What Is Police Professionalism? Is It Rooted In Education or Ethics?
What is the root of police professionalism? Is it based on education or ethics? To address this issue, we must look at both education and ethics and apply them to the police officer and his professional concepts. We all know people in and out of law enforcement who have the minimum education for their job, but they have a high ethical standard. We also know people who are highly educated who have questionable ethical standards. Then, there are those who are both ethical and educated. What then is the most important issue?
In their book The State of Police Education: Policy Direction for the 21st Century, the authors states, "Our high tech world is dictating the recruitment of more highly educated officers. College-educated officers appear to be more analytical, hence they are more objective in dealing with the public"(Carter, 1989, p. 76.) One chief stated, "The value of college-educated officers will become increasingly evident as our use of technology expands and body of knowledge multiplies. Those with less academic preparation may indeed find their career in law enforcement to be less rewarding than anticipated."(Carter, 1989, p. 76.) Therefore, education plays a great role in performing a good job. Doing a good job is what professionalism is all about. It's using your special knowledge to perform a job that requires learned and personal skills.
So what about ethics? In his article Defining the Building Blocks of Ethics, Lt. Andrew Borrello of the San Gabriel, Ca Police Department breaks ethics into several categories of Integrity, Honesty, Values, Morals, Principles, Standards and Courage (Borello, 2005, p. 65.)
Integrity is the core of ethics that binds the other elements together (Borello, 2005, p. 65.) He points out that without continual reinforcement and education, that integrity can be compromised by the taking of free meals, entering the code of silence and other similar forms that allow integrity to slip (Borello, 2005, p. 65.) Honesty is immeasurable because it is what keeps us as law enforcement as examples of trust to the community (Borello, 2005. p. 66.) Values are a system of beliefs that is meaningful to us (Borello, 2005, p. 66.) Values determine what is important to us and this decision often controls our behavior. Morals are a hard to define set of values that differ from people and society, but normally address what is right and wrong for the society that we live in (Borello, 2005, p. 66.) Borello states, "Principles are similar to morals, however, principles are what we stand on when trying to illustrate our values" (Borello, 2005, p. 66.) It means sanding up for what is right, even if we are exposing ourselves to criticism from others. "Courage is not running into a burning house to save lives" (Borello, 2005, p. 67.) It is usually defined as being faced with a difficult decision and doing what is right despite difficult personal or professional consequences (Borello, 2005, p. 67.)
Sgt. Paul R. Strong of the St. Paul, Mn Police Department in his article Teaching the Thin Blue Line holds that loyalty is a large part in police professionalism (Strong, 2005, p. 69.) Sgt. Strong does not suggest that loyalty is a wall of silence. He holds that loyalty is a team concept that protects the individual and the department by not accepting unprofessional and unethical behavior (Strong, 2005, p. 70).
Sgt. Strong points out that the time to consider these values is not when an officer is confronted with a problem, but before hand (Strong, 2005, p. 70.) Officers should have discussions and training on handling potentially difficult situations so they are comfortable and prepared in dealing with those situations when they arise (Strong, 2005, p. 70.) This type of training increases and builds integrity in the officers and promotes the ethical standards that they are expected to uphold (Strong, 2005, p. 70.)
In the U.S. Department of Justice booklet, Police Integrity, Public Service with Honor, the authors state there are several core factors that result in police Professionalism (Travis, 1997, p. 15.) They are prudence, trust, effacement of self-interests, courage, justice and responsibility (Travis, 1997, p. 15.) The article from the U.S. Department of Justice, although not word for word, emphasizes the same ethical values of local law enforcement as stated by authors Strong and Borello in their articles.
In Crime and the Justice System in America: An Encyclopedia there are many instances where decisions are required but are not guided by law (Smith, 1997, p. 91.) The decisions of law enforcement, prosecutors and judges are made using the guide of what is right and just for the individuals involved (Smith, 1997, p. 91.)
From the research in this paper there is more information printed on ethics than education. However, ethical people must receive education to support their ethical decisions.
Consider the doctor who tells a patient sorry, but your going to die. The next doctor sits with the patient and his family and explains the situation in detail and what they can expect over the next few weeks. Now, consider the law enforcement officer in the living room of someone's home. Both parents and small children are present. One of the parents knows they are going to go to jail. One officer arrests the parent in front of his family and takes him out. The other officer allows a parent to take the children into another room so they don't see their parent getting arrested and taken away.