account the fact that the police are presented with uniquesituations on the ground that requires personal judgment depending on thesituation. Fyfe (1996: 183) contends that police ought to enjoy some degree ofdiscretion, but like discretion in any profession, it can be justified only toachieve a broadly agreed-upon purpose; in the case of the police, this purposeis often hard to define. Some commentators argue that police discretion shouldbe limited so that, for example, the rules and regulations of the police andethical standards circumscribe that discretion. Reiman argues even moreradically that “police discretion has no rightful place in a free society” (Reiman1996: 80). Others have argued that during discretion, Police don’t have theslightest idea about what could be the consequences of their action and thatdiscretion is a potential tool for abuse that might result into potentialneedless death and/or injury (Peak, 2009). Many argue that if police arepermitted wide discretion, a high level of accountability should match it, sothat processes and machinery exist to investigate complaints of misconduct orabuse of discretion. REF Because of thediscretionary mistakes that are inevitably made by officers, attempts have beenmade to control operational decision making among police officers (Butterfield,Edwards, and Woodall, 2005). Lipsky (1980) notes that discretion has beencurtailed in regards to domestic assaults where police officers are encouragedto charge offenders rather than informally resolve the situation.
The issue ofpolice discretion has become an important public concern, for example, LordScarman’s report on the 1981 riots in Brixton emphasized that “the exercise of discretion lies at theheart of the policing function.”‘ The Scarman report led to a numberof changes in policing throughout England. The issue of police discretioncontinued to be a critical issue during the Miners’ Strike of 1984, as therewere frequent challenges to the manner of police response to miners’ protestactivities. Enduring focus on the nature of police discretion in the Englishcriminal justice system was assured by the enactment of the Police and CriminalEvidence Act 1984.
The Act not only introduced new laws and procedures to dealwith criminal activities, but it established a system of greater policeaccountability to achieve the proper balance between the investigative needs ofthe police and the rights of citizens.While police discretion is seen asinevitable and essential, there remains an underlying fear that its exercisemay lead to arbitrary, corrupt or unethical behaviour. An officer’s personal attributes and culturalbackground may influence how they view certain crimes. Racist officers mightabuse the discretion aspect and make arrests on the basis of ethnic background.The location of the crime also influences the police decision with crimescommitted in what has been classified as hot spots likely to result in arrests.Arrests are most likely to happen in a more open society or a racially mixedsociety since there is a high chance of crime based on the racial, economicdifferences, and social disorder (Petheram, 2009). In response legislative changes were introducedwith the aim of regulating police behaviour with the most recent being on the15 July 2014 the College of Policing launched a ‘Code of Ethics’ which set outnine policing principles and ten standards of professional behaviour was laidas a code of practice before Parliament as part of the Anti-Social Behaviour,Crime and Policing Act 2014. The Code of Ethics sets out the principles andstandards of behaviour that will promote, reinforce and support the higheststandards from everyone who works in policing in England and Wales Additionallythe code is designed to guide decision making for everyone in policing.
Combined with the standards of professional behaviour, the code will encourageofficers and staff to challenge those who fall short of the standards expected.The principles set out in this Code of Ethics originate from the ‘Principles ofPublic Life’ published by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 1995, asthese continue to reflect public expectations. The Code includes the principlesof ‘fairness’ and ‘respect’ as research has shown these to be crucial tomaintaining and enhancing public confidence in policing. Policeethics and a code of conduct were developed in response to corruption inpolicing, as well as to address police function and service in the areas offairness, justice, and rightness and wrongness in the performance of duty. Doing the right thing in policing means doingyour duty, doing what you are obligated to do. Those who serve as PoliceOfficers must be held to a higher moral standard than the general public(Delattre 1996) and have a moral, ethical and a legal duty to do so.
Given thesignificance of police discretion for the allocation of justice it is crucialto understand what determines routine choices officers make. Part of the answeris to be in an understanding of the ethical beliefs and moral values thatofficers hold towards their job, the law and the events and people theyconfront on the street, Utilitarianism is a concept linked to the theory ofethics which is often used to provide answers to basic questions such as how tolive or what to do. Utilitarianism holds that that action which is morallycorrect is the one which produces the greatest good for the greatest number ofpeople. In its simplest form, utilitarianism states that in any situation wherethere is a moral choice, the right thing to do is that which is likely toproduce the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people or the leastharm to the world as a whole. Therefore, everyone ought to obey the laws thatensure the balance between the good for the individual and for the society as awhole (Rhodes, 1986; Clark, 2000).Kant, when speaking of duty, refers to the”categorical imperative” – a command that tells us what we ought to do, orshould do. Morality involves both fairness and equity. A similar commonperspective of morality exists in our society and proposes that one “do untoothers only as you would have them do unto you” (the Golden Rule).
According toTaoism, moral reasoning is the product of the mind that draws distinctions betweenwhat is right and wrong, good and bad, just and unjust. Police officers areexpected to be “autonomous moral agents,” persons who can make moral decisionson the basis of personal values (ethics), independent of what other people maybelieve. Through training they are expected to hold those values to be universallytrue of their