Law, as Reinhold Niebuhr (1941) once said, is a “compromise between moral ideas and practical possibilities” (302). The same is true of ethical behavior for employees of the criminal justice system. How police officers settle the tension between moral duties and low constraints is important not just for the profession of the criminal justice system but also for the public. Employees of the criminal justice system play a crucial role in the structure of public private affairs and social institutions.
This role carries multiple, sometimes competing responsibilities and duties to the public. Employees of the criminal justice system also face conflicts between their professional obligations, ethical behavior and personal interests. A central challenge of police officers is how to live a life of integrity in the tension between these competing demands (Parker and Sampford 182). This essay discusses the importance of professionalism, responsibility, integrity, duty, and ethical behavior for employees of the criminal justice system.
It also provides an overview of ethical behavior in practice. The essay identifies those features of police officers that make its profession distinct from other professions, and that explain the “status pride” of police officers – the high self-regard they experience as the members of a profession. Main Body Even if it is believed that ethical behavior in the criminal justice system is legitimate, many people wonder whether it is really all that important.
Some people believe that ethical behavior is important when individuals are acting as citizens, as friends, or as family members, but not when they are acting as employees of the criminal justice system. Yet, it is not hard to find situations in which an ethical question is a major, if not dominant, dimension. One needs only to look at the newspaper to see the possibilities. Many of these situations directly connected with human lives are unavoidable in the criminal justice system. Looking at these facts, it is hard to claim that ethics is a frill or a topic of minor importance for police officers.
But why should people care about ethical behavior of employees of the criminal justice system? It is appropriate to begin by recalling how large a role police officers play in American life. Despite the fact that people have always viewed police officers with a measure of distrust – inevitable, even salutary, in a democracy in which police officers possess the keys to the law system and, with that, a disproportionate share of power – people have also entrusted them a leading role in controlling citizens’ affairs, both public and private.
Fearing and even sometimes loathing police officers, people have nevertheless entrusted them with great powers and responsibilities, and made them, to a remarkable degree, the agents empowered to enforce the law and to affect public and social order. People have trusted police to play a central role in the control of public and social order, and if one asks why, a partial answer would be that people have done so because the legal professionalism that constitute the basis of their status pride also equip them to play a leading role in the regulation of public and social order.
The features of police practice that make it a profession are significant because they justify the status pride of police officers. The police profession is an integrative force in modern world. This is one reason why officers are entrusted with such large responsibilities in matters of governance. It is also why police officers should be concerned by a threat to the culture of police professionalism. For the values that define this culture are the key to the work that police officers do.