Criminal justice, as a culture, is unique. It is based on the thought that people are rational and are able to choose actions freely. If the chosen actions go against standards or laws, society is just in using punishment as a consequence. Police responsibilities increase as social issues intensify and become more complex. Society is very irrational, yet police are required to maintain a positive balance and to address issues that others will not. Teamwork from politicians, legal institutions, the courts, and society are required for law enforcement officials to work successfully, though these very relationships can create pressure for law enforcement. In the times of greatest dissension, police are given the authority and technology to regulate matters, yet they are commonly left to their own devices because those in power were at a loss as to how to resolve the situations. This is just one of the many contradictions involved in policing. Other contradictions include fighting crime to maintain peace, combating unfamiliar and evolving crimes (e.g., methamphetamine labs, computer crimes), and serving society while selectively choosing who to reprimand—for example, when three cars are speeding, which should get pulled over? Criminal justice faces issues that directly impact the nature of the profession including its relationship to law, politics, and economics; the nature of punishment coupled with the idea of equality and consistency; and the balance of criminal and justice factors in a fair way, regardless of the amount of power and discretion provided.
Law enforcement has the duty to uphold democracy. Encarta defines democracy as “the free and equal right of every person to participate in a system of government, often practiced by electing representatives of the people by the majority of the people” and “the control of an organization by its members, who have a free and equal right to participate in decision-making processes” (Encarta World English Dictionary). When society is fair and impartial in judgment, justice is done, and society receives the proper distribution of liberties, powers, opportunities, and wealth required to achieve morality according to Rawls (1971). Democracies contain contradictions similar to those mentioned for policing. Some may use ambiguity as a justification for unethical behavior; however, people should instead attempt to find rational solutions to problems by using the core values of democracy. Human worth, equal opportunity, individualism, access to public communication, access to relevant and accurate information regarding public issues, freedom of choice, acceptance of opposition, honesty in presenting values associated with policies and problems, governmental accountability, honesty in sharing motives and consequences, accuracy, and fairness in providing evidence, and ends not primarily justifying the means encompass the standards of democracy in which society can rely. Democracy in ethics occurs when people live freely despite differences in ideas, cultures, and situational responses. Although police agencies aim for effectiveness in following standards, they must also act fairly and not abuse the power entrusted in them. Concerns about the nature of police power focus on the bigger picture; a person who is arrested for a crime of any magnitude could confront serious, long-term consequences based on the decisions of officers. Consequences may include something as straightforward as a person losing dignity by having a mug shot taken to more severe repercussions such as not being able to secure employment because of a tarnished record stemming from an arrest. The decision to arrest a person is permanent; police have the power of discretionary procedures known only by police. In this process, the potential for biased judgments occurs while undisclosed to society. Another issue is the paradox of policing; police are responsible for protecting the freedoms of individuals; however, the first step officers taken when detaining an individual is to strip them of those freedoms. Decisions are made for the individual by officers, and although the goal is to follow proper procedure, officers do have discretion, which can influence
Figure 4.1 Ethics is about more than just right or wrong.
how procedures are applied in various situations. Police uphold democracy through ethics, professionalism, and courage.
The professional culture of law enforcement includes some common themes. During a training session, police officers were asked to write a one- sentence code of ethics; the five most common themes were legality, service, honesty/integrity, loyalty, and the Golden Rule (Braswell et al., 2008). These themes encompass the top dilemmas faced by police. The first dilemma, discretion, is the power to make a choice in particularly difficult situations. This is most important when situations have no good solution and no specific law that pertains. Discretion is a factor when faced with gray area, when situations are not necessarily right or wrong as shown in Figure 4.1. The black and white or right and wrong decisions tend to be more straightforward. When considering the gray area, the best choice is a little less clear as one needs to decide what is more or less right or more or less wrong in those particular situations.
The second dilemma is duty; this becomes a problem when the official duty of an officer is in question in certain situations or the proper action is not fully applicable to the situation. Honesty deals with self-protection, enticements, and the need to affect an arrest. It is not uncommon for officers to have access to money or drugs, both of which could possibly compromise honesty. Honesty is also challenged when someone makes a mistake and needs to explain the situational details to superiors. The final dilemma is loyalty, which is related to the wrongdoings of colleagues. In the law enforcement culture, a phenomenon known as the thin blue line exists to protect the fraternity’s behaviors, practices, and activities from the public. The thin blue line strengthens loyalty and the bond between officers; however, it may reduce the amount of exposure and accountability to the public while also creating an environment of tolerating misconduct (Juarez, 2004). Officers facing the common challenges may overcome these with the help of professionalism.
Professionalism is a devotion to duty expressed by people. It is difficult to define because professions are different from occupations; professional is not a constant state, and professionalism may represent a group as opposed to individuals. Professional groups cannot exist without professionals. Professionals are described as maintaining compassion for people and a sense of legality, honesty, and obligation for the service and duty required by the profession. Police define professionalism as authority, loyalty, and demeanor, which is the appearance of good or looking the part. Sociological factors within the police culture that may influence professionalism include the following:
- • Many officers are employed at a young age (18-22 years old), so they may not have familiarity with fair treatment in the workplace.
- • Officers commonly come from lower- to middle-class backgrounds.
- • Training discusses and advocates for democratic ideas but does not effectively demonstrate or reinforce those ideas.
- • A large percentage of officers come from military backgrounds; thus, they are rigid with personal ideas and methods of training others.
It is reassuring that the vast majority of police officers are professional, ethical, and dedicated to the goals of fairness and public service.