For this assignment, you will be asked to research any recent cases where police have been accused, charged, indicted, convicted or acquitted of police brutality. Make sure you provide all of the information requested in your paper. You may also want to refer to the Module Notes (below) or the suggested reading site and review The Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project.
In a 2-4 pages, locate a recent (within the past 3-4 years) case in the United States where a police officer or officers have been accused of police brutality. For this paper, use at least one outside (of your text) source and provide, at a minimum, the following:
• Facts of the case (from your source of information, e.g., newspaper, etc.), including the date and location of the incident
• Were charges filed against the officers? If not, why not?
• If so, what were the results of those charges? Were they indicted, tried, etc.?
• In your opinion, was this the proper and equitable result? In other words, do you agree with the outcome?
with excellent summary
Souryal, S. S. (2015). Ethics in Criminal Justice, In search of the Truth (6th Ed). New York, NY: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.
Research website below
o Chapter 10: Ethics of Criminal Justice Today
o Chapter 11: Ethics and Police
• Ethics of Criminal Justice Today and Ethics and Police
• The goal of quality criminal justice is as ancient as it is universal. For the goal to be achieved, attention must be given to the dictates of two autonomous but commingled concepts—social order and moral order.
• Ethics of Criminal Justice Today
• Social order pertains to a person’s concern (as an individual) for a secure and stable life within an orderly community. Moral order, on the other hand, relates to a person’scollective concern for superior values within the realm of spirituality. In a philosophical sense, the challenge of criminal justice is achieving the proper balance between matters of the world and matters of the soul.
Ethics and Police
Contrary to misguided beliefs, policing is one of the noblest functions in society and most police officers must be considered honest and devoted individuals.
In the United States, the police perform a variety of complex functions. One of the most complex among these functions is problem solving. This is clearly a capacity that depends more on knowledge, judgment, initiative, and restraint than on physical or technological prowess. The controversy between social control and maintaining individual freedom should, therefore, be considered one of the most problematic tasks facing the police in a civilized society.
Central to ethical policing today is the question of discretion. Manning contends that the practice of policing is inherently fraught with contradictions and that rational discretion is impossible. Yet, even if Manning is right, it should be a naturalistic fallacy to argue that because contradictions exist, they ought to continue. Many contradictions in the governance of societies have been resolved by rational means.
There is also the political (yet irrational) assumption that the police should be charged with “fixing all wrongs.” Consequently, they were given a mandate for which they are likely neither mentally prepared nor adequately trained. Occupational stress and managerial pressure can create an obtrusive fog of confusion and despair. As a result, some police practitioners react imprudently, further eroding the police image.
The role of the police in America has been perceived as possessing “something extra,” something that can intimidate citizens. That “something” can be seen in terms of two concerns:
1. those related to the nature of policing
2. those related to the lack of trust
2. The former include casualty, permanence, secrecy, and inadequacy; and the latter, physical fear, anticipatory fear, ghost fear, and escape fear. To minimize the police prerogative to abuse power and to maximize honesty, decency, and civility, the only rational choice is actualizing the soul of police by promoting “street-corner morality.” This can be achieved by educating the police in the areas of intellectual virtue and moral virtue.
3. The intellectual virtue is one that focuses on learning the ethics of democracy. Democratic ethics can be taught in a classroom setting in the same way that other subjects can. The basic tenets of democratic theory assume that people are self-motivated, aware of their own interests, and have enough sense to recognize another person’s interests when such interests are reasonable. The Rodney King case represents a textbook case of the breakdown of democratic ethics.
4. The moral virtue is one that focuses on the ethics of shunning corruption. There is more willingness today to publicly discuss the problem of police corruption. Goldstein defines police corruption as “acts involving the misuse of authority by a police officer in a manner designed to produce personal gain for the officer or for others.” Subjective evidence indicates that police corruption has been with us for a long time. Institutional corruption can be especially immoral because of its fallout of moral degradation and the social tax that society must pay for it.
Two categories of police corruption can be identified: hedonistic corruption for personal gain or comfort, and obligatory corruption, or ignoring the rules for egotistical reasons. Although the ideal of legality assumes the police obligation to tell the truth, in reality, police deception is not uncommon. Police are not likely to take the rules seriously and are encouraged to operate by their own codes, including those that affirm the need for lying whenever the ends justify the means.
5. If corruption is to be shunned, a conscious choice must be made by the individual officer originating from an “occupational concern.” Such a choice also requires a “mental revolution” on the part of all police agencies and practitioners. Police corruption is prevalent in our society today. To see current examples, refer to the Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.. The institute publishes statistical information on this topic. I believe the site is updated daily with reports of police misconduct.
Chapter 10 and chapter 11 below
Ethics of Criminal Justice Today
What Is Being Done and What Can Be Done?
The meaning of life is the most urgent of questions.
The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.
If you have some respect for people as they are, you can be more effective in helping them to become better than they are.
Men must have corrupted nature a little, for they were not born wolves, and they have become wolves.
What you will Learn from this Chapter
To better understand the ethics of criminal justice, you will learn the dual essence of criminal justice—the social order and the moral order. You also will learn another duality that exists in criminal justice—the ideal model and the serviceable model.
Key Terms and Definitions
• Social Order is a cohesive structure designed to produce a secure and stable life within an orderly community.
• Moral Order is a moral structure that can preserve the principles of humanity, fairness, righteousness, and civility.
• Ideal Model is the vision of law and justice in which each case is handled on its merits, and any punishment is commensurate with the crime.
• Serviceable Model is a cynical view of law and justice that sees the administration of justice as mired in arbitrary and irrational decision-making.
The human species is struggling to end its extended infancy. In an essay on ethics, Carolynne Stevens, peering into what she calls “Glimpses on the Horizon,” envisioned the human race as being galaxy-beckoned into a new celestial environment where it will establish itself amid new challenges. Stevens wondered what the human race will have learned in its earthly cradle that is worthy to spread among the stars (Schmalleger & Gustafson, 1981:211). Expanding on Stevens’s “glimpses,” let us imagine that each earthly profession will first have to dispatch a delegation of experts to meet with board members of the Celestial Life Forms (CLF) to account for the professional achievements of which they are most proud. What will the delegation from the American Criminal Justice Association (ACJA) be able to say? What great knowledge has the profession accumulated?
It is doubtful that the delegates will be able to speak about issues such as high crime statistics, intolerable prison conditions, nationwide drug abuse, homeless people sleeping under bridges, gang warfare, and organized crime killings. If asked about the values of criminal justice in America, the delegates will certainly be reluctant to bring up such romantic slogans as “presumption of innocence,” “justice for all,” “due process,” and “equal protection.” In sheepish embarrassment, they most likely will vaunt the material accomplishments of the last 30 years or so. Like children boasting of their precious marbles, they may recount the near-explosive increases in the size of law enforcement agencies that are armed with state-of-the-art weaponry, the proliferation of prisons that are equipped with sophisticated security systems, the ingenious electronic monitoring devices that can keep thousands of probationers and parolees under house arrest, and the burgeoning intelligence technology that can record the movement of each and every citizen at any time. One achievement the delegates will not be able to mention is advances in human wisdom, rationality, and goodness—without which all material accomplishments are meaningless, if not indeed dysfunctional.
During the interview phase, the ACJA delegates will continue to argue incoherently. To force their theses, they will use elaborate official statistics, flowcharts, and research graphics in an attempt to “romance the stones” of earthly justice. But the CLF members will remain grim—having not seen that before among earthly creatures—they are unimpressed.
In the judgment phase, a disappointed CLF board chairperson will most likely admonish the ACJA experts by stating,
Go to the ant, thou slugger; consider her ways, and be wise (Proverbs 6:60).
The memory of the just is blessed: but the name of the wicked shall rot (Proverbs 10:6-7).
Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life (Proverbs 4:23).
Before concluding the celestial visit, the delegates will, of course, be taken on a tour of the celestial tabernacles of justice. They will be shown tabernacles of Plato’s “Perfect Circle,” Aristotle’s “Tripartite Soul,” Aquinas’s “Natural Law,” Butler’s “Benevolence,” Kant’s “Categorical Imperative,” and Rawls’s “Social Justice,” among other ideas and forms they never thought existed. Before the delegates head home, they will be handed a sealed envelope with a message to the ACJA national meeting. The message reads,
The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.
Although the message should not be interpreted in a strictly biblical sense, its meaning to criminal justice practitioners is poignant: The fools are us, ethics is the civic religion of criminal justice, and wisdom, rationality, and righteousness are the forgotten gods.
The Dual Essence of Criminal Justice: The Social Order and the Moral Order
The dream of quality criminal justice is as ancient as it is universal. It emanated from the natural law of humanity and flourished in Europe since the Enlightenment. The truism of criminal justice, however, continues to elude human understanding because of its dual, often contradictory, nature. For the dream to come true, however, attention must be given to the dictates of two autonomous but commingled entities—social order and moral order.
Social order pertains to man’s concern as an individual for a secure and stable life within an orderly community. As such, attention is focused on the social norms and legal sanctions that ensure public safety, economic well-being, and the freedom to pursue happiness, among other contractual relations.
Moral order, on the other hand, relates to man’s collective concern for superior values within the realm of the spiritual. As such, attention is focused on the principles of humanity, fairness, and righteousness, among other standards of civility. Focus on one order to the exclusion of the other fails to fulfill all the needs of a civilized community. For instance, while it is considered antisocial for adults to raise havoc with their neighbors, a policy that involves locking up all unfriendly neighbors is frowned upon.
Understanding the dual nature of criminal justice requires a vision that rises above daily existence and congruously combines man’s need for “social control” with the need for “spiritual transcendence.” In a philosophical sense, the essence of criminal justice is achieving the proper balance between matters of the world and matters of the soul. If the balance is tilted toward the former, concern for humanity suffers, and if it is tilted toward the latter, concern for individuality is diminished. Precisely, the moral of criminal justice should be “How much social control is necessary before a community of citizens is turned into a community of barbarians?” or “How much humanity should accompany punishment in the equation of justice?”
In years past, Plato, Aristotle, Jesus, Bentham, Kant, Beccaria, and Durkheim all agonized over the duality of that relationship. In more modern literature, Quinney, Douglas, Blumberg, Schmal-leger, Braswell, and numerous others continue to grapple with the same dilemma. For instance, Quinney, writing in Providence, asserts that the task of criminal justice is to adjoin both the existential form and the spiritual form into a workable concordance conducive to man’s individual and collective well-being (Quinney, 1980: x).
Within the constructs of this duality (the social and the moral), three philosophical issues dominate the body of criminal justice knowledge: (1) the social reality of crime in terms of its relationship to power, law, politics, economics, class, and racial configurations, among others; (2) the nature of justice in terms of its retributive aspects (for example, proportionality of punishment and consistency of sentences) and its distributive aspects (for example, right to possess goods and entitlement to equal benefits); and (3) the role of social control agencies that are entrusted with balancing the criminal issues and the justice issues in a fair and rational manner (for example, the impartiality of police, fairness of grand juries, and effectiveness of corrections). The first two issues are more germane to the study of criminology and law, respectively. The third is central to the study of ethics, because it addresses the fundamental probity in the conduct of criminal justice.
The Dual Practice of Criminal Justice: The Ideal Model and the Serviceable Model
Once more, credit must be given to Samuel Walker for his effort to sort out the truths and fallacies of criminal justice in America. In Sense and Nonsense about Crime (1989), he examined many of the myths that dominate the discipline. In his Socratic endeavor, he identified another duality of a much greater significance to the study of criminal justice ethics: the ideal (moral) model and the serviceable (morally questionable) model.
The ideal model represents a civics-book image of the administration of justice. It is the vision of law and justice by which hardworking practitioners diligently handle each case on its merits. Any person who commits a crime is arrested and prosecuted. If convicted, the offender receives a punishment commensurate with the crime. Fair trials are conducted in an adversarial system of justice in which questions of guilt and innocence are determined through a public contest between prosecution and defense under the impartial eye of the judge. As Walker points out, this version of the criminal justice process expresses an ideal, “but [let] no one mistake it for a description of reality” (Walker, 1989:20). “Things” may not be what they appear, and the ethical reasoner should not be fooled into believing they are.
The serviceable model (“the cynical view,” as Walker calls it, or the “bureaucratic garage sale model”; Braiden, 1991), permeates all aspects of the administration of justice. The model portrays a criminal justice system awash in arbitrary and irrational decision-making. Critics of this model cite one deception after another: the questionable motive for arrest, deviance by police, railroading of suspects by prosecutors, the revolving door practice of courts, and the failure of corrections, among other deficiencies that victimize the poor and weak of society. Consider, for instance, this observation by Skolnick & Bayley (1996): In an instance in which an individual burglar was caught red-handed during the commission of a burglary, the police suggested that he should confess to many unsolved burglaries that they knew he had not committed. In effect, they said, “Help us out, and we will help you out.” The burglar confessed to 400 burglaries. Following the confession, the police were satisfied because they could say they had “solved” many burglaries, and the suspect was pleased because the police had agreed to speak to the judge on his behalf (Skolnick & Bayley, 1996:179).
In particular, critics of the serviceable model accuse the police of serving a political culture that favors selective law enforcement (Manning & Van Maanen, 1978; Wilson, 1968). Consequently, police officers are often unable to arrest the guilty—even when they have probable cause—while they often arrest others without legal justification. Prosecutors are accused of widely abusing the practice of plea bargaining for political purposes. They drop charges or recommend lenient sentences in return for guilty pleas, while poor and minority defendants are railroaded through over-charging and harsh sentences. By the same token, judges are accused of fashioning standard sentences on the assumption that up to 90% of the defendants plead guilty. Moreover, court congestion seriously impedes the due process rights of the underclass and the less fortunate.
Critics of the serviceable model accuse corrections of flagrant and consistent abuses of justice. Prisons, they argue, have become inhumane places for warehousing inmates (Fleisher, 1989). Prisoners are treated as the “dust and ashes” of the criminal justice system, to be heard from only when they attempt to riot or escape. Concern for the treatment and rehabilitation of inmates, critics argue, has become inconsequential to the administration of justice. Parole boards have been the “passive politicians” of the system, granting release of inmates with little rationale beyond making room for newcomers to move in.
Walker noted that much criminal justice decision-making remains irrational and arbitrary. Vast numbers of criminals (especially among the rich and the influential) escape punishment even when they have been caught. That discrimination continues to pervade the system, and gross disparities exist in the outcomes of similar cases. To underscore his argument, Walker reports that convicted murderers in Philadelphia get either 2 or 20 years in prison, and rape defendants in New York City can expect either dismissal of their cases or 20 years in prison. In this chaotic model, Walker asserts, “there is neither law, nor order, nor justice” (Walker, 1989:20).
The implications of Walker’s powerful indictments cannot be overlooked by the ethical reasoner. Not only do they violate the dictates of the social and moral orders, but they also render any attempts at reform “nonsense,” because they attack the wrong problems. Walker submits that all too often reform is based on irrational grounds that have little relevance to the requirements of fairness, equity, or moral principles (Walker, 1989:20).
The Serviceable Model: Moral Double Bookkeeping
Given the reluctance on the part of many criminal justice practitioners to comply with professional standards and their unfamiliarity with ethical principles, many find it beneficial to support the serviceable model. For all practical purposes, the model allows them the freedom to practice moral double bookkeeping, whereby the quality of services delivered is substantially inferior, yet the “salesperson” can hardly be held accountable. Not only does the double bookkeeping method appeal to the bureaucratic nature of practitioners, but it also is perhaps the safest method of survival in the bureaucratic bazaar of criminal justice.
Packaged in the guise of efficiency, moral double bookkeeping is maintaining at least two sets of operational ledgers: one for public use and the other for internal use. The public ledger contains what ambitious politicians and an uninformed public want to hear—a glowing chronicle of achievements and accomplishments that “look” impressive. By contrast, the internal ledger includes a sad inventory of illegal and unethical practices routinely performed by officials in what amounts to an institutional conspiracy of silence. Such practices are often contrived to circumvent legal or professional restrictions, on one hand, and allow the practitioners the opportunity to administer justice their way, on the other. The sad inventory may include well-thought-out strategies, both offensive and defensive, that seek to accomplish four primary aims: (1) keeping the good image of the agency; (2) serving the ends of justice as interpreted by the practitioners themselves; (3) allowing the agency the flexibility to handle difficult or undesirable clients; and (4) forestalling potential criticism by civil authorities, mass media, or society at large (Manning & Van Maanen, 1978:227).
Foremost among these strategies is ensuring that the practitioners are not caught, and that if they are, they have a plausible denial story. Examples of this strategy include how to “effectively” deal with a police informant who no longer wants to snitch, how to “throw the book” at a prison inmate who threatens to blow the whistle on a corrupt guard, or how to manipulate the testimony of witnesses who refuse to perjure themselves despite pressures by the prosecutor to coerce a particular testimony.
Compounded by organizational subculture and impeded by political meddling, many criminal justice agencies improvise on their double bookkeeping strategies—at times, beyond imagination. As a result, the ideals of responsibility and accountability give way to mutual accommodation, obligation gives way to convenience, and devotion to duty gives way to bureaucratization. To lend legitimacy to such strategies, many criminal justice agencies turn to the “old faithful” ploy of number crunching. Unsubstantiated numbers are presented as certain figures, and “micro-dots on flowcharts” are forwarded as unimpeachable proof. Consequently, any view of justice that goes beyond the mere processing of “sorry lost souls” is thought of by practitioners (especially in corrupt agencies) as having little place in the “real world.” The idealistic view of criminal justice, unprofessional practitioners believe, survives only in the heads of academicians who need not face life “on the streets” (Schmalleger & Gustafson, 1981:2).
Physiology of the Serviceable Model
In denouncing the serviceable model, Douglas explained in Crime and Justice in American Society (1971) that police, prosecution, courts, and other agencies have ceased to be truth-seeking agencies. They operate in synthetic environments that are considered both comfortable for practitioners and responsive to their egotistical need to appear omniscient and omnipotent. Such environments, Douglas submits, fit no universal standard of justice beyond the shell of legalism that protects practitioners from legal and administrative liability. Within this shell, Douglas adds, proceduralism lends itself to favoritism, venality, arbitrariness, and disregard for the rights of individuals. As a result, the principle of adversarial adjudication ceases to be real, and the fundamental presumption of innocence is reduced to a casual slogan. Even the expectation that the accused will ultimately have “his day in court” may be treated as a farce (Douglas, 1971:54).
Dershowitz (1982) asserted that in the objective reality of criminal justice, the accused rarely goes to court. In most communities, he submits, only about 6% of criminal cases at the felony level ever go to trial. What customarily passes for full, fair, and open hearings are reduced to superficial and hasty negotiation sessions conducted in secret by the defense counsel and the prosecutor. In such sessions, the reasons for the final guilty plea are usually shrouded in mystery and rarely subject to review.
In underscoring the danger of the serviceable model, Chief Justice Warren Burger remarked on the state of court proceedings by stating, “The entire profession, lawyers, judges, law teachers, have become so mesmerized with the court-room contest, we have forgotten our fundamental mandate—healers of conflict” (Houston Police Academy, 1991:19). By the same token, Braiden (1991) made the same point with regard to police by stating,
Today most organizations have twice as many boxes on the organization chart compared to twenty years ago. But what improvement in product quality has resulted? None that I can discern. On the contrary, I believe this preoccupation with specialization has done more harm than good. It has reduced peacekeeping in law enforcement tradecraft. What has come to be known as the professional police model is, in reality, a corruption of the original mandate of the police, which according to the Oxford dictionary is “A better state of society.” With the passage of time, dedication to the function becomes counter-productive to the original idea. Bertrand Russell had this on the subject: “Organizations have a life of their own independent of their founder. The most striking of these is the Catholic Church, of which Christ would be astonished.”
As mentioned earlier, the occupational subculture of criminal justice agencies can further exacerbate the dangers of the serviceable model. Under the myth of solidarity, unethical practitioners, like the Sophists of Greece, find it more plausible to continue to ignore the truths of criminal justice, conveniently shrouding them in propaganda, lip-service claims, and administrative gimmickry. To ensure their occupational survival, many such practitioners continue to resist efforts to operate in the sunshine that they may have never before seen.
Critique of the Serviceable Model
From an ethical standpoint, the failures of the serviceable model warrant no further condemnation. While many practitioners mistakenly accept it as “business as usual,” or regard it as “critical to their survival,” the model must be considered utterly immoral. This judgment is based on the realization that the model (1) destroys the soul of justice, the central virtue and the summum bonum of all criminal justice principles; (2) denudes the agencies of their reason for being by exposing their lack of commitment to the public interest; (3) betrays constitutional ethics by denying citizens their rights to due process and equal protection; (4) violates the social contract that binds communities together and sustains social order in a civilized society; (5) discredits the practitioners’sacred oath to be faithful to the office they serve; and (6) encourages corruption among new employees who join the agency with sincere intentions to serve their country faithfully.
Given this analysis, it should be safe to suggest that unless the entire class of behaviors associated with the serviceable model mentality is exposed and repudiated, it is almost certain that the essence of criminal justice will further deteriorate.
Where Do We Go from Here?
In the following chapters a discussion of ethics in the institutions of police, corrections, and probation and parole will be presented. The reader should be mindful, however, of the following two important caveats.
First, based on the relatively long history of the police, more research has been produced in the area of police ethics than perhaps all other criminal justice components combined. As a result, most of the studies in the ethics of corrections, probation, and parole have followed the same methodologies first introduced in police studies (Crouch & Marquart, 1980; Hepburn, 1985; Price, 1983; Rosecrance, 1968; Toch, 1978). Therefore, the disproportionate discussion of police ethics that follows should not reflect a bias for or against the other components. Indeed, if it indicates anything at all, it confirms that either the other components are more ethical, or simply that we know less of their transgressions. Also, it should be safe to add that there are no “substantive differences” between abuses committed by police officers and those committed by correctional or probation officers except, perhaps, that the former abuses are usually witnessed by more people.
Second, while the generic term corrections does include the functions of probation and parole, the systematic examination of ethics in corrections will be limited only to institutional corrections—prisons. Probation and parole agencies will be discussed separately.
Ethics and Police
Either justice is always and in all circumstances sacred, or intrinsically of no account; it is inconceivable that it should be in some cases the one, and in some the other.
Pride grows in the human heart like lard on a pig.
As a law enforcement officer… I will keep my private life unsullied as an example to all.
Law Enforcement Code of Ethics
Purely structural arrangements for achieving accountability do not, on their own, reach the problems citizens most want to reach.
What you will Learn from this Chapter
You will learn about the problematic nature of policing, the peculiar environment of the police, the ethics of democracy, and the ethics of shunning corruption. You will also learn of the semiprofessional characteristics of police, the reasons why police sometimes abuse their powers, and about the obligation of police to shun corruption.
You will learn about the nature of police power, the imperative of trust in the police, the basic principles of democracy, the extent of police corruption, and the hedonistic and obligatory types of police corruption.
Key Terms and Definitions
• Hedonistic Corruption is the type of corruption that is practiced for personal gain or comfort. It is generally related to economic matters including gratuities, bribery, thefts, and similar dishonest behaviors.
• Obligatory Corruption is the type of corruption that knowingly violates agency rules and regulations for egotistical purposes. It entails abusing authority in the performance of one’s duties and the demonstration of crude power, egoism, or self-aggrandizement.
Contrary to misguided belief, policing is one of the noblest functions in society. In biblical times it was entrusted almost entirely to the clergy and the wise men of society. With the emergence of European cities, police became an extension of the polis, or city, signifying its emphasis on serving society. In addition to crime-related functions, the police were expected to aid those who were sick, injured, lost, abused, disturbed, or abandoned. While in earlier periods police developed a degenerate image by associating themselves with oppressive government, the police today are generally regarded as a semiautonomous institution of social order.
In the United States, the role of the police signifies a variety of complex functions that are so interwoven that clinical separation of these functions appears impossible. Such functions include crime fighting, peacekeeping, community service, problem solving, and order maintenance. In this myriad of functions, good police work seems to have been identified with problem-solving policing—the practice of ultimately finding the truth of things. This is clearly a capacity that depends more on knowledge, understanding, judgment, initiative, and restraint than on physical or technological prowess (Goldstein, 1990). It is no surprise that a vitriolic scramble is under way among police agencies today to recruit officers of good character and keen mind—individuals who can responsibly and tactfully accomplish such complex tasks without undermining public demands for ordered liberty and professional decency.
But policing a free society is by no means an easy task. This is in part because liberty is a fairly recent human experience and the moral contract between the governed and the governors is still in its infancy. Despite numerous theories, no one knows for certain what policing a free society entails, if it is at all possible. The controversy between freedom and privacy on one hand, and social control on the other, is probably one of the most problematic tasks that face a civilized society. The controversy has been the center of debate during the past three decades and, regardless of merit, has resulted in the primacy of law and order above all other goals. But the heart of the debate was not really about goals; rather, it was about the means by which society can operate an effective and humane system of control.
Given the popular “conflict view” of society as a heterogeneous dynamic, and essentially in competition with itself, there is no question that the need for an effective but fair police system is critical. Absent that role, society may not survive and free societies may cease to be free. People will prey on one another, personal safety will be endangered, conflicts will remain unresolved, and social justice will be undermined. More predictably, the very freedoms that make up the institution of democracy will be denied to those who need them most. As mentioned earlier, the rich and the powerful do not need the protection of police, because they can protect themselves. It is the poor, the weak, and the minorities who most need police protection because the alternative would be either their demise or their uprising in civil disobedience.
The Problematic Nature of Policing
While the vast majority of police officers are professional and dedicated practitioners, it should be noted that among the most pressing concerns in policing today are issues of fairness, rationality, and dedication to public service. Central to these concerns, of course, is the question of discretion: “How can the police make professional decisions in difficult situations that, at times, must render their judgment questionable?” In answering this question, Manning and Van Maanen (1978) contend that no rational reply can be found, because policing is an “impossible mandate” and the practice of policing is inherently fraught with contradictions. Others, including Goldstein, Bittner, Niederhoffer, Wilson, and Skolnick, each reflecting his own philosophical view, recommend changes that range from restructuring discretion to radically revamping the entire criminal justice system—indeed, the entire social system.
In discussing the inherent contradictions in policing, Manning and Van Maanen explain that police are victims of an irrational society. Officers must fight crime to keep the peace; act publicly to control private events; prevent new forms of crime for which they have no knowledge, training, or tools to combat them (for example, computer fraud, political corruption); and appear to serve the community while selectively applying force to whomever they choose. They further add that these contradictions have compelled the police to forge “legal dramas” to conceal them, and “ideologies” to cloak them, thus forcing themselves into lying to mislead the public (Manning & Van Maanen, 1978). In sum, they seem to indicate that there is virtually nothing that the police can do, because they are helplessly part of a misguided society.
While Manning and Van Maanen’s explanation, to a large extent, is realistic, even logical, it falls short of offering a plausible moral argument. The implication that the police have no choice but to continue acting unethically because their occupation is fraught with contradiction neither makes their acts less unfair nor justifies the continuance of contradiction. It is a naturalistic fallacy to argue that because contradictions exist they ought to continue. Throughout history there have been contradictions in the governance of societies, and a great many of these contradictions were resolved by rational means. Indeed, democracy is designed to reason away social and economic contradiction in a peaceful manner. And because policing in a free society is an integral part of the democratic process, it is incumbent upon the police to rationally square away inconsistencies without undermining the moral values of honesty, fidelity, and obligation. Displacing the moral responsibility of police by blaming it on a misguided society may be a forced argument, because, at least in part, “the system is us” and begging one’s responsibility, problematic as it may be, is ethically unjustifiable.
Literature of comparative policing indicates that the quality of life in industrialized societies like the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, and Japan depends in large measure on the ethics and vision of police leaders in bringing about wisdom in chaotic situations and proper judgment to questions of right and wrong (Bayley & Mendelsohn, 1969; Skolnick & Bayley, 1986). In explaining the “family doctor” approach to policing in Edmonton, Canada, Inspector Braiden remarks, “As police administrators, we cannot always deliver on a promise to reduce crime, no matter how hard we try. We can, however, deliver on a promise to care, and to try harder about people’s problems.” It is against these “moments of truth” that the ultimate success of the organization is measured (Braiden, 1991).
But while the Canadian approach to policing may not be very different, especially in metropolitan areas, many police agencies in the United States have begun to resolve these contradictions. Many such agencies have been hailed as models of courage, innovation, and vision (Skolnick & Bayley, 1986:226). After all, in a free society, people do not accept police “legal dramas” because they are legal or dramatic; rather, they demand “moral dramas” because they accomplish social good.
The Peculiar Environment of the Police
Police functions were traditionally defined in terms of criminal and regulatory matters. But given the complexity of deviance in today’s society (for example, drugs, gangs, and terrorism), a politically convenient—albeit irrational—view emerged, redefining the role of the police as the “fixers of all wrongs.” The police were assigned to what amounts to eradicating the ills of a failing social system, a mandate for which they are neither mentally prepared nor adequately trained. For such a monumental task to succeed, coordinated efforts by the social, political, economic, and legal institutions at all levels must be mobilized and faithfully deployed.
Toward accomplishing this extraordinary task, the police were given an impressive array of power, weaponry, and technological gadgets with which they became personally and institutionally infatuated. Furthermore, as the spoils of crime and violence became more politically intolerable, new legal and administrative demands were made on the unsuspecting police. In many departments, politically savvy chiefs were hired to implement politically motivated programs in order to score politically desirable successes. To demonstrate effectiveness, superfluous restrictions and work quotas were imposed on the practitioners, stringent performance standards were implemented, lengthy paper trails were required, and legal and administrative liabilities emerged as the order of the day. As a result, occupational stress and managerial pressures continued to mount, creating an obtrusive fog of confusion, paranoia, and despair.
Police practitioners, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, reacted imprudently. They responded with hostility toward those who supported them and “those who did not.” Many officers became disillusioned with the ambivalence of their profession and the hypocrisy of a society they depended upon to support them. Many realized that while they were required to enforce all current statutes, the public did not tolerate full enforcement of all laws; while they were held responsible for eradicating drugs and apprehending drug dealers, their ability to cope with the drug problem was substantially limited; while they were expected to act in an impartial and apolitical manner, the infiltration of politics into policing compelled them to use compromising deals, deceptive means, and collusion with criminals (Manning & Van Maanen, 1978). Frustrated with unfair department rules and regulations, many police officers found solace in corruption as a way of getting even (Souryal, 1977:424).
These disheartening conditions must have further eroded police ethics. Many officers found justification in having to ignore their oath of office; to overlook much of the professional principles they were taught in the academy; to bluff and lie—not necessarily out of malevolence—but out of a desperate attempt to reconcile unfair and contradictory demands. As Goldstein aptly describes, the police became a “super-structure without an adequate foundation” (Goldstein, 1977:9-11). Not surprisingly, most of the recommendations made in the latter half of the last century for improving the quality of police officers have focused on their state of knowledge, rationality, and professional training. Some examples include the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, the Knapp Commission Report and the National Advisory Commission on Higher Education for Police Officers, and the Report on the State of Police Education. The last report, in particular, was critical of the aggressive mentality, brutality, racism, and improper preparation of officers.
The Semiprofessional Professionals
Delattre (1989), Blumberg and Niederhoffer (1970), Manning and Van Maanen (1978), and Goldstein (1977) all characterized the police in a free society as an anomaly. Delattre called them the “unprofessional professionals,” Blumberg and Niederhoffer used the term “ambivalent force,” while Manning and Van Maanen, as mentioned earlier, referred to their mandate as “impossible.” These are disappointing characterizations that can be understood only in the broader context of American government. Unlike in European systems, the police in America are vested with powers under a unique form of government in which authority is reluctantly granted, and when granted it is sharply curtailed (Goldstein, 1977:1). This unique form of government may have been a dominant factor behind the politicization of police and the failure of federal and state governments to fully support law enforcement at the local level.
In criticizing the political environment of police, Patrick Murphy suggested that much of what is wrong is the result of the “absurd, fragmented, unworkable, non-system of more than 17,000 local departments” (Murphy, in Delattre, 1989: xv). Consequently, he held, individual officers, chiefs, and entire departments have been inhibited from taking actions that would better serve the true goals of law enforcement. Political meddling in police matters by elected officials, party leaders, and campaign contributors is a common handicap. Mismanagement and discrimination against qualified persons in hiring, assigning, promoting, and disciplinary matters are far from rare. Moreover, professional standards that could be used to correct such abuses or to support principled practitioners have not been generally accepted. Consequently, many police departments are stymied in their efforts to provide better police services (Delattre, 1989: xv).
While democracy has many desirable traits, it is an ideal that is difficult to live by. While, on one hand, the police are responsible for social control, the public, on the other hand, cannot be expected to submit to oppression. Untempered abuses by police (for example, unjustified excessive force, discrimination against the poor, racism, and brutality) should legitimately worry a democratic society. The perception of police as semiprofessionals may have been further tarnished because abuses that are ordinarily committed by ill-prepared officers at the lowest level are tolerated, in most instances, without adequate scrutiny by supervisors (Goldstein, 1977:1). Subsequently, given the lofty values of democracy, it would be illogical, if not irrational, to expect society to endure police abuses rather than demand that the police act responsibly. If government is to be truly representative of the people, its first obligation must be to the people, rather than to the agencies it creates. Intensifying efforts to improve the moral quality of the police, therefore, must be a categorical imperative, not only because it is good in itself, but also because it must be the only way to govern a democratic society.
When compared to other components of criminal justice, the public perception of police seems to range from “unsettling” at one end of the continuum to “out of control” at the other. There are three reasons for this perception: First, in the vast majority of cases, the police are the initiators of the criminal justice process that, regardless of the outcome, can cause immense social harm to the implicated party. Second, as custodians of social order, the police are entrusted with hard-to-standardize powers. They can stop and frisk people when they see fit, detain suspects for “unspecified” periods, and settle disputes between individuals who seem equally guilty. Unlike judges, prosecutors, and grand jurors, the police have what appears to be a license to manipulate, to chase people in the streets, to embarrass them in public places, and to invade the inner privacy of their homes. Third, the police have the distinct discretion not to initiate the criminal justice process. By so choosing, they can effectively reinterpret the law and redefine social morality (for example, not issuing speeding tickets until the motorist is at least 10 miles per hour in excess of the speed limit, or not enforcing minor drug laws in certain areas of town). Unlike police decisions to invoke the law, such choices are of extremely low visibility and seldom the subject of review (Goldstein, 1977). In extreme cases, a corrupt officer could technically let an individual “get away with murder” with insignificant risk to his or her career. In such cases, a corrupt officer can avoid responsibility by invoking the “never saw” or “never heard of it” defense (Souryal, 1977:48). Based on these reasons, it should be safe to suggest that the image of the police suffers, not because of their statutory authority, but because of their likelihood to abuse their professional duties.
The Police Prerogative to Abuse Power
Once again, while the majority of police officers are professional and dedicated practitioners, it is the small minority among them that drive their dedication. Given the problematic nature of policing and its peculiar environment, the police—who also happen to have a monopoly on the use of force in the community—are perceived as possessing “something extra” that can intimidate, if not frighten, most citizens. While this “something” is hard to identify, it is manifest in sentiments of suspicion, skepticism, and fear. Such sentiments could be better sensed when the characteristics of the police are compared to those of other public officials, such as the military, schoolteachers, mail carriers, or engineers. Upon closer analysis, the causes of this “something” may reveal two sets of concerns: concerns related to the nature of police power, and concerns related to the lack of trust in police personnel. In the following segments, both sets of concerns will be explained.
Concerns Pertinent to the Nature of Police Power
These concerns include (1) Casualty: Any arrest decision, even in a simple situation involving a defendant who may ultimately be exonerated, can cause serious punitive consequences. These include the loss of a job, a period of jail detention, or the indignity of being fingerprinted and photographed. (2) Permanence: Once a police decision has been made to arrest or charge, the decision invariably remains for the duration of one’s life. Furthermore, the procedure necessary to undo such a decision is usually lengthy, complicated, frustrating, and costly. (3) Secrecy: The “real” criteria employed by the police in determining which persons are candidates for arrest are usually “known only to the police.” Manning and Van Maanen stress that rookies learn how to be police officers by watching “what other police officers do, say, feel, and otherwise act in routine situations—they do not learn it in books” (Manning & Van Maanen, 1978). The secret criterion to arrest, they add, is more distinctively shaped by the subculture of the department and by the moral qualities of the supervisors at the time than by legal or administrative rules. (4) Inadequacy: Given the relatively modest educational background of police officers and their limited preservice training, the police have not been particularly noted for making visionary or nonconformist judgments. Most often their judgments reflect the conservative middle class to which they normally belong. Such biases include, especially in the past, aggressive behavior toward nonconforming persons, minority members, and lower-class males—both white and black. Subsequently, the police continue to be seen as “petty tyrants” by many groups—especially the poor and the underprivileged (Bittner, 1967; Goldstein, 1963; Westley, 1953).
Concerns Pertinent to Lack of Trust
These concerns include several fears on the part of the unsuspecting public, such as the following four examples. (1) Physical fear: What if the police used undue force? What would I do if they overreacted? (2) Anticipatory fear: What are the police really “up to?” How do I know they are not attempting to frame me? (3) Ghost fear: How can I forget what the police did to poor Johnny the other day? (4) Escape fear: Why should I get involved or cooperate with the police? To whom can I complain if they get me in trouble?
The police prerogative to abuse power may also be a product of their ubiquitous stature within the criminal justice system. Police agencies are most likely to be the (1) largest, (2) most visible, (3) most armed, (4) most specialized, (5) most costly, and (6) most discretionary. With the exception of the last assumption, all others are inconsequential to police ethics because they are structural in nature and can be restructured only by political and administrative policy. The last assumption, however, is both the easiest and the most important because it is behavioral in nature and can be corrected by the individual officers themselves. Based on this premise, it should be safe to argue that, despite the good intentions of many police organizations, there is little that departmental rules can do to improve the conduct of officers who knowingly operate unethically. The integrity of any police department is the sum total of the integrity of its members; collectively, they can create it, preserve it, or lose it.
The Police in Search of a Soul
Given the voluminous literature on police corruption, the perennial question continues to go unanswered: “How can the police prerogative to abuse power be minimized, and honesty, decency, and civility be maximized?” In response to this question, it may be safe to suggest that, short of endangering democracy or radically impairing police effectiveness, the only rational alternative is actualizing the soul of police by promoting “street-corner morality.” On one hand, the street is where the propensity for abuse is highest and the potential for social harm greatest. On the other hand, the individual officer is perhaps the only person who can effectively suppress evil and promote righteousness, hence, the plea to focus on the moral character of officers—the soul of police—by transforming street-corner cops into street-corner moralists.
In 1969 the foundation of the Hastings Center in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, began a movement toward strengthening ethics in public service. Rapidly proliferating moral problems in the fields of medicine and biology were the initial impetus behind the center. Soon afterward, the center expanded to include similar concerns in other fields. In 1982 the Institute for Criminal Justice Ethics at John Jay College of Criminal Justice was founded as the spiritual offspring of the Hastings Center. Its objectives were to upgrade ethical standards in criminal justice, stimulate research in the field, and ensure ethical performance in policing. At present, the institute produces ethical training programs for police academies throughout the country. While the institute is gradually growing, it is hoped that its influence will outgrow concern with mundane police corruption and address moral issues in policing, rethinking the police mentality, reversing police myths, and stimulating institutional repugnance to lawlessness.
Yet how in the objective reality of police culture can the soul of police be actualized? While the answers to this question are complex, the challenge, as we will learn later, is not insurmountable. Recalling Aristotle, two virtues are necessary to actualize the soul of any public organization: an intellectual virtue and a moral virtue. Each virtue complements the other, forming a wholesome moral character. For Aristotle, nothing else is necessary.
In the following segments, both virtues will be discussed in the context of policing; the intellectual virtue will be presented as “Ethics of Democracy,” and the moral virtue as “Ethics of Shunning Corruption.”
The Intellectual Virtue: Ethics of Democracy
In Policing a Free Society, Goldstein (1977) points out that the police model that has emerged in this country has been a neutral one. It represents a sterile kind of organization, devoid of a clear commitment to any values other than operating efficiency. Absent an effort to build a set of values into policing, those that prevail are the values of the subculture. In large measure, this accounts for the radically different assessments made of the quality of police service by police personnel when compared with those made by critics on the outside (Goldstein, 1977:12).
Goldstein underscores that failure to build a set of democratic values into policing is “all the more disturbing” because of the peculiar nature of policing a free society. Under a system of government in which so high a value is placed on democratic virtues, an extraordinarily heavy responsibility must fall upon those who are assigned to defend these virtues. The police mission, after all, is not only limited to exercising authority in accordance with constitutional and legal limitations; it also extends to the protection of the constitutional rights of citizens from infringement by others.
The absence of intellectual virtue can be detrimental to the quality of policing. Particularly in large cities, the police continue to place a higher priority on order maintenance than on operating in a democratic manner. Constitutional and statutory requirements—such as those that limit the police right to arrest, search, or interrogate—continue to be viewed by many police officers as technicalities that interfere with “effective law enforcement.” Consequently, many police officers may fail to appreciate their obligation to provide equal law enforcement to seemingly undeserving individuals, provide due process when it is too ambivalent to ascertain, protect the rights of minorities who may be unaware of their rights, and ensure the dignity of someone who may have no dignity. As Goldstein remarks, most bothersome is the fact that talk about supporting democratic virtues in the context of police operations has come to be equated, by many police officers, with a soft and permissive attitude toward criminals and toward unruly elements in society (Goldstein, 1977:14).
Why Not Democracy?
From a philosophical point of view, it would be contradictory to argue that in a democratic society effective policing cannot be administered democratically. It is equally contradictory to contend that democratic principles may be essential at the trial level but not at the street level, where the facts of the trial are mostly found. Goldstein challenges this twisted rationale, questioning why “democratic policing” should be such a tall order to fill. Democratic values, he asserts, cannot logically be ignored if police legitimacy is to be real and the public recognizes it as such. In a Kantian sense, perhaps, Goldstein asserts that government should be unequivocally committed, “aggressively, overtly, and unashamedly,” to creating a system of policing in which democratic ethics is a standard practice.
There are three reasons for Goldstein’s powerful exhortation: (1) recognition that the police function is governed by a complicated set of rules and that a high social value attached to conforming to those rules would make policing much more challenging and rewarding; (2) compliance with democratic ethos, especially in “critical incidents,” such as protecting the right of an unpopular speaker to speak, or sheltering from attack a person accused of a heinous crime, would most spectacularly demonstrate professionalism; and (3) the example set by police in conforming to the law and in acting even-handedly to protect the constitutional rights of citizens would, in the long run, win greater respect and cooperation from the community (Goldstein, 1977:13).
As to reasons many police officers appear uncommitted to democratic principles, one can only speculate. Two sets of factors, however, may shed light on this question: the first is sociologically oriented, and the second is work-oriented.
Sociologically oriented factors include the following. (1) Police officers are mostly employed at a young age (between the ages of 18 and 22), before they would have had any real experience with democracy. Few would have had significant jobs or been exposed to the trauma of being subjected to unfair treatment. (2) Most police officers belong to lower-middle-class households that are not noted for being cradles of democracy, nor for offering an exemplary democratic environment. (3) Most of the educational institutions that police officers attend prior to employment pay lip service to democracy. They neither emphasize democratic principles nor provide an environment that is conducive to independent critical thinking. Indeed, when the U.S. Constitution is taught in many high schools, it is often presented in a dry, abstract, and rather sterile fashion, as if it has little relevance to career life. (4) Many rookies are hired soon after they complete military service, and they bring along with them a rigid style of thinking. If they are not retrained away from that style, they may tend to pursue an autocratic model of treating people—the only model they know.
Work-oriented factors exacerbate the previous conditions in significant ways:
• Police academies may be lagging behind the professional movement. Traditionally, police academies follow a quasimilitary model, and when democratic principles are presented, they usually are neither explained intelligently nor endorsed sincerely. Aside from legal and technical studies, police academies tend to focus more on superficial criteria, such as demeanor and physical appearance, rather than on democratic and ethical behavior. Consequently, most rookies are trained to apply “rule by law” rather than “rule of law,” a subject that requires advanced reasoning and understanding.
• Police subculture, as mentioned earlier, reinforces the image of police work as a bureaucratic activity that has little in common with democratic principles. As such, it is to be pursued, first and foremost, to ensure efficiency and control. The values of honesty, fidelity, obligation, and compassion, if raised at all, are usually considered irrelevant to the practice of law enforcement.
• Police departments, which are traditionally organized and managed along the military model, neither recognize democratic accomplishments nor reward those who pursue them.
• Popular media seldom exhibit episodes of democratic policing and instead glorify officers who demonstrate the so-called “John Wayne” and “Dirty Harry” syndromes (i.e., those who disregard departmental policies, practice vigilantism, and so on). By implication, the message is clear to all those who are eager to hear.
Toward instilling democratic virtues in the police, Goldstein proposed a two-pronged approach: (1) education and training should be intensified in order to provide officers with a better understanding of the principles of democracy and the ways in which they could be exercised; and (2) the day-to-day operation of police agencies and the manner in which individual performance is rewarded should be revised to elicit greater support for democratic conduct by frontline enforcers (Goldstein, 1977:15).
True democracy is an advanced state of mind that can be achieved only through learning, experience, and soul-searching. Democratic ethics should be seen, therefore, as a set of principles that characterizes the working of a democratic society—how people can live freely despite their diversity, frailties, and follies.
In accordance with the dictum of “anything that can be learned can be taught,” there is no reason to believe that democratic ethics cannot be taught in a classroom setting in the same way other subjects can. Obviously, completing a course in democratic ethics can hardly make a person any more “democratic” than a course in religion can make a person any more “saintly.” Nevertheless, by emphasizing democratic ethics at all levels of police development (for example, preservice training, in-service training, and executive training), it should be possible—at least in incremental portions—to improve the officers’ democratic character in the same way that teaching investigative techniques can improve their technical skills. Furthermore, the more that police officers experience democratic treatment in the workplace, the greater their devotion to democracy, and the more they are likely to apply it on the street when dealing with others.
Basic Democratic Principles
Without repeating an introductory political science course, I can say that democracy is neither the easiest nor the most efficient form of government. The original philosophers of democracy never meant it to be either. Nevertheless, democracy is the most cherished form of government as far as the reasoning mind can determine. It is based on rational assumptions that are closest to, and complementary of, the true purposes of man. The basic tenets of democratic theory assume that people are self-motivated, know their own interests, and have enough sense to give way when another person’s interests are more reasonable.
Democratic principles include the following:
1. Individualism is the essence of human existence; citizens want to be, and can be, different.
2. Liberty is the foundation of justice; oppression and justice are contradictory terms.
3. Equality is a human property—never to be traded or taken away.
4. Sovereignty is by popular choice; an imposed government is not only illegitimate, but it also causes social misery.
5. Government is the creation of society, rather than the other way around.
6. Checking the behavior of government is the responsibility of each citizen; all officials are hired hands who must be held accountable to elected officials.
7. Rule of law is the only equitable means for judging free and equal people; everyone is under the law and no one is above the law.
8. Workable laws are the product of majority rule; anything else is tyranny.
9. The dignity of man is the summum bonum of civilized society, more so than economic or social power.
10. Civil liberties are immunities from governmental oppression— they are not options to be offered or withheld upon personal whim or animosity.
In confirming Goldstein’s prescription for instilling democratic values through knowledge, Carter, Sapp, and Stephens in The State of Police Education (1989:134) recount the case of an ethical officer:
One college-educated officer (a white male) with whom we rode on patrol in a high-crime, low-income, predominantly black area said: “You know, I feel myself becoming more prejudiced. I try not to let it affect the way I treat people, but I still can’t help the way I feel.” … The value of education for this officer was that “he recognized the prejudice, understood its potential effects, and consciously attempted to control it.” In observing this officer on patrol, dealing with people and his responsibilities, we felt that we saw the best application of liberal arts education in a trying environment. After patrolling down the dark, litter-covered streets with this officer … [he] abruptly stated: “Let us go somewhere else.” He drove a short distance outside his patrol area to a street brightly lighted with signs from businesses, frequent street lights, attractive homes, and the trappings of a middle-class neighborhood. As he drove down the street, the officer visibly seemed to relax and simply said: “Sometimes I need to see the light.”
The inference from this encounter is powerful. The officer’s environment was depressing and stressful—it was affecting his judgment about citizens. He needed a source of relief to help him regain perspective. His knowledge of democratic ethics was the ballast. It gave him not only clarity of direction, but also the introspective ability to determine when the judgmental equilibrium was beginning to shift. The officer’s thought clearly reflects the philosophy of wisdom in action, and perhaps this alone is a sufficient benefit of learning democratic ethics (Carter et al., 1989:134). In contrast to this encounter, consider the events of the Rodney King incident described below.
The Rodney King Case
Rodney King was severely beaten by officers of the Los Angeles Police Department in 1991. While beating a suspect is a rare event in many communities, what gave this event critical significance was the fact that the beating was captured by an amateur videographer and broadcast nationally for several days. The film showed 11 or more white officers, three of whom ferociously beat and kicked a handcuffed African-American man for nearly two minutes. The suspect, who had been arrested for a speeding violation, was also shocked more than once by a Taser. As a result of this incident, he suffered nine skull fractures, a shattered eye socket and cheekbone, a broken leg, a concussion, injuries to both knees, and nerve damage that left his face partially paralyzed. The event resulted in embarrassment for the police department and the city of Los Angeles, stunned the nation, rocked the law enforcement community, and further outraged minority groups that had contended for years that they were targets of an abusive police force (Dallas Morning News, March 18, 1991).
Several observations heightened the gravity of the King incident. First, at least 11 officers, including a sergeant, stood by while three others administered the beating, and no one made a serious effort to stop it. In addition, no one reportedly attended to King after he was hog-tied, dragged to the side of the road, and left bleeding. Second, the beating was carried out with impunity, with no apparent concern for the fact that barely 60 feet away as many as 20 local residents were watching, or that the officers were acting in full view of motorists who slowed down to look as they drove by. Third, subsequent information confirmed by the investigative commission revealed that some of the officers who accompanied King to the hospital flippantly remarked that “we played a good game of hardball” and “we hit quite a few home runs” while smashing their batons against King’s body. Fourth, court records depicted a history of similar cases, some of which seem to differ from King’s only in not being recorded on camera.
While the King case may reveal evidence of police lying, practicing racial discrimination and official oppression, and conspiring to commit a felony, in a broader sense, it represents a textbook case of the breakdown of democratic ethics. Regardless of how heinous King’s crimes allegedly were, the officers appear to have violated a number of basic democratic principles: (1) the presumption of innocence—by meting out punishment before the suspect was taken before a magistrate; (2) the principle of rule of law—by setting themselves above the authority delegated to them as peace officers; (3) preserving the civil rights of a prisoner—by assaulting and humiliating him; (4) equal protection under the law—by failing to protect a suspect from unnecessary harm; and (5) public accountability—by giving conflicting accounts about the facts of the case.
As a result of the King case, three patrol officers and a sergeant were indicted. On April 29, 1992, a 12-person jury in Ventura County, California, acquitted the four officers. The jury was unable to reach a decision on one assault count against one of the officers. A retrial of the charge was ordered. Upon word of the verdict, people in south central Los Angeles rioted, attacking citizens and looting and burning businesses across the city to show their outrage at what they considered further injustice toward not only Rodney King, but also all African Americans. Consequently, damage to the “moral consciousness” of the Los Angeles Police Department appeared to be complete and perhaps irreversible for many years to come.
Haven’t We Learned Anything Yet?
As mentioned earlier, the Rodney King case helped provoke one of the worst riots in American history, leaving 54 people dead and 2,000 injured, and causing more than $1 billion in damage (The Economist, July 13, 2002). Yet, on July 6, 2002, another amateur video, taken by a tourist, Mitchell Cooks, again showing the arrest of an African-American motorist, raised similar doubts about the capacity of the police in California (this time in Ingle-wood) to restrain themselves from the seduction of using unjustifiable force.
The video showed a white officer, Jeremy Morse, hoisting a handcuffed black teenager, Donovan Jackson, to his feet and smashing his head on a car trunk. Morse then punched the teen in the face, while several other officers, some black and some white, stood behind him. Eventually one of the officers intervened.
Although the encounter was not as prolonged or ugly as the King beating, the incident, which brought unhappy memories to TV watchers across the country, involved considerably less provocation. While King was reportedly a strong man, allegedly high on drugs, who tried to flee from the police in a high-speed car chase and attacked them when they tried to arrest him, the victim in the Inglewood case was a slender 16-year-old, a special education student with no arrest record. The problem that provoked the clash was a routine traffic stop (the license plate on the victim’s family car had expired). When the man who filmed the video was asked how he felt while recording the event, he stated that he was not shocked: “I just thought it was standard procedure; I thought it was normal in Los Angeles” (The Economist, July 13, 2002). Officer Morse’s case was not helped by the fact that another victim came forward claiming to have been handcuffed and beaten by Morse.
As a result of this altercation, hundreds of angry protestors marched on Inglewood City Hall calling for Officer Morse to be dismissed from the force and prosecuted to the full measure of the law. Congresswoman Maxine Waters also sent a letter to the attorney general’s office demanding an investigation into the incident. Jackson’s lawyers went to the federal courthouse in Los Angeles to file a lawsuit.
With this scenario in mind, one should legitimately ask whether the lessons learned from the Rodney King case had any meaning or were sufficiently learned, and whether the impact of police subculture is indeed more potent than the impact of police training in the state of California. One should also inquire into the effectiveness of police supervision, especially when the videotape allegedly showed a police corporal assisting Officer Morse in the beating. Finally, one should ask what good is police leadership if it cannot effectively turn the bureaucratic culture of police departments into an enlightened environment, one based on reason, duty, self-control, and “serving mankind” (to quote the police code of ethics).
The Farther Reaches of Democratic Ethics
In addition to the conventional principles of democracy mentioned earlier, specific values are associated with the American democratic experience. Westermann and Burfeind, in Crime and Justice in Two Societies (1991), identified important value clusters that are of great significance to American policing and that should be emphasized in any police training course. These are freedom, individualism, equality, and diversity (Westermann & Burfeind, 1991:19). A fair amount of the following discussion will be based on Westermann and Burfeind’s views.
First, if there is one primary value in American society— perhaps other than the value of success—it must be the value of freedom. The United States boasts that it is the “land of the free,” and though it is in no way perfect, no other society in the world has accomplished so much to protect individual freedom and liberty. Whether they are peacekeepers or peace breakers, citizens must be conscious and protective of their civil rights as well as the civil rights of others. The notion of rights means being endowed with innate entitlements that cannot, under the law, be abridged. The concept of civil rights, by definition, establishes a set of claims that the citizen possesses and an unquestionable legal obligation by government to protect these claims. Any infringement thereof, without due process, is a serious violation of democratic ethics—regardless of excuse or justification. Such violations would be considered even more sinful when committed by the police—the stewards of civil rights.
Second, the concept of freedom is organically related to the doctrine of individualism. Rights are endowed to individuals by virtue of being citizens and apart from any relationship to race, color, or social status. Individuals in America are free to travel where they wish, speak as they please, and criticize the government within the boundaries of the law. Infringements on these rights, without due process, constitute betrayal of democratic ethics.
Third, closely intertwined with the doctrines of freedom and individualism is the ethic of equality. These three values form an equilateral triangle. For freedom and individuality to be able to stand, equality must be the supportive ethic. The presumption of equality extends to the realization that any person has as many rights and responsibilities as everyone else, regardless of individual or class differences, because, philosophically, no one can be equal unless all are equal. Consequently, police subculture that classifies people into desirables and undesirables (among other categories with less complimentary labels)—ironically, for operational direction—ends up destroying the very soul of democratic direction.
Fourth, the next most important value in American democracy is diversity and the values that cluster around it. One historical fact that cannot be overlooked is that the United States was framed from a polyglot of immigrants that continues to bring a mixture of peoples and cultures from virtually all lands. The United States is a quilt of diversity, patched together out of a multitude of racial and ethnic groups. Compounding this quilt is the diversity of lifestyles brought about by the socioeconomic distinction this division brings. At one time, people in the United States believed in a melting pot theory of cultural assimilation, predicting that the sharp differences in ethos and culture would ultimately be blended into a new synthesis. Today, people are more likely to speak in terms of cultural pluralism and to value the diversity it brings. Police personnel must realize that valuing diversity not only strengthens the American yearning for democracy, but also brings about human virtue in its most salient essence.
The Moral Virtue: Ethics of Shunning Corruption
Out of life comes death, and out of light comes shadow. This has been the controversy between good and evil that for centuries has mystified moral philosophers. In applying the same principle to police ethics, one should be able to say, “out of nobility comes greed” and “out of professionalism comes the dust and ashes of corruption.”
Until relatively recently, it was almost impossible to generate an open discussion of corruption by the police. That was perhaps rationalized on the basis that (1) the police are being made scapegoats for the corruption of society; (2) by painting the police as corrupt, certain segments of society hoped to convince themselves that their corruption was less serious; and (3) because police are responsible for controlling the conduct of others, certain elements of society delight in alleging police corruption. The subject of corruption was subsequently seldom referred to in law enforcement texts and rarely covered in police training programs. Most strikingly, the leaders of some of the most corrupt police departments publicly denied the existence of corruption (Goldstein, 1977:188).
There is considerable disagreement about what constitutes police corruption. Sometimes it is defined so broadly as to include all forms of police wrongdoing, including questionable behavior off the job. At other times it can be defined so narrowly that serious unethical behavior is excluded (Goldstein, 1977:188).
Consistent with the narrower perspective is the legal definition of corruption that can be found in federal or state penal codes. These include acts such as theft, bribery, perjury, falsification of evidence, record tampering, and official oppression. While such behaviors are clearly unethical, they are also illegal and their practice by police makes perhaps the worst kind of corruption in the minds of citizens (Souryal, 1977:418).
Consistent with the broader perspective is the sociological view of corruption. It focuses on the issue of arbitrary power, because arbitrariness presupposes an intent to achieve an end other than that for which the power was granted. Accordingly, all acts of arbitrariness, including abuse of authority, brutality, and violation of civil rights, are considered corrupt. While in police subculture many acts of arbitrariness may appear justifiable (for example, surreptitious entries by FBI agents for intelligence purposes, provocative law enforcement in combating gang crimes, or physical overreaction in protecting one’s partner), none, perhaps, can withstand the categorical tests of duty, honesty, or obligation. From an ethical point of view, corruption is prima facie culpable behavior. It is generally characterized by malice, greed, or an intention to exploit. While corrupt acts may also be products of ignorance (remember Socrates’s view of wrongdoing), ethicists tend to be more stringent when immoral acts involve betrayal of public office. As such, Goldstein defines police corruption as “acts involving the misuse of authority by a police officer in a manner designed to produce personal gain for the officer or for others” (Goldstein, 1977:189). Given the noble cause of police to make the world a safer place to live, corruption by police should be viewed as a particularly sinister form of public misconduct (Caldero & Crank, 2011).
Scope of Police Corruption
Subjective evidence indicates that police corruption has been with us for a long time, perhaps since the inception of organized policing. Walker calls it a problem of enormous magnitude, and Sherman observes that “for as long as there have been police, there has been police corruption” (Walker, 1983:174). In a study of crime in colonial New York, Walker reported that numerous complaints about misconduct by law enforcement officials were noted. He also reported that the office of sheriff was often auctioned off to the highest bidder in pre-Civil War Kentucky, and in both New York and Chicago scandals involving the police have been regular occurrences.
In New York City, scandals seemed to erupt once every 20 years with almost perfect regularity (Walker, 1983:174). The Knapp Commission Report on Police Corruption (1972) revealed that corruption in the city was “widespread and took various forms depending upon the activity involved, appearing at its most sophisticated among plainclothesmen.” Corrupt acts, the report indicated, involved gambling, narcotics, prostitution, construction, bars, parking and traffic, and tow trucks, to mention just a few (Report, 1972:1). The Pennsylvania Crime Commission (1974) also reported that police corruption in Philadelphia is “ongoing, widespread, systematic, and occurring at all levels of the police department” (Walker, 1983:174). Studies by Barker and Carter (1994) pointed out sustained patterns of occupational deviance including perjury, brutality, sex on duty, drinking on duty, and sleeping on duty. In an empirical study, the authors found that the perceived extent of corruption as reported by officers represented (in a multicategory-reporting fashion) approximately 39% brutality, 22% perjury, 31% sex on duty, 8% drinking on duty, and 39% sleeping on duty (Barker & Carter, 1994:132).
The Dust and Ashes of Corruption
Institutional corruption is especially immoral because of its fallout of dust and ashes. By dust I mean the moral degradation of the profession in general and the agency one serves in particular. By ashes I mean the social tax that society must pay—either directly, as payoffs to police, or indirectly, in terms of social embarrassment.
The cost of police corruption is significantly high. According to Walker, four “hidden social costs” exist. First, the hedonistic nature of corruption represents a “secret tax” on businesses that must pay off the police in order to avoid harassment. Second, disregarding the law, especially by those who are paid to uphold it, strikes deep into the Kantian theory of duty. Police officials who disregard the law violate the very “categorical imperative” of institutional and personal integrity. They also undermine the principle of rule of law by allowing illegal activity to flourish. Third, betraying the professional values of policing destroys the essence of policing by robbing the officer of self-respect and the potential for self-realization. Effective discipline, including self-discipline, becomes nearly impossible when corruption is systematic. Fourth, the existence of corruption undermines the public faith in the police and their commitment to serve society. These costs can further impede police professionalism by undermining public trust and confidence (Walker, 1983:174).
To reduce the fallout of dust and ashes, serious thought must be given to police corruption. Logical reasoning, rather than old myths; sagacity, rather than rationalization; and ethical reasoning, rather than organizational subculture, should be used to examine its nature and causes. One reason, perhaps, that police corruption has persisted for so long is because police practitioners have been wrapped in its fog, unable to see the light overhead or the hills of dust and ashes under their feet.
Hedonistic and Obligatory Corruption
Delattre remarks in Character and Cops, “If greed is simple, the variety of temptations to which police officials succumb is not” (Delattre, 1998:78). While temptations of this sort are too numerous to count and may vary in volume and intensity from one agency to another, two broad categories of police corruption can be identified: hedonistic corruption for personal gain or comfort, and obligatory corruption, or ignoring the rules for egotistical reasons.
Hedonistic corruption relates to low-visibility economic temptations that include gratuities, bribery, thefts, and similar behaviors. They are described in great detail in most police textbooks that discuss the subject. They will therefore be only briefly mentioned here.
Gratuities, Bribes, and Payoffs
These are perhaps the most extensive forms of hedonistic corruption. For example, officers may receive free meals at a restaurant, a free haircut at a barber shop, or discounts on merchandise they purchase at a store. While gratuities are generally viewed by police as a minor form of corruption, Delattre considers them the beginning of more sinful deviance, namely, bribes. Truck drivers may clip money to their drivers’ licenses to avoid traffic citations, contractors may pay the police to ignore city ordinances, and bar owners may pay to allow double-parked cars or violations of Sunday-closing laws. As petty bribery becomes commonplace, police may even make frivolous inquiries to collect bribe money.
Bribes may in turn escalate into payoffs. These are usually mutually arranged and strictly honored. When payoffs are routinely paid to the police, especially to those at the top of the organization, the formal control structure of the agency becomes increasingly ineffective. Rules and operating procedures promulgated by the agency are held in contempt because, as Goldstein asserts, “You can’t expect those on the take to take orders” (Goldstein, 1977:190). Subsequently, as the Knapp Commission Report on Police Corruption (1972) reveals, a number of officers (characterized as “meat eaters”) spend a good deal of their working hours aggressively seeking out situations they can exploit for financial gain. What Delattre, Goldstein, and others are warning of is the notion of the “slippery slope of moral career”—the deeper one is involved, the more difficult dissociation becomes. From an ethical point of view, this notion is hardly new. Aristotle, Saint Augustine, Kant, and Butler all warned of its dangers when they advocated moral character as the anchor that can prevent the “temple of virtue” from slipping into apostasy.
Theft and Burglary
These types of corruption are usually committed when, during the course of their work, police appropriate goods or money that do not belong to them. Examples would include an officer who picks up a drunk on the street, finds $100 in the person’s wallet, and keeps half of it. The individual was unconscious at the time, and when he wakes up, he has a difficult time persuading anyone that he actually had $100 in his wallet when he was arrested. Another often-cited example is the “disappearance” of weapons and valuable goods from the police property room, where they are held for safekeeping. Officers may appropriate weapons for their personal use or for sale (Walker, 1983:177).
Organized burglary rings by the police are not uncommon. Examples include the 1958-1960 scandals that erupted in Chicago, Denver, and Omaha, when it was revealed that groups of officers were actively engaged in burglary. In some instances, the officers committed the burglaries themselves. In others, they provided protection while a professional burglar committed the act (Walker, 1983:177).
In Barker and Carter’s Police Deviance (1994), Allen Sapp reports that demanding sexual favors from prostitutes, homosexuals, or citizens involved in illegal activities is perhaps the most serious of all forms of sexual misconduct by police. Sapp points out that sexually motivated misconduct by police includes contacts with crime victims, offenders, and young females; sexual shakedowns; and voyeuristic contacts. The author further states that perhaps no other occupation presents the opportunities for sexual misconduct that policing does. This he bases on both the extent of police authority and the constant contact police officers have with members of society in relative isolation. As a prescription for controlling sexual misconduct, Sapp suggests that police departments take an aggressive ethical view of sexual misconduct and that the attitude that “boys will be boys” should not be allowed to prevail. Only when administrators and supervisors educate their subordinates that sexual misconduct is intrinsically wrong and will not be tolerated is the behavior likely to decrease (Barker & Carter, 1994:198).
When Police Are Out of Control
Wallkill is an Orange County town of 25,000 in New York State, and for the past few years its residents have had to put up with a variety of torments from the 25-member police force. Problems with the police department first came to light in 1998 when Officer Ari Moscowitz went to superiors with allegations of officers working side jobs while in uniform and taking cash under the table. In January 2001 the town had enough clues that its police department was out of control. One of the widely reported discoveries was that the police chief was seen having sex with a woman in the backseat of a police vehicle (New York Times, 2001). That was deftly characterized in an official report as “the chief’s dalliance.” Then there was the harassment, intimidation, and outright coercion of women by Wallkill cops, both on and off duty. Teenage girls employed at a local store took to hiding in a back room because of the repeated pawing and suggestive comments of an on-duty, uniformed police officer.
When the voluntary civilian police commission conducted an investigation of the department (prompted by complaints about its crime-fighting ineptitude), members of the commission found themselves and their families being harassed by the police. Predatory behavior seemed to be the rule (New York Times, 2001). As a result, New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, responding to the insanity, filed a federal lawsuit against the town of Wallkill charging that it had failed to reign in its lawless police department. He also demanded that the Wallkill police department be placed under a federal monitor. To that the town board grudgingly agreed three weeks after the attorney general filed the lawsuit, calling the police department a “rogue” police force. The monitor would serve for three years. Details of the lawsuit included the following information.
In the spring of 2001 a 23-year-old woman driving alone was stopped and arrested for drunken driving. According to court papers filed by the state attorney general, she was not intoxicated. A videotape of the stop showed that the woman was given a field sobriety test. Nevertheless, the woman was taken into custody. The following week the arresting officer approached the woman and suggested he could get the charges dropped if she would go out with him. The woman declined and the judge later dismissed the charges.
In another case, a cop who had arrested a woman on a petty larceny charge ordered her into a holding cell and told her to take her pants down so he could search for contraband. The woman, frightened, complied. Later the officer told the woman that he would try to have the charges reduced if she would meet with him privately.
The Wallkill cops even had a special vehicle, known as the “stealth car,” that was used for following women drivers. The front of the car had no markings to indicate that it was a police vehicle. Late one night, a cop in the stealth car followed an 18-year-old woman as she was driving home from her job at a movie theater. On a particularly dark, almost deserted road, the officer began flashing his headlights. Not seeing any police marks on the car, she became afraid for her safety and continued driving. The woman pulled in the driveway of her parent’s home and began blowing the horn. By the time her mother came out of the house, the driver was crying. When the mother attempted to comfort her daughter, the cop pulled his gun, cursed, and told her to stay back. The driver was arrested and taken to jail, where she was held for a couple of hours and then released on $500 bail.
In addition, the attorney general’s report said that police harassed citizens who spoke of their conduct by following them and repeatedly driving by their houses. The town’s police also ticketed eight newspaper delivery trucks in one day to retaliate against articles about how officers were working simultaneously at one police department while also “punched in” at another. “It’s certainly a good ol’ boy slapping group who likes to run around and play cowboys and Indians. All of a sudden, their party’s interrupted, and they’re angry about it,” said John Lovett, the lawyer for Officer Moscowitz (The Houston Chronicle, 2001). Furthermore, the agreement between the town and the attorney general required the town to equip each police car with a video camera to document each traffic stop as well as requiring the town to develop a civilian-complaint procedure and annually evaluate each officer’s performance.
If the allegations made in the attorney general’s report are true, the behavior of the Wallkill police force should be condemned by both the police and the citizens. Not only did the officers in question bluntly violate articles of the penal code, they also betrayed their professional contract with the citizens of Wallkill and made a mockery of the police code of ethics, which they had taken an oath to preserve.
Obligatory corruption, on the other hand, entails abusing the rules of office in performing one’s duties. Such abuses are usually committed for no gain other than power, egoism, or self-aggrandizement. While this category may be closely related to the ethics of democracy, the fact that it entails abrogating one’s oath of office warrants special attention.
According to Heffernan and Stroup (1985), obligatory corruption in policing can take one of the following forms:
1. Meting out justice via violations of the Constitution. This includes illegal searches or arrests, which are frequently undertaken to punish persons whom officers believe to be systematically engaged in crime but who are relatively immune from the formal processes of the courts. Such violations amount to illegal punishment, although they may be motivated by the officer’s desire to “clean up the beat,” or his belief that “known criminals” should receive their due punishment.
2. Meting out justice via selective enforcement of the law. This is usually undertaken by a deliberate decision not to enforce the law and amounts to offering illegal clemency. A good example is not issuing tickets to fellow police officers when they are stopped for traffic violations. The officer in these cases may see herself as a merciful administrator of justice and her act as conducive to enhancing police solidarity and professional status.
3. Promoting social order via violations of the Constitution. This includes making illegal stop-and-frisk detainments or questioning suspects believing that the courts do not understand the critical benefits of such actions to the maintenance of public order. Furthermore, the officers may believe that criminal activity can be more efficiently detected when such violations are undertaken than when they are not.
4. Promoting social order via selective enforcement of the law. This includes declining to enforce the law without thinking of the harmful implications of not taking all laws seriously. Activities of this type include whether an arrest is necessary to promote public order when some college students are having a party rather late at night. In such a case, the decision by the officer would be limited only by one’s interpretation of what a party entails and one’s fidelity to the rules of office. The decision to ignore the rules of office may also be influenced by the officer’s perception of whether enforcing the law is worth one’s energy that late at night (Heffernan & Stroup, 1985:9-10).
The Obligatory Ethic Not to Deceive
Police work has been called a “morally dangerous” endeavor— with good reason. Not only are the temptations faced by average police officers much greater than those encountered in other occupations, but the nature of the work requires activities that can easily cross the line from acceptable to unethical conduct (Braswell, McCarthy, & McCarthy, 2015:45). Let us examine, for instance, the police obligatory ethic not to lie.
The ideal of legality implies that those convicted of crimes will be not only factually guilty, but legally guilty as well. A commitment to legality, after all, is what distinguishes democratic governments from totalitarian ones. This establishes the police obligatory ethic to tell the truth at all times, unless certain conditions justify sequestering the truth—working undercover, dealing with secret information, and the like. Nevertheless, as Skolnick indicates, for every ideal there seems to be a practical challenge. In the reality of policing, deception is considered “as natural as pouncing is to a cat” (Skolnick, 1982:41). Take, for instance, the function of detection, without which the criminal justice process is not initiated. This function occurs in the context of fluid moral constraints that are circumscribed by an indistinct tradition of due process of law, unclear interpretations of what constitutes individual rights, and a police subculture that imposes its own moral norms. The detective may therefore find it justifiable to lie in order to ensure conviction. The law even permits the detective to pose as a consumer or purveyor of vice, but does not allow the patrol officer to employ certain ruses to gain entry without a search warrant (United States v. Ressler, 1976).
In explaining deception in the detection process, Skolnick suggests that it occurs at three stages: investigation, interrogation, and testimony. When placed within the framework of the moral cognition of the police, the acceptability of deception varies inversely with the level of the criminal process: Deception is most acceptable at the investigation stage, is less acceptable during the interrogation stage, and is least acceptable in the courtroom (Skolnick, 1982:41). It appears that the police are offered more latitude to deceive by the courts during the investigation stage. The ethical justification is the assumption that when detectives deceive suspects in the course of criminal investigations, they typically are not seeking to promote their own self-interest (as a detective would if he had lied about accepting a bribe). On the contrary, the sort of deception employed to trap a narcotics dealer or a fence is used in support of the public interest.
The paradox that Skolnick raises is interesting because even the most professional detective may accept employing psychological intimidation (another word for lying and deceiving) in order to elicit the truth, as he or she sees it. Thus, in this framework, the end of the truth justifies the means of denying the truth. Skolnick further explains that in rationalizing such logic, the detective indeed applies a utilitarian calculus for ascertaining the truth. The detective measures the costs of lying against the benefits that can accrue to the victim and the general public. However, unlike the civil libertarian, who measures public good in terms of protecting the long-range interests of all citizens, the deceptive investigator narrowly focuses on the conviction of suspects.
At the interrogation stage, Skolnick states that the courts make deception much more difficult, because at that level it is more definite that society would not permit police authorities to employ tactics that are regarded as intrinsically immoral against those who are accused of crime. At the testimonial level, the moral standard is even higher, because the proceeding is public, the detective’s testimony is given under oath, and the quality of evidence is sustained through examination and cross-examination by the prosecution and the defense.
Skolnick concludes by stating that in light of the different perceptions of police deception at these three stages, “it is hard to make consistent common sense out of it.” Such inconsistency, he adds, “makes law look more like a game than a rational system for enforcing justice.” Consequently, “police are not likely to take the stated rules of the game seriously and are encouraged to operate by their own codes, including those which affirm the need for lying whenever the means justify the ends” (Skolnick, 1982:53).
The moral in Skolnick’s investigation is the need to reaffirm the obligatory ethic of telling the truth at all stages of investigation— indeed, in all police functions. The moral is a plea, once again, especially to those officers who tend to take the principle of veracity lightly, to forgo subcultural ethics and consistently tell the truth unless otherwise justified under the specific conditions discussed in Chapter 4.
Can Corruption Be Administratively Stopped?
Despite the numerous manuals, policies, and measures designed to deter police corruption, they may all amount to an effort that has little chance for success. This is precisely because all such efforts focus solely on administrative techniques: designing indicators to detect corruption, determining levels of corruption, developing an anticorruption policy, strengthening internal affairs divisions, and intensifying disciplinary actions. Despite these well-intended measures, in the mind of the officer they may represent another “flurry of activities” reminiscent of the previous others.
Because no one is born corrupt, and because police officers undergo such a rigorous background investigation when they are hired, police corruption is a behavior learned on, or in association with, the job. Also, assuming that corrupt officers are rational, they should have no reason to believe that the restrictions that failed to deter them from “being corrupt” can deter them from “staying corrupt,” especially after many years of hedonistic experiences with corruption.
A major weakness persists in the administrative approach to combating corruption: the perception of corruption as an occupational hazard rather than an occupationally induced problem. As such, the administrative approach attempts to pierce its way from the outside in, relying solely on the power of discipline to instill fear in the hearts of officers. Clearly, corrupt officers cannot be so easily deterred and may not change until they have more “occupational reason” to do so. A realistic effort would require more than just intensifying investigations and disciplinary actions. If corruption is to be shunned, a conscious choice must be made by the individual officer originating from an “occupational concern.” Such a choice requires a “mental revolution” on the part of all, from top to bottom, one that can enhance ethical awareness, promote pride in the agency, propel moral fortitude, and establish a work environment conducive to self-realization—in sum, restoring the occupational soul of policing. No other way has worked in the past, and from an ethics standpoint, no other way is likely to work in the future.
Toward achieving this end, police leaders should be as creative as their enlightened minds can be. Methods to be considered may include (1) creating an environment that is conducive to dignified treatment on the job; (2) increasing ethical awareness among the ranks through formal and informal socialization; (3) avoiding deception and manipulation in the way officers are assigned, rewarded, or promoted; (4) allowing for openness and the free flow of unclassified information; (5) fostering a sense of shared values and incorporating such values into the subculture of the agency; (6) demonstrating an obligation to honesty, fairness, and decency by example; and (7) publicly discussing the issue of corruption, exposing corrupt behavior, and rewarding ethical behavior. While these methods may not work in the short run, they can most likely succeed when combined with goodwill and a sense of moral obligation. The first step, however, must be taken by police leaders who have the moral reasoning and fortitude to incorporate ethics as a standard mode of operation.