The police force in the USA constitutes one of the three branches of the criminal justice system, with officers responsible for not only lawbreaker detainment and crime prevention, but for public safety too. With the responsibility for the maintenance of order, enforcement of the law, and general public service all being laid on the police force, the need for principled conduct becomes an apt concern. The administration of the police force in the form of a chief of police, hence, becomes crucial regarding not only organization and management but also concerning ethical conduct.
Social Responsibility and Public Interest
The intersection between the spheres of public interest and the acquired authority that an individual performing a public service in any form leads to varying degrees of responsibility. This rings accurate within the police force, especially since “police officers are entrusted to provide security, peace, and fair and impartial treatment to all individuals with the utmost regard for the law” (Braswell, McCarthy, & McCarthy, 2017, p. 492). With police chiefs being directly responsible for their employees and public opinion of them, which directly shapes citizen receptiveness to their job, they need to uphold a sterling reputation of their organization becomes paramount.
Without a decent reputation in the public eye, performing a public service switches from being welcome assistance to being perceived as a hindrance. Without faith in their government, people do not trust government workers, and without proper conduct, relying on particular ethical rules within the organization, government workers cannot be upheld to a standard (Kettl, 2015). The obligation of anyone in a management position, in our case a chief of police, is to set guidelines for proper behavior not based on individual moral orientation and to create a system of repercussions.
Such a method of consequences should be inclusive of the person in the managerial position, as well as their subordinates. In the case of public servants, there exists a system of checks-and-balances, with “many states prohibit[ing] by statute any elected official from ordering an appointed career civil servant to perform certain specific acts” (Milakovich & Gordon, 2013, p. 241). Adherence to both ethical and government-installed laws provides for the creation of a system that appropriately reflects the values it was created to uphold.
Upholding the police force to a particular code of conduct could combat many shortcomings of a system that allows for independence within itself. The ethical ideas of eradicating corruption, the absence of any prejudice, and the concept of “leading by example” all create a force that is reflective of the public trust put into them (“Code of ethics,” 2018). Unfortunately, despite the desire to create an appropriate system through a set of rules, “ambiguous expectations and enormous caseloads pose huge challenges for [police officers]” (Kettl, 2015, p. 105). Hence, while upholding ethical rules to the same standard as government-implemented laws seem to be a reasonable course of action in creating an ideal system, it may become a hindrance to everyday conduct.
Ethics and Repercussions
Nonetheless, doing away with the system of ethics in favor of effectivity within the police force would achieve nothing of value. Taking, for example, the code of ethics implemented in the Berkley University of California Police Department (UCPD), we see the same “ambiguous” rules, which allow for their flexible implementation (“Code of ethics,” 2018). With the coverage of the essential parts of appropriate conduct, such as impartiality, truthfulness, and self-example, adding more rules could lead to the overstrain of police officials and incline the system from guidelines to punishment. However, the duty of a police chief involves not only the same weight as that of an ordinary police officer but also the responsibility of a commanding position. The inclusion of supplementary guidelines to the already existing code of ethics, such as rules created to establish accountability and the fair treatment not only of citizens but employees too. The regulations relating to personal responsibility for professional performance should, for such an office, be amended to make authority bear liability for their agency.
It is appropriate to reiterate that a managerial position is always under more duress due to a responsibility to uphold the general standard not only for the public but their subordinates as well. A dishonest administrator not only disrupts the instituted process but also breeds similar tendencies among their employees, repulsing from the job those, who would be interested in upholding the ethical and governmental standard (Milakovich & Gordon, 2013). The creation of, or transformation into, a corrupt system not only undermines the organization but also continues the development of that, which the structure was created to eradicate.
Mistrust aimed at the police force leads, in the best case of events, to crimes being left unreported, and to obstruction of justice and vigilantism in the worst case. Hence, the upholding of an ethical standard relies not on the creation of an all-encompassing set of rules, which would presumably restrict law enforcement, but on a personal example and suitable repercussions for misconduct (Parsons, 2016). A police system with a corrupt chief cannot expect to hold within itself honorable employees, as an unjust system cannot hope to encompass principled actors.
Only through an appropriate balance between formalism, governmental regulations, and ethical code, can public service be administered without backlash from the public. In the police force, the upholding of a flexible system of conduct does not create a hindrance to the execution of assistance, and in turn, helps to uphold the standard set by themselves. In turn, the adherence of the chief of police to the system they have been appointed to support creates not only favorable public opinion but reinforces the justness of the system.
Braswell, M. C., McCarthy, B. R., & McCarthy, B. J. (2017). Justice, crime, and ethics (9th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Code of ethics | Police department (UCPD). (2018). Web.
Kettl, D. F. (2015). The transformation of governance: Public administration for the twenty-first century. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.
Milakovich, M. E., & Gordon, G. J. (2013). Public administration in America (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth.
Parsons, P. J. (2016). Ethics in public relations: A guide to best practice (3rd ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Kogan Page Limited.