It goes without saying that criminal justice professionals are held up to a higher ethical standard than perhaps any other profession. As law enforcement personnel are charged with upholding the law, it is essential that they set an example for all others to follow. Certainly, police officers, probation personnel and corrections officers are faced with many situations in the course of their work that could provide the temptation to behave unethically (Wright, 1999). Unruly suspects often test the patience of police officers, members of criminal organizations sometimes offer bribes to police officers to “look the other way,” and business owners often offer police officers free meals in exchange for increased patrol. However, when criminal justice professionals engage in unethical or unlawful behaviors, and are caught, this can diminish the trust of the general public in the sanctity and professionalism of law enforcement. Further, the consequences for unethical behavior are much more dire for criminal justice professionals than in any other career field. This paper will examine examples of unethical behavior on the part of law enforcement personnel, and will argue that the individuals involved should be punished and removed from duty.
In the case study provided, the police officer, Natalie Simonck initially appears to be engaging in a highly ethical and altruistic behavior. Upon learning that a local teenager had to walk several miles back and forth to school each day, she began to offer the teenager rides, and even purchased him a bicycle. While many of her fellow police officers and members of her community lauded Simonck’s behavior, there are some ethical transgressions that she made as a law enforcement professional. While police officers may witness members of the community who are experiencing hardships, it can be heartbreaking, but they should not go out of their way to correct these problems. To begin with, there are certainly other members of Simonck’s community who do not own a car or bicycle, and her special treatment of the teen may be misperceived as favoritism. Additionally, the case study does not make clear as to where Simonck got the funds to purchase the bicycle; if she used taxpayer funds to purchase the bicycle, then that is an abuse of taxpayer money. Additionally, the provision of free rides to the teenager is also an abuse of taxpayer revenue; the monies allotted to police departments are supposed to be used for law enforcement duties, not for giving free rides to members of the community.
Another problem with providing a ride to the teenager, or any other member of the community, lies in the possibility that the police officer will be sent on a call in the middle of providing the ride. Should the police officer arrive on the scene of a violent incident in progress, the civilian teenager does not have the training to deal properly with such a situation (Lord & Bjerregaard, 2003). Fortunately, nothing of the sort seems to have occurred in the case of Simonck, but had something like this occurred, and the teen was injured or killed, the parents would have likely filed a lawsuit against the police department and the city. Thus, Simonck should not have given free rides to the teenager.
The examination of ethically challenging situations is an important exercise for future criminal justice professionals. As we will be held to a higher standard of ethics than members of other professional fields, it is crucial that we are mindful of our behaviors at all times. We are expected to behave as examples for all members of the community, and the eyes of the public are on us at all times. Unethical behavior on the part of criminal justice professionals rarely goes unnoticed.