Law Enforcement Ethics Training

    By Dr. Frank Kardasz

    Law and punishment are coercive forms of social control, linked to the community  moral code. Law
    enforcement officers attempt to balance the power and  mandate to control with democratic freedoms
    and human rights. Their struggles can occur in street environments rife with injustice, immorality,
    temptation, emotion and violence. As American democracy evolves and technologies advance, law
    enforcement becomes increasingly complex and demanding.

    Contemporary law enforcement officers, bearing common oaths of office, navigate ethical mine fields.
    They sometimes must weigh personal values against peer demands for group cohesion, in frustrating
    environments where challenging peace-keeping responsibilities pit them against the unethical underbelly
    of criminal America. Sometimes at-odds within their own ranks, ethical issues abound.

    Law enforcement corruption scandals are painful reminders of the need for continuing education in the
    subjects of ethics and integrity. In a 1997 statement, the International Association of Chiefs of Police said:

    Ethics is our greatest training and leadership need today and into the next century. In addition to
    the fact that most departments do not conduct ethics training, nothing is more devastating to
    individual departments and our entire profession than uncovered scandals or discovered acts
    of officer misconduct and unethical behavior.

    According the United States Department of Justice:

    Creating a culture of integrity is an integral part of fostering an environment conducive to
    problem-solving and community engagement, two of the core components of community

    Contemporary Ethics Training for Law Enforcement

    Ethics training is not at the forefront of most law enforcement academy curricula. Ethics is sometimes a
    low-priority, tiresome subject. Little effort can be devoted to ethics as it competes for classroom time with
    more glamorous and direct-liability subjects such as firearms, non-lethal weapons, defensive tactics,
    laws of arrest, search and seizure, pursuit driving, etc.

    Many teaching tools are available to instructors of law enforcement ethics. My research revealed that the
    seven most popular general categories of training tools are (alphabetically):

    Includes text books and journal articles regarding law enforcement ethics.

    CASE STUDIES (of ethical dilemmas):
    Includes actual or hypothetical stories of ethical dilemmas experienced by law enforcement

    Includes logic-based, step-by-step guidelines for selecting a proper course of conduct. Examples
    include the Bell, Book and Candle process, the A.C.T. (Alternatives, Consequences, Tell-your-story)
    process, the Stakeholder process and others.

    Includes statements describing proper conduct, most often provided to the employee at the start of
    a law enforcement career.

    Includes documentary and fiction films, movies and training videos with law enforcement ethics

    Includes the individual philosophers and their ideas regarding ethics.

    Includes reporting the misconduct of peers and colleagues.

    In the brief time alloted to teach ethics at police academies and colleges, it is impossible to provide in-
    depth instruction using all of the tools and resources listed above. With limited time available to conduct
    training, it  is important for trainers and educators to maximize their resources by  focusing first on the
    most effective training tools.

    Research is lacking regarding the effectiveness of the available ethics teaching tools, and there is no
    consensus regarding which one is believed to be the most effective.

    Through survey research of law enforcement practitioners and educators, the research study simply
    attempted to prioritize the seven teaching tools and to identify and rank them in order of preference.



    By Dr. Frank Kardasz

    Training tools and subject-matter for teaching ethics to law enforcement personnel were examined. A
    literature review revealed seven categories of training tools including: (a) books and publications, (b) case
    studies of ethical dilemmas, (c) codes of ethics, (d) decision-making processes, (e) films, (f) philosophies
    and philosophers, and (g) whistle-blowing (reporting the misconduct of others). Determining the most
    useful training tool for maintaining proper behavior and improving recalcitrant behavior is an important
    step in developing effective law enforcement training.

    In the summer of 2005, a multimethod survey examined the preferences of three populations. The
    populations were in-service police officers from Phoenix, Arizona, retired police officers from Phoenix,
    Arizona, and a nationwide group of ethics instructors. Respondents were asked to identify the ethics
    training tool believed to be most useful for law enforcement training towards maintaining proper behavior
    and improving recalcitrant behavior. The research found that all three populations chose case studies
    more frequently than any of the other six tools.

    Respondents also ranked each of the seven training tools on a usefulness scale. Ethics instructors’ rated
    the usefulness of case studies higher than in-service or retired officers did. Two of the training tools:
    books and publications, and philosophies and philosophers, received higher usefulness rankings from
    the ethics instructors’ population than from the in-service or retired officers’ populations.

    Some retired officers indicated a preference for codes of ethics while some in-service officers showed
    preferences for decision-making process and films. Whistle-blowing (reporting the misconduct of others)
    was a controversial item, drawing several unfavorable comments from in-service officers. The unfavorable
    comments about whistle-blowing by in-service officers were countered by favorable comments about
    whistle-blowing from other respondents in all three populations.

    The research concluded that all seven of the ethics training tools were believed to have some usefulness
    according to respondents from each of the three populations. Ethics trainers should examine their chosen
    subject matter and evaluate whether or not the subject matter is adequately serving student needs. Ethics
    trainers with limited instruction time available should consider case studies of ethical dilemmas as a
    primary choice of ethics training tools. Other training tools should also be employed as time permits.

    Purchase the book:
    Kardasz, F. (2008). Ethics training for law enforcement: Practices and trends.
    Saarbrücken, Germany: VDM Verlag.
    ISBN: 3639001567. ISBN-13: 9783639001563.
    Available from
Dr. Frank Kardasz  P.O. Box 45048 Phoenix, AZ 85064
Ethics Training for Law Enforcement