Enforcing the Code of Ethics – The Public’s Expectation
In a system of justice where the public’s trust is placed in the checks and balances established in the judicial system itself, the integrity of those involved is supposed to be above reproach. Ultimate trust is bestowed upon the police officers who enforce the laws, the attorneys who handle the case, and ultimately the courts who hear the case and pronounce judgment. In a system where over ninety-seven percent of the cases are concluded without going to trial 1, it is critical to the process for those given such high standing to be above suspicion in their professional morals and integrity. Within this system transparency is an essential, it wouldn’t matter whether the ethical failure or betrayal of the law enforcement Code of Ethics 2 came from an individual officer, police administrator, or entire organization, because the way it is handled would be public record.
Funded by taxpayers, the public has a right to information
Furthermore, since police services are funded primarily from taxpayer revenues, the public has the right to information 3 about people and events paid for with taxpayer money. According to Sir Robert Peel, the ability of police services to function appropriately and performance of their duties requires the publics’ approval of law enforcement actions. Some administrators might object on the basis that public disclosure of disciplinary actions might prejudice members of the community against the disciplined officer. It is true that it very well might. Decades ago, individual police officers recognized that their badge was a symbol of the public’s trust and, as a result of that trust, their personal motivations, attitudes, biases, and prejudices were subject to intense public scrutiny. Within this context, an officer voluntarily accepts public scrutiny when he/she agrees to keep their private life unsullied and to live as an example to others in regard to personal integrity and compliance with the law.
The reason for law enforcement’s existence
Once again, the public trust and statutory authority bestowed upon police officers require a higher standard of individual performance. Those not wishing to be subjected to such public scrutiny have always had and continue to have the option of choosing a different career path. Once one recognizes, and accepts, that the fundamental reason for law enforcement’s existence is service to the community then it’s easy to understand that the natural consequence of losing this focus will always be a corresponding loss of public trust and organizational credibility.