The devastating attacks on United States soil that took place on September 11, 2001, became the turning point for all police activity. The police mission went from protecting people against day-to-day violence, to protecting a society from foreign attack. Terrorism is defined as "the systematic use of terror [fear] especially as a means of coercion" (merriam-webster.com). It was this idea that something that could not be fully understood, such as a terrorist attack, could indeed cause so many people to be afraid. However, this changed what it meant to be in law enforcement. Despite problems that do exist on a local level, the focus has shifted from making sure that any threat of a potential attack could be prevented. Personal liberties have been violated, discriminatory profiling has risen, and corruption within police force has elevated -- all in the name of terrorism prevention.
The concept of terrorism has completely altered the police mission in the United States. More focus, as well as funding, is now being attributed to roles that would enable police officials to focus more on studying terrorism and figuring out ways to prevent terrorism from occurring. Nationwide, there has been a dramatic increase in police roles now being attributed to terrorism intelligence and the study of its infrastructure. About 75% of state law enforcement is now focused on terrorism-related investigations, while less than 10% of the state police involvement is focused on traditional criminal investigation (Foster et al., 2005). That is a tremendous discrepancy, considering that it is more likely for local crime to occur and escalate than it is for terrorism to once again become a fatal problem. It is this drastic shift in priorities that has changed the policing mission. More and more, police are being assigned to positions that would require them to have a focus on prevention of terrorism, and less emphasis on the protection of the local community. Not only are police no longer protecting its citizens as they used to, they also possess more freedom to violate their personal liberties.
The Patriot Act became an official part of the United States government roughly a month and a half after the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington D.C. This act granted the police, under the provisions of suspected terrorism, to completely violate and take advantage of citizens' civil liberties. With this act police officials could now search personal property, conduct surveillance, seize personal records, and listen in on private conversations -- all without necessitating a warrant (Nalle, 2011). The only valid reason needed to have all these liberties granted to law enforcement officials, is the suspicion of terrorism. There need not be any concrete nor valid evidence in order to support their suspicion. If a police officer has a hunch, even a grudge, he or she can do as they please, and violate personal freedom (Roberts, 2009). In order to protect the country from any future terrorist attacks, any privacy law can be broken because it is protected by the Patriot Act; the ability to balance one with the other seems almost impossible. The right to privacy and the need for nationwide protection from potential terrorism is a battle still being fought.
Racial and religious profiling has become a great concern because of the new role of policing, and the protection of these officials with the Patriot Act. Personal liberties are being violated and the first amendment of the United States Constitution is no longer valid because of this. There is now a very thin line between what is considered to be following police ethics and what actions would actually be merited and excused by the Patriot Act. Although it is unethical and against moral code to target anyone because of their ethnicity or religious affiliation, this continues to be done, and has now grown because of the ability to be protected behind a law. The social stigma that now surrounds an individual who is of Muslim religion or of Middle Eastern descent is negative. Because of the role that a group of radical individuals had in the September 11 attacks, this particular group of people is being targeted by the police and law enforcement officials. In Knoxville, Tennessee this violation of privacy and this social stigma was all too well felt. Police officials used the Patriot Act to allow themselves to personal files of Iraqi refugees under the suspicion of possible terrorist activity (Roberts, 2009). In fact, these individuals were legal citizens of the United States who had gone against their leader former Saddam Hussein. This put into perspective the possibility of police corruption in this manner. Because of the citizens' background, police were able to target them and accuse them of coercing acts that they had no part in. If this can be done to these American citizens, then it can be done to all American citizens. It is this discrepancy that puts into question the ethical forces behind police corruption.
Police abuse of power is a form of corruption. It is this same corruption that leads to excessive use of force in particular policing situations. This however goes against any ethics learned as a police officer. The same ethical forces that drive police corruption are involved in this abuse of force. Police corruption is covered by the fact that police officials can get away with just about anything if their defending argument is that everything was done in the name of reducing crime. Cover-ups are forms of corruption that are often caused by police getting out of control with the amount of force used on accused and apprehended individuals (Rayman, 2010). Both are ethically wrong, but tend to go hand in hand. The freedom granted to police officials in judging when force, violence, or coercion is necessary, allows for an easier form of committing an illegal act by these same police officers. Abuse of police power can be used to justify these acts, which in turn leads to further corruption (Rayman, 2010).
Once one ethical dilemma has been broken, it becomes easier to violate others. That is why the ethical forces behind police corruption are the same as those involved in police use of excessive force. In previous incidences, political groups whose missions have been to defend their personal cause and disagree with governmental regulation have been exposed to additional force and violence because police officials do not always agree with their cause (Baker, 2012). Despite their national identification, because they are apt to cause a disturbance while protecting their belief, the police who is supposed to be protecting them from harm end up being the one's abusing their right by using excessive force when not necessary, in order to control them (Baker, 2012). However, because this is not only unethical, but also illegal, police cover up these incidences to protect themselves. Corruption in the form of hiding information, misplacing documents, or completely lying or denying that incidences of this magnitude occurs is where ethical boundaries are no longer pertinent (Rayman. 2010). As previously stated, once one unethical circumstance is overlooked, it becomes easier to commit further unethical activities.
Having an individual conscience while trying to maintain a police mentality and still be able to go through with specific police assignments can get difficult. Police officers are taught to protect their citizens from harm and to protect themselves as well. But under extreme stress and direct combat, these lines of what is wrong and what is right can get blurred. A police official, who cannot live with the idea of having to kill someone in self-defense, will have a difficult time defending others and him or herself. This may go in direct conflict with certain police assignments. Thinking too much about how the family of the individual who is committing the crime may feel if they were to be shot, adds stress to an individual's conscience and may hinder them from being able to perform their assigned duties. This empathy need not be completely diminished, but there has to be a balance between personal morals and the completion of a duty. However, an individual's conscience could be what can turn a potentially bad situation into a good one.
Individual conscience can stop illegal acts from occurring, within the police force. A police officer, who is not okay with his fellow cohorts' potential illegal activities, will be more inclined to report them (Rayman, 2010). Police officers are trained to form a bond with their fellow workers. They have to defend each other and are therefore joined into a relationship that depends on honesty and trust. They have to develop a group mentality. But in situations where a police officer is committing an illegal act, such as stealing money or drugs during specific police assignments, an individual mentality, that is, an individual's conscience, may be what saves corruption from occurring. It can stop police officers from going through with their intention altogether, or it will increase the possibility of a…