The Law Enforcement Code of Ethics

One of the hallmarks of a profession is the existence of a Code of Ethics. Medical doctors trace their Code of Ethics, also known as an oath, to the Greek physician Hippocrates in 370 BC. In law enforcement, there is the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics traceable to 1957.

The Definition of Ethics:  A philosophy that behaviors can be governed by a moral construct and delineated by adopting a set of standards to guide individuals or groups.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) adopted the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics at the 64th Annual IACP Conference and Exposition in October 1957. The IACP is a membership-funded professional association founded in 1893. The association's goals are to advance police services' science, the art of police services, bring about recruitment and training in the police profession of qualified persons, and encourage all police officers' adherence to high professional performance and conduct standards.

The IACP has 31,000 members in 106 countries, and it is likely the chief of the agency you will apply to is a member. A similar organization known as the National Sheriffs Association has a comparative Code of Ethics of the Office of Sheriffs. I was a member of the IACP until I retired and can vouch for its professionalism.

I have included a free download for the Code of Ethics in links throughout this blog and suggest prospective applicants print it out, pin it on your bulletin board and start to memorize it. There is a likelihood you may have to memorize and regurgitate it on demand at some point during the academy. Even if your specific academy doesn't require it, its content is relevant, and every sentence meaningful.

AS A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER, my fundamental duty is to serve mankind; to safeguard lives and property; to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation, and the peaceful against violence or disorder; and to respect the Constitutional rights of all men to liberty, equality, and justice.

I WILL keep my private life unsullied as an example to all; maintain courageous calm in the face of danger, scorn, or ridicule; develop self-restraint; and be constantly mindful of the welfare of others. Honest in thought and deed in both my personal and official life, I will be exemplary in obeying the laws of the land and the regulations of my department. Whatever I see or hear of a confidential nature or that is confided to me in my official capacity will be kept ever secret unless revelation is necessary in the performance of my duty.

I WILL never act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudices, animosities or friendships to influence my decisions. With no compromise for crime and with relentless prosecution of criminals, I will enforce the law courteously and appropriately without fear or favor, malice or ill will, never employing unnecessary force or violence and never accepting gratuities.

I WILL RECOGNIZE the badge of my office as a symbol of public faith, and I accept it as a public trust to be held as long as I am true to the ethics of the police service. I will constantly strive to achieve these objectives and ideals, dedicating myself before God1 to my chosen profession…LAW ENFORCEMENT.

That is The Code in its entirety. The Law Enforcement Code of Ethics has been adopted by several state Peace Officers Standards and Training authorities, also known by the acronym POST. You will hear me discuss POST agencies repeatedly in upcoming episodes of my podcast because of their importance to law enforcement's professionalization. Every state has an agency regulatory authority like POST, which establishes the minimum standards for peace officer hiring and training.

For example, California POST Regulation 1013 states, "The Law Enforcement Code of Ethics…shall be administered to all peace officer trainees during the basic course and to all other persons at the time of appointment."

Additionally, many agencies incorporate a version of The Code into their Rules and Regulations. One significant reason for this is establishing a rule of conduct and a definitive ethical expectation for their officers. Officers whose behavior violates the Code of Ethics can be subject to discipline or termination. So, now you know why I recommend getting a headstart and printing and memorizing it

Now, this isn't because I think you are heading to the academy next week, but memorizing The Code will give you an explicit model of ethical expectations. In Episode 002 of the Law Enforcement Guru podcast, I explained will need to answer the question, "Why do you want to be a police officer, or what does the profession of law enforcement mean to you?" The Code could provide some answers for you.

Additionally, some interview panels may ask situational questions requiring you to make ethical decisions, and without a moral framework, it can make answering questions difficult. In an upcoming podcast, we will be taking some of these questions head-on.

Right now, I think it is worthwhile to dissect The Code and talk about each section and why each sentence is essential.

Paragraph #1: AS A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER, my fundamental duty is to serve mankind; to safeguard lives and property; to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation, and the peaceful against violence or disorder; and to respect the Constitutional rights of all men to liberty, equality, and justice.

Discussion:  Law enforcement officers are obligated to protect and serve the public at large, not just a specific segment of the community, but all people. There are many stories of officers far from their jurisdictions, out of state, and even out of country taking positive police action to protect lives and property. Predators exist in every corner of our community who are constantly looking for the most vulnerable among us, including children who are easily the victims of sexual predators and the elderly who are frequently the victims of financial scams, leaving them penniless. Those who cannot defend themselves are easily taken advantage of, attacked, or intimidated and made to feel unsafe.

The majority of the public are peaceful, non-aggressive, and law-abiding; however, there are those in society who thrive and incite disorder and perpetuate violence while carelessly disregarding the safeguards guaranteed in the Constitution of the United States. Law enforcement officers are often referred to as the "Thin Blue Line." You may have seen the U.S. flag rendered in black and white with one of the stripes in blue. Law enforcement officers are represented by the blue line, which is the separation between good and evil; peace and anarchy.

Paragraph #2: I WILL keep my private life unsullied as an example to all; maintain courageous calm in the face of danger, scorn, or ridicule; develop self-restraint, and be constantly mindful of the welfare of others. Honest in thought and deed in both my personal and official life, I will be exemplary in obeying the laws of the land and the regulations of my department. Whatever I see or hear of a confidential nature or that is confided to me in my official capacity will be kept ever secret unless revelation is necessary in the performance of my duty.

Discussion:  Law enforcement officers must maintain a high ethical and moral standard both on and off-duty. Our positions are highly visible, and we must not draw attention to ourselves, which could bring discredit to our departments. We handle volatile and emotionally charged dangerous situations regularly and cannot let our emotions get the better of us. Successful completion of our tour of duty requires exercising self-control, and we must never lose sight of the fact others depend on us. Honesty in what we say and do in both public and private we cannot be hypocritical with respect to the law or the rules of our departments. During investigations, we have access to confidential information from both computer databases and informants. This information can cause injury or death to others if carelessly revealed, and we are honor-bound not to disclose it unless for a legitimate and lawful reason.

Paragraph #3: I WILL never act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudices, animosities, or friendships to influence my decisions. With no compromise for crime and with relentless prosecution of criminals, I will enforce the law courteously and appropriately without fear or favor, malice or ill will, never employing unnecessary force or violence and never accepting gratuities.

Discussion:  Law enforcement officers are the most visible representative of the government and our laws. We have a great deal of discretion and latitude in the enforcement and prosecution of those laws. Criminals will be apprehended and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Despite our relentless pursuit, we will enforce the law fairly, courteously, without compromise, and only use reasonable force necessary to effect an arrest. We shall never accept favor or gratuities that could cloud our judgment or undermine the public trust.

Paragraph #4: I WILL RECOGNIZE the badge of my office as a symbol of public faith, and I accept it as a public trust to be held as long as I am true to the ethics of the police service. I will constantly strive to achieve these objectives and ideals, dedicating myself before God1 to my chosen profession…LAW ENFORCEMENT.

Discussion:  The badge represents the faith and trust bestowed upon you by the public, and this responsibility exists as long as you remain ethical and loyal to the police service. As an aside, I want to mention that if a person has an objection to the word God, it can be omitted during their recital.

Unfortunately, I have personally have investigated many unfortunate situations that lead to officers being disciplined or terminated for violation of the Code of Ethics and other department rules and regulations. Every case could trace back to the failure of the officer to abide by The Code. Police agencies are competing with other employers to hire qualified applicants. Until RoboCop has been perfected, we will still need to recruit peace officers from within the populace and live with their strengths, weaknesses, and varying moral compasses.

Our communities will always have individuals demonstrating the full spectrum of ethical behavior and having ulterior motives wanting to become officers. The law enforcement application and selection process exists to weed out the unsuitable and identify the qualified and why it is so difficult to pass and has so many probing and intimate components. There is an ethical obligation to the community to hire men and women who have already demonstrated the highest ethical and moral traits and behaviors. So, it can't be overemphasized the importance of ethics in police services.

Conclusion: As a current or future police applicant, each of you needs to examine your present and past actions and analyze them against the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics paragraphs. In other words, you might need to clean up your act a bit more. Perhaps you have done some things you were not very proud of, possibly your careless words or deeds will be uncovered during your background. Hopefully, you have learned something from those ethical lapses, and they were not a consistent theme throughout your life.

Whatever your past actions, each of you moving forward need to vow to live your life within the ethical framework contained within the Code of Ethics. I want to thank you all for joining me today.

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