Police Interview Newsletter - LE Ethical Standards: Florida Guidelines

LE Ethical Standards: Florida Guidelines
Volume 2, Issue 10
October, 2003


Oral Board Member: So, why do you want to become a police officer?

Applicant: I want to work in a career where others will look up to me. I believe that being a police officer is a respectable profession and I'd like the citizens in my community to respect me.

It always bothers me when a police or deputy sheriff applicant expresses an expectation that the law enforcement agency will somehow elevate his or her respectability or standing in the community. It is as if joining the force will somehow stamp or mold the applicant into the model citizen he has never been.

Police departments are seeking to hire persons with already- established good character, solid work habits, virtues, and a strong sense of duty - individuals who have actively earned the respect of others by the way they have chosen to live their lives right up to and including the present moment.

In Character And Cops: Ethics in Policing, Edwin J. Delattre states, “Although persons in official life find guidelines useful, codes of ethics do not motivate people to behave well. They assist only people who already want to do so. Public office holders, such as police, need genuinely to want to serve the public and to become good at their work. They cannot eliminate self-interest from their lives, nor can they be infallible. But they must be of reasonably good character, and they must know their mission and be dedicated to it.” (p.33)

Later in his book Delattre goes on to say, “Emphasis on character and the kinds of habits that form a good second nature is crucial. Only people who have acquired enough virtue to be ashamed of wrongdoing can appreciate the force of questions about right and wrong actions. What should we do? is a question for people who care to do what is right, but not for others. For them, ethics is only an academic pursuit, a matter of intellectual gymnastics. Education in ethics for police is not intended for that.” (p.138)

The September '03 Issue of “Police Interview” quoted the complete International Association of Chiefs of Police Code of Ethics-a statement of conviction adopted by most U. S. law enforcement agencies. This Code is an excellent framework that broadly spells out the officer's duty to serve and protect the public, to uphold the law, and to respect the Constitutional rights of all citizens.

In an effort to further define “conduct unbecoming a police officer”, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has developed a policy designed to supplement the I.A.C.P.'s Code of Ethics. The reader is strongly encouraged to study the complete and unedited version of Florida's Law Enforcement Ethical Standards of Conduct by going to http://www.fdle.state.fl.us/cjst/Training_Resources/ LE_Conduct.htm.

What follows in this newsletter is a series of direct quotations from the Law Enforcement Ethical Standards of Conduct. The sections entitled “Policy”, “Scope”, “Principles” (1 to 8), and “Rationale” are quoted in their entirety. Due to the limited space in this newsletter format, however, all of the “Rules” developed for each of the eight principles have not been presented. I have quoted a single rule, by way of example, for each of the stated “Principles”. This document does an excellent job of spelling out the specifics of how officers are to conduct themselves on and off duty in the state of Florida. The bold text which follows is quoted directly from the Law Enforcement Ethical Standards of Conduct.

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LAW ENFORCEMENT ETHICAL STANDARDS OF CONDUCT

Purpose
This policy defines conduct unbecoming a police officer. This policy supplements the ethical standards contained in the International Association of Chiefs of Police's Law Enforcement Code of Ethics.

Policy
Law enforcement effectiveness depends upon community respect and confidence. Conduct which detracts from this respect and confidence is detrimental to the public interest and should be prohibited. The policy of this Department is to investigate circumstances suggesting an officer has engaged in unbecoming conduct, and impose disciplinary action when appropriate.

Scope
This policy applies to all officers of this agency engaged in official duties, whether within or outside of the territorial jurisdiction of this agency. Unless otherwise noted, this policy also applies to off duty conduct as well. Conduct not mentioned under a specific rule, but which violates a general principle is prohibited. This policy is organized into eight principles governing conduct unbecoming an officer. The rationale explaining the principle and a set of rules follow each principle.


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L E Ethical Standards-Florida Guidelines

Principle One
Police officers shall conduct themselves, whether on or off duty, in accordance with the Constitution of the United States, the Florida Constitution, and all applicable laws, ordinances and rules enacted or established pursuant to legal authority.

Rationale
Police officers conduct their duties pursuant to a grant of limited authority from the community. Therefore, officers must understand the laws defining the scope of their enforcement powers. Police officers may only act in accordance with the powers granted to them.

Rule 1.2-Police officers shall not knowingly disobey the law or rules of criminal procedure in such areas as interrogation, arrest, detention, searches, seizures, use of informants and preservation of evidence.

Principle Two
Police officers shall refrain from any conduct in an official capacity that detracts from the public's faith in the integrity of the criminal justice system.

Rationale
Community cooperation with the police is a product of its trust that officers will act honestly and with impartiality. The police officer, as the public's initial contact with the criminal justice system, must act in a manner that instills such trust.

Rule 2.2-Police officers shall not knowingly make false accusations of any criminal ordinance, traffic or other law violation. This provision shall not prohibit the use of deception during criminal investigations or interrogations as permitted under law.

Principle Three
Police officers shall perform their duties and apply the law impartially and without prejudice or discrimination.

Rationale
Law enforcement effectiveness requires public trust and confidence. Diverse communities must have faith in the fairness and impartiality of police. Police officers must refrain from fostering disharmony in their communities based upon diversity, and perform their duties without regard to race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, disability, sexual orientation or age.

Rule 3.2-Police officers shall not express, whether by act, omission or statement, prejudice concerning race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, disability, sexual orientation or age.

Principle Four
Police officers shall not, whether on or off duty, exhibit any conduct which discredits themselves or their Department or otherwise impairs their ability or that of other officers or the Department to provide law enforcement services to the community.

Rationale
A police officer's ability to perform his or her duties is dependent upon the respect and confidence communities have for the officer and law enforcement officers in general. Police officers must conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the integrity and trustworthiness expected of them by the public.

Rule 4.5-Police officers, while off duty, shall not engage in any conduct which the officer knows, or reasonably should know, constitutes an unwelcome sexual advance or request for sexual favor, or unwelcome sexually motivated physical contact or other unwelcome verbal or physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature.

Principle Five
Police officers shall treat all members of the public courteously and with respect.

Rationale
Police officers are the most visible form of local government. Therefore, police officers must make a positive impression when interacting with the public and each other.

Rule 5.2-No police officer shall ridicule, mock, deride, taunt, belittle, willfully embarrass, humiliate, or shame any person to do anything reasonably calculated to incite a person to violence.

Principle Six
Police officers shall not compromise their integrity, nor that of their Department or profession, by accepting, giving or soliciting any gratuity which could be reasonably interpreted as capable of influencing their official acts or judgments, or by using their status as a police officer for personal, commercial, or political gain.

Rationale
For a community to have faith in its police officers, officers must avoid conduct that does or could cast doubt upon the impartiality of the individual officer or the Department.

Rule 6.1-Police officers shall not use their official position, identification cards or badges: (1) for personal or financial gain, for themselves or another person; (2) for obtaining privileges not otherwise available to them except in the performance of duty; and (3) for avoiding consequences of unlawful or prohibited actions.

Principle Seven
Police officers shall not compromise their integrity, not that of their Department or profession, by taking or attempting to influence actions when a conflict of interest exists.

Rationale
For the public to maintain its faith in the integrity and impartiality of police officers and their Departments, officers must avoid taking or influencing official actions where the officer's actions would or could conflict with the officer's appropriate responsibilities.

Rule 7.3-Police officers shall not use the authority of their positions as police officers, or information available to them due to their status as police officers, for any purpose of personal gain including, but not limited to, initiating or furthering personal and/or intimate interactions of any kind with persons with whom the officer has had contact while on duty.

Principle Eight
Police officers shall observe the confidentiality of information available to them due to their status as police officers.

Rationale
Police officers are entrusted with vast amounts of private and personal information, or access thereto. Police officers must maintain the confidentiality of such information to protect the privacy of the subjects of that information, and to maintain public faith in the officer's and Department's commitment to preserving such confidences.

Rule 8.2-Police officers shall not, except in the course of official duties or as required by law, publicly disclose information likely to endanger or embarrass victims, witnesses or complainants.
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The reader is strongly advised to visit http://www.fdle.state.fl.us/cjst/Training_Resources/LE_Conduct.htm to read the remaining “Rules” spelled out by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. A police applicant may benefit tremendously by asking his prospective law enforcement agency what code(s) of ethics it employs to define appropriate police officer conduct.

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