Police Interview Newsletter - Police Ethics: On and Off-Duty?

Volume 2, Issue 9
September, 2003

What changes in your private life might you need to consider making when you become a police officer?

This is a question that I frequently ask law enforcement applicants at the Oral Board Interview. Applicant responses often reveal invaluable information about the prospective officer's behavior, value system, lifestyle, maturity level, sincerity, and dedication to a policing career.

As the applicants interact with agency staff throughout the hiring and interview process, the psychologist and police personnel are listening carefully for information that might help to evaluate how this would-be law enforcement officer will conduct himself or herself off-duty-in “private life.”

Possible concerns include the following:

• Are the applicant's moral values consistent with
• Any evidence of alcohol or drug dependency/misuse?
• Wild or unstable lifestyle?
• Quality and strength of friendship patterns?
• Any history of conduct problems or disciplinary issues?
• Would applicant's off-duty behavior tarnish the Agency's
• Does the applicant exhibit self-discipline and self-
• Is this individual capable of putting others' needs

In his book, Character And Cops: Ethics in Policing (The AEI Press, 2002), Edwin J. Delattre expresses his concern that police officers must demonstrate and live by the highest of moral principles:

“A police officer is authorized to make decisions about the lives of others, an enormous power the rest do not have. Such power should be exercised only by those whose public and private behavior befits authority. A person who is hung over or weakened by other intemperance is more prone to errors of poor concentration, inattention to detail, and so on. The public cannot allow those who have special powers to indulge in excesses allowed others. The rights of police arise from their institutional mission.” (p. 149)


Examples of Problematic Off-Duty Behavior

•A police sergeant, also an officer in the local Lions Club is so drunk from the pre-dinner happy hour that he embarrasses other members with loud talk and interruptions during the invited speaker's comments.

•A male patrol officer coaches a county basketball team for a group of 12 year olds. During a Saturday morning game, this off-duty cop becomes so insulting and verbally aggressive with the referees that he must be put out of the game and escorted from the gymnasium.

•A police officer working for a large metropolitan police agency, in the South, regularly flies a confederate flag in the backyard of his residence. Neighbors seem puzzled and confused.

•A police supervisor agrees to serve as one of the chaperones for a high school choral group taking an overnight trip to another part of the state. In the course of the evening some of the boys get a bit wild and noisy in their motel room. The off-duty officer bursts into the room, grabs one of the boys by the neck, and threatens to man-handle them if they don't quiet down.

•A housewife encounters her police officer neighbor in a local convenience store. She approaches him to say hello, but stops in her tracks when she notices that he is flipping through the pages of Hustler Magazine.

While these are fairly minor examples of misconduct, what concerns are raised in your mind about these officers?

The challenge of holding police officers to a higher standard appears to getting increasingly difficult. Delattre quotes a law enforcement official as follows:

“Holding to a higher standard for police becomes more difficult each year as our nation has changed into one dealing with self- gratification, recreational use of drugs, and deterioration of home, family, and church associations. Continually, when it is necessary to discipline somebody for an infraction of rules, you do not find the support of the local government or the state labor board who hear grievances concerning those matters. More and more we are being told by others that a police officer is no longer different from any other worker.”(p.149)

As a starting place for ethical standards of conduct, many police agencies have adopted the International Association of Chiefs of Police Law Enforcement Code of Ethics. Police applicants and new recruits would be well advised to study, digest, even memorize this code in it's entirety. (see http://www.fdle.state.fl.us/cjst/Training_Resources/ LE_Conduct.htm)


IACP Code of Ethics

AS A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER, my fundamental duty is to serve mankind; to safeguard lives and property; to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation, and the peaceful against violence or disorder; and to respect the Constitutional rights of all men to liberty, equality, and justice.

I WILL keep my private life unsullied as an example to all; maintain courageous calm in the face of danger, scorn, or ridicule; develop self-restraint; and be constantly mindful of the welfare of others. Honest in thought and deed in both my personal and official life, I will be exemplary in obeying the laws of the land and the regulations of my department. Whatever I see or hear of a confidential nature or that is confided to me in my official capacity will be kept ever secret unless revelation is necessary in the performance of my duty.

I WILL never act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudices, animosities or friendships to influence my decisions. With no compromise for crime and with relentless prosecution of criminals, I will enforce the law courteously and appropriately without fear or favor, malice or ill will, never employing unnecessary force or violence and never accepting gratuities.

I RECOGNIZE the badge of my office as a symbol of public faith, and I accept it as a public trust to be held so long as I am true to the ethics of the police service. I will constantly strive to achieve these objectives and ideals, dedicating myself before God to my chosen profession-law enforcement.

Next Issue: The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and their proposed guidelines for defining “conduct unbecoming a police officer.”


Phone: 804-353-6700
Fax: 804-358-7867
Email: MacHart@PoliceInterview.com

Malcolm M. Hart, Ph.D.
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Richmond, VA. 23230

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