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Ethics in Policing

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    Police officer’s of NSW owe a duty to the community to act in a manner that demonstrates the highest level of ethics, integrity and professionalism. Police officers are always in the public eye. The ways in which police officers perform their duties are closely monitored and scrutinised by the community, the media, and their own peers at any and all opportunities available. This is why it is imperative that Police must always perform to a high standard in any action or decision they make.

    This essay will look at the ethical actions and decisions, Senior Constable Cullen and Constable Black make, in the Lane Cove Break and Enter case study. This essay will also discuss the roles and functions of police and how they must be approached ethically, as well as the use of discretion and reporting misconduct and corruption. Ethics is described by the Webster’s online dictionary as a “motivation based on ideas of right and wrong”(n. d. ). Simply put ethics is about the values and morals we hold and placing them into a right or wrong, good or bad category.

    The role and function of police in society is to keep the peace by maintaining order, preventing and detecting crime, upholding and enforcing the law, providing social services and protecting life and property (PPP123 Team, 2010, Pg. 8). It is imperative that police perform these functions with an ethical approach. Fortunately police are guided ethically by legislations such as the ‘Oath of Office’ and the ‘Statement of Values’ as well as policy such as the ‘Code of Conduct and Ethics. ’

    In the Lane Cove break and enter scenario Senior Constable Cullen and Constable Black are faced with an every day run of the mill break and enter job in what appears to be an affluent area. As soon as Senior Constable Cullen accepts the job he states to Constable Black, “I am so over these rich people. ” This very statement here directly breaches point four of the Code of Conduct and Ethics. Item four states an employee of the NSW Police Force must ‘ treat everyone with respect, courtesy and fairness (Rowcliffe, et al. 2010, Pg. 22).

    Senior Constable Cullen later states to his offsider, after talking to the home owner, “You have got to be kidding me. A bloody IPOD. Look at this place. They can afford to loose an IPOD. This is a waste of my time. I bet you $100 that his partner is a guy. ” It becomes quite clear that Senior Constable Cullen does not share the same values that are upheld by the NSW police force. By these simple statements he has not treated this victim with any respect or courtesy as he has judged him for being rich and also suggests that the victim may be homosexual.

    He has not treated the victim fairly as he is of the opinion that because he is rich he can afford to lose an IPOD. Although Senior Constable Cullen is entitled to these views, they are not the views held by the NSW Police Force, and as such Senior Constable Cullen must ensure he performs his duties in an ethical manner with in the guidelines set out by the Code of Conduct and Ethics. If I as a police officer was in Senior Constable Cullen’s position I would ensure my intrapersonal communication does not affect my interpersonal communication. In doing this, it will help me to perform my duties with in the guide lines and in an ethical manner.

    A police officer’s greatest tool is the ability to use discretion. When an officer takes the Oath of Office and is bestowed the Office of Constable, the officer is also granted the power of original authority. This original authority is used in every single action and decision that a police officer makes. These decisions are an officers own decision and cannot be delegated by anyone. Chief Justice Griffiths show this exact notion through his statement in Enever v R (1906), “The powers of a constable are exercised by virtue of his office and can not be exercised on the responsibility of any person but himself.

    A constable does not exercise a delegated authority but an original authority,” (Settle, R. 1995, Pg. 168). Discretion is also given to us not only through common law, but it is also written into our legislation. Legislation also shows us when discretion cannot be used. A perfect example of this is section 99 of LEPRA 2002, s99 (1) and (2) tells us “A police officer may, with out a warrant arrest a person if…” where as s99 (4) says, “A police officer who arrests a person under this section must…. ” The keywords here are ‘may’ and ‘must’, when the word ‘may’ is used; legislation allows us to use discretion.

    When ‘must’ is used, no discretion can be used (PPP123 Team, 2010, Pg. 25). This also shows us that a police officers use of discretion must be a lawful option, and must always be justifiable. Police discretion in simplified terms is the use of our own judgement in different situations where our authority enables us to do so. We have the use of discretion so we are able to uphold the spirit of the law and not just the letter of the law (PPP123 Team, 2010, Pg. 22). This is due to the fact that not all laws can take into account all situations and still remain in a fair and workable manner.

    Not all people in society break laws with a deliberate intent or malice to do so, and as such not all laws are always enforced, this is where discretion comes into affect. A simple example of this is where a driver is caught speeding 5km over the speed limit on an open country road with no other cars around. The officer may choose to use their discretion and let the driver of with a warning. In contrast if that driver was doing 5km over the speed limit through a school zone at 3 in the afternoon, with many children around, a better use of the officers discretion may be to issue the driver with an infringement notice.

    Both situations are legal and justifiable uses of discretion; however issuing an infringement notice in a school zone is the more appropriate choice for that situation. In the Lane Cove break and Enter case study, Senior Constable Cullen displays a rather poor and unethical use of his discretion. The point of discretion to be discussed is the use of physical force on the youth. When Senior Constable Cullen reaches the youth he pushes him heavily into the fence. S230 and s231 of LEPRA 2002, gives police the power to use as much force as is reasonably necessary to perform their duties or in making an arrest.

    The word ‘reasonably’ gives officers the discretion to use force appropriate to a situation. Senior Constable Cullen in this circumstance has used excessive force as we are told that the youth has stoped and is not putting up any resistance. Senior Constable Cullen’s use of force is an unlawful use of his discretion and hence an unethical action. If I was in Senior Constable Cullen’s position I would not be using any force to apprehend the youth as he is no longer running away and is not putting up any further resistance to arrest.

    I would ensure that I do not use my discretion to abuse my power and authority but instead use my discretion lawfully and make sure it is appropriate to whatever situation I am applying it to. The modern day policing culture has many positive and negative aspects, unfortunately corruption and a code of silence are two of the negative aspects falling into the unethical category (Findlay, M. 2004, Pg. 106-8). Corruption and misconduct is a big problem with in any organisation, especially with in the NSW Police force, and has become a big unethical dilemma that the force has had to deal with.

    However reporting that misconduct is perhaps a larger and more unethical problem than that of the corruption itself. Perhaps those that are willing to keep quiet or keep that ‘code of silence’ in regards to their colleague’s misconduct are perhaps the more unethical and corrupted officers. Webster’s online dictionary describes misconduct as an activity that transgresses moral or civil law. Not all forms of misconduct are a deliberate form of corruption, however all misconduct must be reported and dealt with appropriately.

    At an officer’s attestation they take the Oath of Office in which they swear their loyalty to the Crown and to upholding the values entailed in the oath. When officers turn a blind eye to misconduct by colleagues they are swaying their loyalty away from the Crown and are compromising themselves. They are in affect as guilty and in the wrong as those who have committed the misconduct in the first place. Clause 49 of the Police Regulations Act 2008 outlines an officer’s duty to report misconduct and corruption.

    In short it states that a police officer must report any misconduct that is alleged against them, or that the officer him/herself believes has taken place, and that the misconduct constitutes a criminal offence or any other breach of policy. Item 10 from the Code of Conduct and Ethics also states “an employee of the NSW Police Force must report misconduct of other NSW Police Force employees. In the Lane Cove break and enter scenario, Constable Black shows a strong lean to the code of silence through her actions or perhaps inactions throughout the scenario.

    From the moment the job is accepted Constable black makes no action to quash the unethical behaviours of Senior Constable Cullen. She stays silent throughout his inappropriate comments, does not intervene when he displays an excessive use of force or when he lets the youth go with out any formal action taken against him. Possibly the most serious inaction taken by Constable Black is when she does nothing to stop Senior Constable Cullen from taking the IPOD for himself. This is extremely unethical as the very reason they are attending this job is for a theft and they have become the thieves themselves.

    Although the case study does not mention whether Constable Black reports the misconduct or not it can be assumed that through her inactions she will turn a blind eye towards the misconduct and not report it. This makes her just as guilty of the theft as her partner. Through her misguided loyalty to Senior Constable Cullen she is not only breaching NSW Police policy, but also risking her own job. If I were in Constable Black’s position I would have stoped Senior Constable Cullen as soon as he made those first few comments.

    I would of advised him of his need to approach each job with out bias and with out any prejudice. Hopefully this simple reminder would have change his thought process throughout the job and made him rethink his approach to the job. This may have resulted in him acting in an ethical manner. I would have certainly stopped his excessive use of force and stopped him from stealing the IPOD. I would of made sure to report his misconduct as he has clearly breached the morals and ethics that I will endeavour to uphold when I am in the job.

    It is clear to see that Senior Constable Cullen and Constable Black have made numerous unethical choices throughout the Lane Cove break and enter scenario. This essay has identified and discussed these decisions as well as out lined the NSW Police Force, legislation and policies in which the police officers have breached. This essay has also shown that all Police officer must be held accountable for their actions. Police must also ensure to act with in the guidelines set out with in legislation such as the Oath of Office and Statment of values as well as policy such as the Code of Conduct and Ethics.

    In conclusion, this essay has identified and discussed decisions made by the police officers attending the Lane Cove Break and Enter case scenario. Outlining the guidelines of the NSWPF legislations and Policies explored, it is clear to see that numerous breaches have been made. Police must be held accountable for all decisions they make. Having legislation such as the Oath of Office, Statement of Values and the Code of Conduct and Ethics policy are significant and purposeful and all behaviours should be based on these guidelines to uphold the law & keep the peace.


    Findlay, M. (2004). Cop culture, police malpractice and prospects for change. In Introducing policing: Challenges for police and Australian communities. UK. Oxford University Press. Rowcliffe, V. Grooters, Sgt R. Clowry, K. (2010). ADPP Session 2 Readings [Internal Study Mode] Goulburn: Charles Sturt University. Settle, R. (1995). Police Informers: Negotiation and Power. Leichhardt, NSW: The Federation Pass. The PPP123 Team (2010). Professional Ethics [PPP123 Study Guide] Goulburn: Charles Sturt University. Unknown. (n. d. ). Definition: Ethics. In Webster’s Online Dictionary.

    Retrieved September 27, 2010, from http://www. websters-online-dictionary. org/definitions/ethics? cx=partner-pub-0939450753529744%3Av0qd01-tdlq&cof=FORID%3A9&ie=UTF-8&q=ethics&sa=Search#922. Unknown. (n. d. ). Definition: Misconduct. In Webster’s Online Dictionary. Retrieved October 10, 2010, from http://www. websters-online-dictionary. org/definitions/misconduct? cx=partner-p ub-0939450753529744%3Av0qd01-tdlq&cof=FORID%3A9&ie=UTF-8&q=misconduct&sa=Search#922. Legislation Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 Police regulation Act 2008

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