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Definition of Ethics in Law Enforcement

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Law enforcement personnel interact with the general public in personal settings and have access to private and confidential information. They deal with individuals in close quarters which can lead to the crossing of personal boundaries unless the situation has been previously addressed, at least in theory. Therefore, most law enforcement departments have a strict ethical code they require all personnel to agree with and to sign.

Code of Ethics

Law enforcement officers across the nation operate by the following Code of Ethics, as found on the Whatcom County (Washington) Sheriff's Office website: "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 persons 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 criminal, 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 enforcement."

Serve and Protect

One of the main ethical responsibilities of law enforcement personnel is to serve, safeguard, protect and respect the rights of everyone. This responsibility can be seen practically through a law enforcement officer's response to crime victims or the most vulnerable members of society.

Moral Character

Law enforcement personnel must be examples of the highest order regarding integrity and moral character. Self-control, honesty, courage and putting the needs of others above themselves are just four of the qualities they must exemplify.

Carrying Out Job Duties

Law enforcement personnel must act above reproach when carrying out their job duties. They may not allow any personal issues to compromise work-related decisions. They must efficiently and appropriately enforce the law while maintaining respect for the individuals involved.

Honoring Public Trust

Law enforcement personnel must pursue the ethical ideals and objectives of their respective departments. They must realize that their badge of office is a responsibility given to them by the public to guard and honor.