Sample Research Paper on Police Ethics and Integrity

Recent research has proven that law enforcers are not practicing the expected ethics while handling crime, especially the police; thus there has been a public outcry regarding the behavior of law enforcers while on duty , this is because of the increasing cases of police abuse of power in the name of enforcing the law which according to media coverage that we receive on daily basis something has to be done to sustain a mutual understanding between the police and the community since the latter is losing trust to the former and hence creating a bad relationship between the two parties. If the police are given the liberty to control themselves, then definitely they will have to abuse the power at their disposal and eventually the relationship between the law enforcers and the community will continue to deteriorate. Senior officers in the law enforcement sector are well aware of police misconduct but unfortunately they punish them secretly leaving the society unsatisfied and in dire need of justice and integrity in the entire law enforcement sector (Nelson, 2001).

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The community believes that the police as law enforcers lack integrity, are corrupt, and practice a strange unethical behavior. Even though many commissions have been set to investigate this behavior, their recommendations have not been fully implemented. Ethics is a process of training as well as advising individuals or groups after they commit an unaccepted act that leads to a public outcry; even though both the students and the instructors strongly believe in ethical lessons they rarely discuss the results in public and this waters down the expected significance of the tutorials and thus it becomes only a protocol to follow. Corruption in the police force is observed as a normal habit and hence the law enforcers are very ignorant of this habit and are barely aware of the consequences since they lack a deeper understanding of the and further they become unaware that they are demeaning their responsibility as well as their integrity and credibility (DeLattre, 2000).

So as to clearly understand how a responsible honest officer integrates into a corrupt and unreliable officer we need to discuss this procedure step by step. Law enforcement organizations are capable of assisting their members to overcome the various ethical challenges that they encounter in their line of duty but however, the senior officers will have to change the strategies which they implement in the process of analyzing and disseminating information across their departments. Law enforcement officers live in a dynamic environment that is constantly changing where new issues engage themselves in a variety of ethical conflicts. This is because they are not always prepared to overcome the risks that accompany these new challenges hence they end up making the wrong decisions and eventually taking the wrong action. Most of them are physically armed to combat crime but they always forget that they lack mental knowledge which they badly need since a mental decision can handle unexpected sudden occurrence which requires little or no time to think of what action to take (Cooper, 2006).

If only law enforcers are fully prepared mentally, many blames and ethical misconducts which they commit can be minimized if not totally eradicated. Understanding clearly the significance of being morally and mentally prepared can eventually improve the ethical perspective of law enforcers in addition to the fact that this will indirectly instill self-esteem, self-control, and responsibility among themselves hence this will facilitate a healthy relationship between the police force and the community. Sometimes the need for integrity is not valued and eventually the officers become compromised and later they view ethical norms and training as a useless issue that wastes a lot of time with no tangible fruits. Thus, these officers need to be trained on how to forecast risks, utilize the available resources, and neutralize the risk accordingly without creating any undesired incident that can tarnish their image. To achieve this, law enforcers have to be taught about the importance of ethical integrity while handling delicate issues. Understanding ethical integrity reduces conflicts with the community and further it increases the production and manpower per officer (Nelson, 2001).

Some police officers tend to believe that by being allocated duties, they are being victimized but this happens in a span of time. According to a recent study, newly appointed officers will begin their duties with enthusiasms and motivation, but after some time they come to realize the power at their disposal and the role they play in the community and this eventually makes them think that they are being victimized and overworked thus they become aggressive and brutal. Further, they come to be aware of the risks they are exposed to in addition to the orders they are under hence they start hating the job they once adored thus eventually they become vain, careless, and bitter. Supposing an officer has an absolute control above his own ethical integrity and personal control then the rest can be delegated to the senior officers. Law enforcers who lack self-identity often lose control and become desperate hence expose themselves to high risks due to lack of mental knowledge which is essential for decision making (DeLattre, 2000).

The daily life of a police officer is vulnerable to many challenging risks and this makes him/her view the world as very dangerous and so as to survive, he or she considers that there is an urgent need to make him or herself a superior being. When this idea is coupled with lack of ethical integrity then the officer becomes a rebel to the society and the only trustworthy friend is a fellow policemen. After forming this association, they distance themselves from the community and assume that they are above the law and thus they can do anything to the community but not to their fellow officers and the sense of being victimized doubles and eventually they develop distrust and hate to however tries to control their wrong ideologies unaware that they are lowering their degree of ethical integrity and this is their first step to moral degradation. The isolation further worsens their perspective of being victimized and due to group influence many other officers join the group and perhaps nobody can assist the other and they form a clique of sycophants who will listen very little to anyone (DeLattre, 2000).

After the officers feel that they are being exploited and victimized they start behaving strangely and they justify some actions that which on normal basis they couldn’t have hence this increases the already existing conflict between them and the community as the media continues to increase this gap by either giving the correct information or exaggerating it. The officers will feel good if they omit duties they are responsible for and this makes them proud, they increase their corruptness and reduce moral understanding and at the end of the day this lowers their productivity and creates deviance on equal mandates since fellow officers are undergoing the same process there is no problem among themselves hence peer socialization becomes a fundamental issue more than the professional duties delegated to them, further a strong bond develops among them and you may find that an officer cant report another officer’s mistakes and the trend continues (Cooper, 2006).

Once the law enforcement officers are used to absconding duties the next step is not a difficult one to take since after omitting their duties and they go unpunished it becomes a routine and instead of omitting duties only, they further violate administrative duties by breaking some small rules which seem to the as inconsequential hence they term it as “real police work”. This eventually trickles down to a progressive continuum and the acts of administrative commission which include:

  • Trafficking weapons
  • Drug abuse
  • Drinking on duty
  • Sexual abuse while on duty
  • Failure to report criminal cases
  • Misuse of fire arms among others

The above acts are not committed secretly they are done openly before the eyes of the community and without fear since the only risk which the officers expose themselves to is only departmental sanctions and for many of the officers this is the journey towards the continuum of compromise. The acts of omission and acts of commission are very important in terms of an individual’s integrity and accountability in the law enforcement sector since when they are unearthed by the community they create a serious community mistrust and further they deteriorate the relationship between the police and the community but fortunately for the law enforcers they are not in a big risk of prosecution. The originally honest and hardworking highly motivated officers become morons and they continue to rationalize their behaviors according to their will (Nelson, 2001).

Unaware, the police continue to develop many characteristics which advance day after day. The next step is criminal acts of commission and this is not different from the previous acts of commission and acts of omission for this entails the fact that any evidence that is of no use to the law officers is eliminated instead of being turned in. overtime pay roll is not available and the required police equipment is purchased with resources solicited from drug dealers for the protection and other petty offenders and this rationalizes the law enforcement system. Some seized weapons which are not surrendered to the relevant department will be used to kill an innocent civilian or worse still a cop. The stealing and misuse of seized items is a major issue that the society is very much concerned about since this is taken as not a crime by the officers for there is no real victim and nobody is at a risk of harm and this puts loyalty against integrity and further it facilitates criminal activities which eventually become conspiracies but it does not depend on whether the other officers are involved actively and they remain loyal and they accept what eventually takes place. In addition, the risks are beyond suspension or reprimands. The initial dedicated professional law enforcers fail to realize where and when their behavior went wrong as they meet the truth of criminal devastation and prosecution. The law enforcers who reach this final stage did not change suddenly but this they underwent the procedure that is described above (DeLattre, 2000).

Some officers will develop a real sense of victimization and a severe resentment of their seniors who control their jobs and eventually this leads to a sense of entitlement which is another issue that makes the officers think that they are special and they deserve to stay together and be given special treatment. For instance, an officer who is off-duty may violate traffic rules and create a lot of inconveniences by overlapping other vehicles for he feels that he is above the law and he is not liable to any punishment thus when other drivers see this they are unhappy because they are being punished for the same errors. This fact of entitlement gives liberty to both on duty and off duty law enforcers to believe that many of these rules are not applicable to them. The on duty officers will give the off duty officers the opportunity to break these rules, something they refer as “Professional courtesy”. The laws enforcers are not sure whether they are doing the right thing or they should do the right thing and the only solution to this specific issue is create an environment where the officers are accountable of their acts in both the organization and as a person (Cooper, 2006).

Most of the officers always want to be seen as very loyal and as an officer of integrity but unfortunately there is a crisis of victimization in addition to over-identification there is a collision of loyalty and integrity (Mollen Commission, 1994). In this case, supposing an officer commits an offence and another officer is called to be questioned about the offence internally he or she will eventually lie and in many cases this will be considered as a minor issue. When this happens then it clearly means that the officer has exchanged his/her integrity with the loyalty of the officer who had committed the offence. However, most law enforcement agencies in many countries will always term their officers as innocent law enforcers who are lying in an attempt to protect their fellow officers thus eventually the discipline of the officers deteriorates and the organization becomes a mess and since the community is aware of this; then there occurs a conflict (Nelson, 2001).

Several major United States cities had gone through several serious scandals which involved high degrees of corruption and misuse of power through the use of excessive force. During the early 1970s, Patrick Murphy-a police Commissioner tried to hold senior officers accountable the violation of human rights by the junior officers under their supervision and this led to the formation of the Knapp Commission in 1972 but unfortunately the recommendations of this commission which were on the process of being implemented ceased in 1973 after the tenure of Murphy was over. From then onwards the police officers returned to their normal routine of intimidating and harassing witnesses and innocent civilians (Barter, 1978).

The Knapp Commission started investigations about allegations of corrupt police officials in the New York Police Department in 1970. There were allegations that the police were using excessive force and further they were accepting bribes from criminals. Whistleblowers Serpico and Durk gave satisfactory evidence of police extortion and brutality before the commission and this led to several recommendations that were eventually made by the commission. Serpico testified before the Knapp Commission in both October and December, 1971. After his years of frustration in the police force, he gave an account on how his fellow officers were corrupt and brutal. He clearly expressed his frustration and anxiety that he had experienced under his superiors in an effort to fight and report corruption since a sincere and a honest officer was always afraid of the corrupt officers in the police force even though it should have been the other way round. Frank Serpico a unique officer since he testified openly about the cartels that used to operate within the New York Police Department (Braziller, 1972).

The Knapp Commission issued its final report in 1972 and the commission had discovered rampant corruption among the New York City Police Department and it came out with the following recommendations:

  • The actions of the subordinates should be held accountable to their respective commanders.
  • There should be a periodic file from the commanders that gave reports on the key areas that were suspected to breed corruption.
  • In all the precincts, there should be an Internal Affairs Division.
  • Every precinct should contain undercover informants.
  • The selection, training, and screening of officers should be improved.
  • The whole police force should be subject to changes.

Further the Knapp Commission identified two types of corrupt officers namely: “Grass Eaters” and “Meat Eaters”. The former was described as the officers who accepted small bribes of less than twenty dollars from small timers like toe-truck operators and they could even take a bribe of five dollars. From the commission it was evident that ‘grass eating’ was a common practice that showed loyalty so that officers could get some incentives like side jobs and the only method of preventing this type of corruption was either sacking or transferring veteran officers who were recruiting the new officers into the habit since new officers new nothing and were not ready to ‘eat grass’. For the “Meat eaters” the story was different as these were big timers who thoroughly searched for opportunities that would bring back big money. They used to raid brothels, threaten pimps as well as drug traffickers so that they could buy their freedom and if they didn’t produce the money then the alternative was dearer so eventually they had no alternative other than bribing the officers with big money and further this developed into a routine (Braziller, 1972).

The use of excessive force was witnessed at Tompkins Square Park in 1988 as the police officers tried to control protesters. This happened after the protesters threw stones and other crude weapons at the mounted police cars, the police reacted by beating anyone who was nearby regardless of whether he/she was protesting or not, including patrons who were drinking in nearby restaurants. This event was captured on video tape and police officials acknowledged that this act was not recommendable but however even though, approximated 120 cases were filed against the officers; the CCRB police department had a big challenge for it was met by absolute silence. Eventually, only seventeen cases were presented and out of the 17 cases only thirteen were disciplined (Nelson, 2001).

Most of the issues that led to the formation of the Knapp Commission resurfaced again in the year 1990 when police officers were again caught trafficking drugs and over-beating suspects. To investigate these allegations, Mayor David Dinkins formed a commission where Judge Milton Mollen was the head. The hearings were conducted in 1993-94 and many of the officers who presented evidence admitted that the police had become a vigilante group which was financially oriented. Officer Bernie Cawley admitted that he had to beat people regardless of whether they were suspects or not for he had to show the public that he was in charge and if anybody complained he would tell them to go and file a case against him to see what action will be take for he was sure that there was none (Paul, 2002).

The police have to be accountable of their own actions but they often neglect this responsibility. Many officers will seize guns and other weapons from criminals which they don’t hand over to the relevant authorities. These weapons are either sold to criminals or planted to the same criminals if there occurs a suspicious shooting which may lack evidence of whether the suspected criminal was armed or not. The Mollen Commission published a report that had substantial evidence that the law enforcers lacked subjective accountability; it also proved beyond any reasonable doubt that due to lack of this responsibility there was a strong relationship between corruption and brutality and hence the commission developed strategies that were geared at minimizing both issues. Due to lack of subjective responsibility, the police were using excessive force to intimidate and frustrate suspects so as to cover their corrupt deeds for the most brutal officers lacked subjective accountability and further they were not responsible. According to the corrupt officers brutality was a tool that they used to show who was in charge and to them this was an issue that the administration had to deeper research on and implement the necessary steps to limit this behavior. This could be achieved through ethical training and punishment of the officers who were not accountable of their own actions. (Cooper, 2006).

The results of this commission described the source of the bad relationship between the residents and police officers. The commission learnt from the officers that they used to pour ammonia on the face of detainees in police cells as a means of torture so as to solicit information. Another police officer agreed that he had engineered an escape plan for drug dealers so that they can escape from the cells for a certain fee. Mollen also learnt that police officers used to raid brothels in full uniform and chase the customers after terrorizing and stealing from them and further they would rape the women whom they found in the brothels. According to Mollen “…brutality, regardless of the motive, serves as a right of passage to other forms of corruption and misconduct. Some officers told us that brutality was how they crossed the line toward abandoning their integrity…” the police officers view brutality as a rite of passage in the police force, not just the simple act of beating and the other new officers who join the force direct from training soon adapt this behavior or even initiate other worse gross misconducts. Officers Cawley and Dowd gave an account of how they engaged in more that a thousand acts of brutality yet nobody-even the fellow officers- dared file a complaint on them. The report also noted that even though it is important to clearly understand the level of brutality we need also to discover the extend of brutality tolerance in the police force since it also affects the performance of the supervisors for the supervisors strongly believe that there nothing wrong with using a little force simply because they have the perception that this is the only means that can be used to reduce crime (Paul, 2002).

The internal review is also much corrupted and it does not assist in identification of problems and thus they continue to develop unnoticed, despite the fact that several officers have been found guilty of various criminal activities, their personal files showed that they had met the required discipline standards and hence there was no need for further investigation. Many of the officers who were found guilty of lying were not disciplined and were trained by their seniors on how to further lie in court to avoid punishments. The then police commissioner William Bratton recommended the Mollen commission and proposed that if the officers behaved well he will absolutely offer support but if they did not change their bad behaviors he will automatically not support them. Walter Mack, the then civilian deputy commissioner who was responsible for internal affairs supported the policy of creating an anti-brutality unit which would be operating 24 hours so as to look into the cases of brutality in the police force promptly and also he took a serious step to reduce police perjury but unfortunately he was forcibly removed from the department in 1995(Nelson, 2001).

The Mollen Commission also gave safer methods that were supposed to be implemented in the process of recruiting, integrity training, and proper supervision that have already been implemented but the police unions are against the strict disciplinary measures that the commission proposed also the unions are against the preferred changes that were supposed to be implemented in the union so as to improve the response to brutality and corruption in the police force and increase the level of integrity of the police officers (Nelson, 2001).

The issue of police integrity, unethical behavior and corruption in the police force is not a new issue. The Mollen, Knapp, Christopher and other commissions issued reports that recommended corrective behavior in the police force but most of these suggestions and recommendations have not been implemented even today and hence there has been little or no change at all in the police force. Cases of brutality and corruption have been and are continuing to increase and thus there has been no significant change within the law enforcement sector in the United States as well as across the world. As departments continue in number in different sectors law enforcement the number of the expected ethical norms continue to increase and thus the call for increased training but this has not been the case since information has not been internalized nor has it been accepted by the public (Paul, 2002).

To many officers, ethics training is observed as an issue that is influenced by politics and the media has been against the police force by blowing some cases out of proportion. The significant ethical changes that are required in the police force have been conceptualized and thus there is the need for integration of these changes in law enforcement organizations. If all the recommended changes will not be integrated, there is a big doubt that any useful information will be agreed upon and internalized in the lives police officers as well as their organizations in the search of meaningful changes (Paul, 2002).

The Mollen Commission concluded that corruption in the police force originated from the top brass down to commanders and supervisors. There was lack of subjective accountability, for the supervisors gave orders that were not accountable to them. The seniors had the power to authorize corrupt deals where the junior officers had immunity and thus they were protected from any sort of punishment. The supervisors and the commanders do not play their full role as administrators, thus the corruption and brutality of today is characterized by abuse of authority, intense brutality, pure theft and open police criminality. The Mollen Commission also observed that due to lack of subjective responsibility; many police offences go unpunished and for those found guilty of breaking the law enforcement operational rules are not punished and many a times they go scot-free (Cooper, 2006).

Most of the officers are ill-prepared to encounter the challenges that accompany their work thus they are ignorant and are barely aware of the existence of continuum of compromise and thus they can allow minor errors to penetrate into the system hence eventually they develop and become serious problems with consequential regrets but this progress is easily predictable and can be avoided in advance thus the degree of accountability has to be improved. The time and resources that can be spent on training the officers is cheaper than the one that is spent on dealing with criminals in addition to the fact that investigative commissions consume a lot of resources that can be utilized in educating the officers as well as creating a good relationship between the law enforcement officers and the community (Cooper, 2006).

Educating and training the officers on the issue concerning what they do and what they don’t do is fundamental in the process of improving their integrity as well as their relation with the community for it improves their ethical understanding of the community. Various means have to be implemented since this will enable the law enforcement officers to understand the significance of improving their integrity as well as reducing brutality and lack of accountability. An individual policeman should have both subjective and objective accountabilities. This will enable him/her to improve his/her approach towards various issues in the line of duty. The supervisors need identify minor crimes committed by the officers under their jurisdiction so as to prevent major violations which may result from the minor ones. (Cooper, 2006).

Supervisors need to be role models such that their junior officers will copy what they do but not what they say since unethical behavior of the supervisors plays an important role in training unethical behavior to the junior officers under their command. For instance, if a senior officer is required to attend a very important official meeting and instead he/she attends to his business interests then it mean that a junior officer will be capable of absconding duty and both of them will have violated the rules and regulations of the work but none will be disciplined so to repeat the mistake will not be an issue. Any ethical training is useless as long as the officers are practicing what should not be practiced but the tradition of law enforcement institutions rationalizes this kind of behavior thus teaching them the opposite of what they are doing will be nothing but just mere talk without implementation and it will have no effect on the behavior of the officers thus this will be a waste of resources and time (DeLattre, 2000).

The administration should ensure that ethical training should not be limited to the junior officers only but should be spread in the whole organization so as to improve the level of personal commitment, integrity and professionalism. The law enforcement administrators have to approach issues related to integrity and ethics from a different perspective, so as to regain and maintain public trust and confidence. An honest organization has to put into consideration the issue of preventing minor mistakes so as to avoid the major ones since the bigger the error the larger the consequence and this will entirely depend on the discipline of the senior officers who are the administrators of the entire law enforcement sector (Cooper, 2006).

The media should also avoid giving the public false information as this irritates the officers where they seek revenge from the public regardless of whether an individual is on the wrong or not. Not all officers are corrupt and brutal it is only a section of the police force that is corrupt and brutal, the administration should promote the efficient and non-corrupt officers so as to boost their self-esteem and motivate them, in addition to being giving them incentives and this will be a good example to the already corrupt officers to change for the better and at the end of the day this will repair the bad reputation of the same officers (Paul, 2002).


Braziller, G. (1972). The Knapp Commission Report on Police Corruption. New York: George Braziller.

Barter, T. (1978). An Empirical Study of Police Deviance Other Than Corruption. Journal of Police Science Administration. 6(3): 264-72).

DeLattre, E. (2000). Character and Cops: Ethics in Policing. Washington DC: AEI Press.

Barker, T & Carter, D. (1994). Police Deviance. Cincinnati: Anderson.

Paul, G. (2002). A Report on Mollen Commission. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Cooper, T. (2006). The Responsible Administrator: An Approach to Ethics for the Administrative role. 5th ed. Josey-Bass Publishers.

Nelson, J. (2001). Police Brutality: An Anthology. W. W. Norton and Company.



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