While it is a felony to flee the scene of an accident, a police office is ethically bound to report the issue if he himself is in such an accident. The same is with drunken and disorderly behavior or destruction of property. In "Choirboys" the police officers would congregate in a park after hours to engage in drunkenness, disorderly behavior and sexual orgies with women. And this park was supposed to be out of bounds and closed to the public after hours.
The introduction in this essay already alluded to the "blue wall of silence" that accompanies every police organization. This is an exclusive fraternity and officers are required to look after and out for each other. In fact, beat cops see themselves as removed from the detective squad, whom they refer to as suits. Certainly, most police hate the Internal affairs squad, though they were once beat cops and/or detectives like themselves. The Internal Affairs bureau is a group that is supposed to oversee ethical breaches and enforce a code of conduct among officers, which is taken to be an affront. Police officers are required to be loyal to each other. This is acceptable, since they often have to face life threatening situations together, which might engender bonds of friendship that go beyond the casual. (Swift, Houston, & Anderson, 1993)
Ethical issues arise when one officer breaks the law and the others rally around to protect him. Depending on how egregious the law is, some officers might or might not adhere to the unwritten code of loyalty.
The utilitarian underpinnings might cause an officer to accept a token gift for solving a crime or helping out. This might be as innocuous as being invited into a home to drink a cup of coffee or sharing a beer with somebody they have been involved with through work (not counting other police officers). The officer might do this to be friendly, or encourage feelings of trust in the police. Indeed, officers who are often patrol the same area become close to the residents of that area and might even fraternize with them. Gratuities taken to the extreme becomes a bribe. Ethical issues arise when the gift is valuable enough, though nothing overt is expected. The officer is faced with the dilemma not knowing whether it is a gratuity or a bribe.
The ethical issues discussed above raise more questions than answer them. This is because there are no specific rules for behavior. In a policeman's world, to use a cliche, "one has to flow with the punches" and react to the situation in a manner that will bring about law and order as rapidly and efficiently as is possible. This means that police officers might have, in the interest of producing a resolution to a problem, to eschew what is strictly legal in favor of what is pragmatic. (Miller, 2000) the struggle with ethical issues might be forced by the need to be utilitarian -- the teleological argument that the ends need to be justified. These justifications might take the form of bringing about a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in the officer or bringing about a resolution to a problem. Certainly, often, officers consult official departmental policy in debating how to solve a problem. This policy (and even advice of fellow senior officers) might not be in keeping with the letter of the law.
This example illustrates the above better. It is often used as a training scenario. If an elderly woman steals medications from a pharmacy because it will help her survive, the officer is required to book the lady because it is the law. Even the departmental policy would involve an arrest being made.
But this would still remain a dilemma for the officer, who is looking out for the welfare and health of the elderly woman, who is not a criminal in a loose sense of the word. These issues often confound police duties.
Other issues often determine how a police officer deals with an ethical dilemma. This might involve religious ethics, upbringing, education, and time spent personally weighing where an individual stands given different scenarios. But these are intrinsic to an officer. Clearly, while in the process of solving the crime, an officer cannot wait to debate the ethical consequences. He uses background (which is governed by intrinsic ethics), experience and instincts.
One of the dangers in skirting ethical issues to resolve a problem expeditiously is that it sets this officer on a slippery slope to criminal behavior. There is a formalism for this -- the continuum of compromise. (BusinessWeek, 2004) in the interest of profits (for themselves and share holders) they took smaller and smaller risks until they were far away from what they had started out to do, ending up where they did.
BusinessWeek. (2004). Who will Fastow Implicate.
Retrieved April 22, 2008, at http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/jan2004/nf20040115_1433_db035.htm
Gilmartin, K.M., & Harris, J.J. (1998). Law Enforement Ethics: The Continuum of Compromise. Police Chief Magazine
Retrieved April 22, 2008, at http://www.rcmp-learning.org/docs/ecdd1222.htm
Higgins, T.E. (2000). Making Good Decision: Value from Fit. American Pyshcologist, 55(11), 1217-1230.
Miller, D.J. (2000). The Necessity of Principles in Virtue Ethics. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 2(2), 107.
Swift, a., Houston, J., & Anderson, R. (1993). Cops, Hacks and the Greater Good. Paper presented at the Ethics of Criminal Justice, Kansas City, MO.
Wambaugh, J. (1975). The choirboys. New York: Delacorte Press.