Ethics and Law Enforcement

Female police officer presents in front of classroom

The role of ethics in law enforcement

Law enforcement agents and officials are often forced to make critical decisions in their day-to-day duties. Students who have just received their online bachelor’s degree in criminal justice & criminology and wish to become a servant of the people will have to maintain a level of professionalism in the face of the pressure that can occur on the job. Many criminal justice programs prepare future police and law enforcement officials for these types of situations, which are covered by a code of ethics.

Ethics defined: Ethics refers to moral philosophy, or a type of thinking that addresses concerns in topics such as evil and good, justice and crime, and right and wrong. Although seemingly self-explanatory, ethics can involve a large amount of gray area depending on the situation. This is a definitive part of the debate in ethics.

Socrates’ ethics: In the 5th century BC, Socrates, a Greek philosopher, began thinking about ethics in a different way. He began to imagine ethics as a set of values. Socrates felt that people acted immorally, but did not do so deliberately, and that human nature was to err.

Aristotle’s ethics: Longtime rival of Socrates, Aristotle had a much different take on ethics. To him, ethics was a way to improve a person’s life through living well and adhering to the major virtues such as justice, courage, patience, and temperance. He believed that to live properly, people need a proper appreciation of things such as friendship, honor, and respect for one another.


Ethics in law enforcement: Law enforcement agents are often seen by the public as being “above the law,” as they are able to break certain rules to catch criminals. However, this is not true. Each graduate of a criminal justice degree program must take an oath before being instituted as an agent of law enforcement. An example in Indiana’s law enforcement code of ethics prevents police corruption.

The Law Enforcement Oath of Honor: When new law enforcement agents are sworn in, they must agree to take an oath of honor. This is a public affirmation of a candidate’s willingness to adhere to the set standards of the profession. The oath of honor, in any organization, is considered more of a symbol of ethical behavior than a legally binding agreement, but it nevertheless instills a weight upon any position. Some of the virtues covered by a law enforcement oath of honor may be:
•Public trust
•Courage in the line of duty.

Federal law enforcement ethics: Each law enforcement division in a state or local institution will have its own set of ethics, but federal ethics will trump any of these types of codes.

A description of police deviance: Deviance in any profession is considered an action or behavior that violates a cultural or societal norm. In police work, deviance occurs when officers break their oath and decide to pursue the same criminal activities they are supposed to prevent.

The ethics of police deception: Some deviant behavior employed by police may fall under an entirely different code of ethics. This type of police deception is a must for justifying the reasons behind a malicious or unjust act and is recognized as a disconnect from a certain goal or means to achieve a goal.

Ethics institutions

Numerous ethical committees exist to establish the codes of conduct for certain organizations and to create overall codes of ethics for governing people.

House of Representatives Committee on Ethics: This institution looks to establish codes of ethics for each employee of the House. The ethics established by this agency are often utilized as a central code of ethics for all government agencies.

U.S. State Office of Government Ethics: The Office of Government Ethics seeks to improve ethical procedures throughout the country.

National Institute of Ethics (NIE): This center is the nation’s largest law enforcement and corrections officer organization for ethics. The NIE works to train police officers in a one-, two-, three-, or five-day seminar.

The Center for Law Enforcement Ethics: As a organization that monitors the police, this institution is dedicated to helping provide ethical procedures to law enforcement officials across the country.