Not all officers who consider themselves ethical answer these questions the same either. That’s understandable. While courts have authorized police to use deception to detect, investigate and apprehend criminals, lying is a bit of an ethical dilemma.
Plus, courts disagree on what deception is permissible. [See web links below to Training Cops to Lie and If Courts Clash on Police Deception.] If cops and the courts don’t agree, training in this ethical minefield with its serious potential consequences for officers, cases and communities is imperative.
There are two other reasons law enforcement ethics training is necessary.
Police work is high-risk.
Because of the physical dangers of police work, scenario-based training is critical to keeping officers safe. The same is true of the moral dangers specific to policing. They include:
- High stakes -- life, death, liberty, home invasions, deprivation of property, constitutional rights and justice.
- Tremendous power -- police are given badges, weapons and license to do things that would be illegal for anyone else to do.
- Enormous discretion -- police have broad discretion in stop, arrest and use of force decisions; in tactics of investigations and interrogations.
- Little direct supervision -- very few departments can afford two officers to every patrol car.
- Decisions must often be made under stress and time pressures. There is often little time for reflection.
High stakes + tremendous power + enormous discretion + little supervision + stress + little time to think = great temptation and potential for confusion and mistakes.
These factors can be present for tactical and investigative decisions many of which have a significant ethical component. As scenario-based training understands, practicing such decisions ahead of time under simulated conditions can be of significant benefit.
Police are held to a higher standard.
Unlike what the first commenter above suggested, what Mom or Dad taught might not be enough. As the last comment noted, [w]hile someone has a good moral background, he may not have a firm grasp on the ethics of his profession, particularly if he’s new to the field.
The Law Enforcement Code of Ethics recognizes this. But recruits need to be taught and officers sometimes need to be reminded of requirements like:
“I will keep my private life unsullied as an example to all, maintain courageous calm in the face of danger, scorn or ridicule; develop self-restraint, and be constantly mindful of the welfare of others.”
Policing is a choice to live by an exacting standard 24/7 -- on the job, which is uniquely morally dangerous, and off. Not many jobs are so demanding.
Moreover, police are head to higher standard tactically. For example, use of force decisions involve an ethical component. But the self-restraint officers are expected to develop is very different than that expected of private citizens not specially trained.
If I present a threat to you such that you decide you need to respond by firing your weapon, you have likely been trained to:
- Fire two shots to the center of mass and one to the head.
- Then stop and assess the threat.
- If the threat has been stopped and you can do so safely, try to keep me alive until an ambulance arrives.
I’ve received no such training. If I decide to use my personal protection against a threat, I’m emptying the magazine into that threat. In my adrenalized state, I may speed strip and load two more magazines and empty them. Assuming I’m justified in using deadly force, am I unethical?
The difference between us is two-fold. One, I’ll only be using force to protect myself or a loved one. I haven’t signed up to protect strangers while respecting the constitutional rights of all – even those who would do me harm.
Two, law enforcement needs to be, and is, trained in the ethical and tactical components required of a noble, specialized, demanding profession. Mom and Dad likely didn’t cover all that.
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