Ethics Training for Law Enforcement

Dr. Frank Kardasz. Revised June 18, 2011

Decision-making requires selecting between choices. The choice between action and inaction is not always simple. The
following theorists have developed  logic-based step-by-step models to use when making difficult choices. Ethics
instructors often use these models as teaching tools. Some of the tools are quick and simple to apply. Others take a little
more time.

An Ethics Check

  • Is it legal?
  • Is it balanced? (Is the decision fair, or will it heavily favor one party over another in the short or long term?)
  • How will it make me feel about myself?

Source: Blanchard, K., & Peale, N.V. (1988).The Power of Ethical Management. New York: William Morrow and
Company. 20-24.

Bell, Book and Candle

This system suggests that the user ask the following three questions before making a decision:

  • Bell -  Does the decision or action sound  right?
  • Book - Does the decision violate any written laws, rules, or policies?
  • Candle - How will the decision look when exposed to the "light of day", or  public scrutiny?

  Source: Retrieved April 15, 2003, from

A.C.T. Model

  • "A" - Alternatives - Identify all choices
  • "C" - Consequences - Project outcomes
  • "T" - Tell your story. Prepare your defense

 Source: The Center for American and International Law, Institute for Law Enforcement Administration, P.O. Box
 799030,  Dallas, Texas  75379-9030.  

Three Guidelines

  • Situation-based: What is the best outcome possible given the circumstances you face?
  • Rule-based: Follow the rules, and let the chips fall where they may.
  • People-based: Following the Golden Rule, what would you have others do if faced by the same situation?

Source: Amrhein, C. (2004, March 8). Is Ethics Training "Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing?. Insurance
Journal (on-line)

United States Army Decision Making Process

Colonel John H. Johns, of the U.S. Army, Office of Military Leadership advocates asking two questions when making

  • If everyone did what I am about to do, what would be the consequences?
  • If all my respected colleagues knew what I am about to do, would I still do it?

Quoted in; Commentaries by Michael Josephson, Week 313: July 7-11, 2003. Josephson Institute of Ethics. 9841
Airport Blvd., Suite 300. Los Angeles, CA 90045. (310) 846-4800 / (800) 711-2670. Retrieved July 19, 2003 from
weekly e-mail from the Josephson Institute,

Four Steps

The Williams Institute for Ethics and Management provides the following questions:
  • Who will be affected by my decision?
  • What would be the impact of my decision?
  • What ethical perspective is reflected by my decision?
  • Can I justify my decision on ethical grounds?

           Source: The Williams Institute for Ethics and Management. 6615 N. Scottsdale Rd. Suite 250. Scottsdale AZ

Five Steps

Duane Davis suggests the following five step approach to decision making:

  • Problem recognition
  • Information search
  • Problem analysis
  • Alternative evaluation
  • Decision

Source: Davis, D. (1996). Business Research for Decision Making, (4th. ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth,Publishing
Co. 6.

Six Steps to Ethical Decision Making

  • Define the problem
  • Identify alternatives
  • Evaluate the alternatives
  • Make the decision
  • Implement the decision
  • Evaluate the decision

Source: The Ethics Resource Center. Retrieved April 15, 2003, from

Seven-Step Path to Better Decisions

  • Stop and think
  • Clarify goals
  • Determine the facts
  • Develop options
  • Consider consequences
  • Choose
  • Monitor and modify

Source: The Josephson Institute. Resources: Making Ethical Decisions. Retrieved April 15, 2003, from http://www.

Stakeholder Model

The Stakeholder model asks the decision maker to consider everyone who might be impacted by the act being
contemplated. Stakeholders are those who have an interest in the ramifications of a decision. The model considers not
only those individuals or groups directly benefiting  or suffering from the decision, but also those indirectly affected
including family, friends and professional associates. Used as an ethics teaching tool, the Stakeholder exercise asks
the participant to:

  • List several options
  • List the stakeholders who would be affected by each option
  • Consider how each stakeholder will be affected
  • Choose the action that does the most good and the least harm

 Source: Regional Community Policing Institute, Arizona. (2001). Sharpening Your Ethical Edge: Tactics and Tools
 Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, cooperative agreement #2001HSWXK001. 12.

Twelve Questions

In an article published in the Harvard Business Review, Dr. Laura Nash suggests twelve questions that managers
should ask when making business decisions. Many of these questions translate easily to those decisions required of
law enforcement officers.

  • Have you defined the problem accurately?
  • How would you define the problem if you stood on the other side of the fence?
  • How did this situation occur in the first place?
  • To whom and to what do you give your loyalty as a person and as a member of the  corporation
  • What is your intention in making this decision?
  • How does this intention compare with the probable results?
  • Whom could your decision or action injure?
  • Can you discuss the problem with the affected parties before you make your decision?
  • Are you confident that your position will be a valid over a long period of time as it seems now?
  • Could you disclose, without qualm, your decision or action to your boss, your CEO, the board of directors, your
    family, society as a  whole?
  • What is the symbolic potential of your action if understood? If misunderstood?
  • Under what conditions would you allow exceptions to your stand?

Source: Nash, L L. (1981, Nov/Dec). Ethics without the sermon. Harvard Business Review, Vol. 59, (6). 78-91.
Retrieved May 10, 2003 from      

Analyzing the Decision Process

In Making Decisions, (1998),  Robert Heller describes the following process for making decisions:

  • Identify issues:  What exactly has to be decided?
  • Undertake analysis: What are the alternatives?
  • Evaluate options: What are the pros and cons?
  • Identify choices: Which alternative is best?
  • Implement plans: What action needs to be taken?

Source: Heller, R. (1998). Making Decisions. New York: DK.

The Constitution as an Ethics Training Tool

Another approach to decision making is described by Bradley S. Chilton in "Constitutional Conscience: Criminal Justice
and Public Interest Ethics." (1998) Chilton says,

  • ...public servants must discover the Constitution as a document and understand its official interpretations by the
    U.S. Supreme Court if they are to know the basic ethics, morals, and values that should guide their exercise of
    discretion in decision making, policy making, and behavior."

According to Chilton, a decision made in the public interest should consider the impact of the decision on all affected
persons.  He sees the Constitution as the authoritative statement of the moral aspirations of the citizenry. Chilton says
that ethics teaching should be grounded in the Constitution, U.S. Supreme Court cases, and other authoritative sources
including laws and amendments. An excellent resource for information about the U.S. Constitution and it evolutionary
foundations can be found at The Constitution Society web site:

Source: Chilton, B.S. (1998, Summer/Fall). Constitutional conscience, criminal justice and public interest ethics. Criminal
Justice Ethics. Vol. 17, (2). 33-41. Retrieved May 20, 2001 from EBSCO database on the World Wide Web:  http://mindy.     


    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