The concept of discipline, professionalism, and ethics of the police force has been perceived as an issue of global significance. As a result, all police chiefs and executives must show serious concern for the behavior of their personnel. This should be considered whether the police officers are on or off duty.
The New York City Police Misconduct in Washington D.C.
The incident that occurred in May 21, 1995 that involved New York City Police (NYCP) in Washington DC has raised a number of ethical concerns in relation to the conduct of the police officers while off duty. In this occasion, the NYCP were attending a ceremony in Washington DC and while in the hotel, where they were hosted, they got drunk and took off their clothes, poured down beer on an escalator rail, and began to slide down the rail. The officers were also accused of spraying fire extinguishers at each other and other guests. Some of them were also involved in setting off false alarms and vandalizing the hotel.
The police officers were also accused of spraying bullets from their firearms in the hotel and trying to gain entry into women’s rooms and harassing female guests. This provoked complains from the hotel management, other guests in the hotel as well as from the Washington DCs’ metropolitan police department. In response to this, the New York officers defended their behavior by arguing that they were off duty and far away from their jurisdiction. Although they were not arrested by their Washington DC counterparts, an investigation into the matter was launched by the Department of Internal Affairs. In response to this, one officer voluntarily resigned from the service, two were dismissed, while several others were suspended from duty. In addition to these, about thirty officers were disciplined for such dangerous acts as carrying their firearms beyond their territorial jurisdiction against the law. According to Commissioner William Bratton, only a few officers escaped the net otherwise most offenders experienced the full phase of the law.
Does the Standard of Conduct of Police Officers Differ Depending on or Off Duty Status?
The regulation of police officers while off duty has become a prominent and controversial topic in the current systems of governance. It is guided by the general principles of work and employment that indicate that privacy of the employee should be respected while off duty. However, concerns about the police gain more interest from the public due to the nature of their service that requires vigilance and certain level of discipline whether off or on duty.
An on duty status in this paper refers to a time when one is officially engaged, occupied, or committed in his place, position, or office of work. An off duty status refers to a time when an employee is not officially engaged in the performance of his or her legal duties. It also refers to a special time when the employees are exempted from official work. In several states, the police service is guided by certain principles that are expected to be upheld while on or off duty. These principles may be documented in different terms, but the threshold and the objectives remain similar across the political systems. For instance, police officers are expected whether on or off duty to uphold constitutionality, respect ordinances, rules and regulations that are enacted and established by the legal authorities under whom they serve. They should refrain from any conduct whether on official or non-official capacity that distracts from the public faith in integrity of the criminal justice system.
While on duty, police officers are expected to apply the law impartially and without prejudice or discrimination. In relation to this, they should embrace professionalism and efficiency as they shun negligence, omission, prejudice, and discrimination. Whether on duty or off duty, they should not exhibit any conduct that might discredit them or their departments of service. They should not engage in any act that is likely to impair their own abilities, the ability of other officers or other state actors who are offering services to the community within the legal provisions.
Police officers are also required to treat the public with absolute courtesy and respect at all times. They should not mock, ridicule, taunt, belittle, deride, humiliate, shame, or embarrass their subordinates or members of the public. Whether in or out of office, they are not expected to use their position as police to solicit, give or accept any grant which can be interpreted as attempts to influence their official acts or judgment. They should not at any time use their status for commercial, political, or personal gain.
In addition to these principles, police officers are expected to be non-partisan in a case of conflict of interest. Furthermore, they should observe confidentiality with regard to information that is available to them as police officers. Since they are entrusted with vast private and personal information as they carry out their duty, they should maintain the faith of the public by not releasing or disseminating private information. For instance, they should not divulge identity of a person who is giving confidential information except if demanded by the law. They should also not disclose information that may endanger or embarrass victims, complainants or witnesses.
In general terms, with regard to conduct, discipline, and integrity of police, there is no distinction between on duty and off duty. Those who hold to this proposition argue that police officers are in effect therefore are always on duty. Based on the nature of their work and office, police officers should be on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week and are therefore subject to discipline for any act committed during or beyond their regular working hours. Contrary to this, various labor laws are clear on the provision of off duty for all employees whether in the public or private sector. In relation to this view, a police officer can be off duty just like other state employees. However, the codes of conduct of the police are expected to be upheld even in such conditions. This is further supported by the argument that the police who are off duty can put themselves on duty at any time by exercising the powers of the office of a constable.
Is there Difference between Professionalism, Integrity and Ethics in Relation to Police Officers?
The behavior of the New York City Officers as reported in this article has also been questioned on the basis of professionalism. Critiques to this incident argue that their behavior did not demonstrate the high level of professionalism that is expected from police officers as part of criminal justice experts. Although the traditional view of professionalism only qualified paid jobs as professional, a more analytical view is necessary to understand the complexity and clarity of this concept. Besides doing a paid job, professionals are expected to have undergone extensive training that enables them to demonstrate a significant intellectual competent. This is also viewed in relation to the significance of the service they offer to society.
In other cases, professions are expected to belong to an organization of members that is legally recognized. Although the organization regulates membership requirement and discipline for the profession, autonomy of individual practitioners must be upheld. Based on these measures, a profession is a career that meets this threshold and the members are held to a higher standard of behavior than the rest of the public. Integrity, on the other hand, refers to the ability to be honest in action, intention, and thought. It also refers to the capacity to comply with moral principles, rules, and codes of conduct. A person who holds to this value is expected to demonstrate consistency in values, actions, measures, principles, and methods that lead to sound and just judgments.
Ethics is defined as rules that govern behavior based on what is perceived as morally bad or good. Ethics may also refer to a set of principles that govern conduct of a certain group of people within a particular society or profession. Although professionalism, integrity, and ethics are general requirements for all public officers, there is a higher expectation with respect to police officers. For instance, they are required to be professional all the times including when they are off duty. Furthermore, even distance from their jurisdiction cannot justify any misdeed that is morally unacceptable.
Although many police officers are not holders of academic degrees, this cannot justify unprofessionalism in the service. This is based on the fact that they are exposed to rigorous physical trainings that are equivalent and relevant to the nature of their duty. Furthermore, matters that relate to security and execution of justice are of great significance hence, they qualify police service as a profession. In relation to integrity, police officers are expected to be exemplary. Besides the expected honesty and ability to abide by the set rules and principles, police officers should be courageous, prudent, and courteous. In the view of the behavior of New York police officers as reported in this article, their behavior can be perceived as rude, unjust, and unethical. Their attempt to molest female guests, spraying bullets in the air and sprinkling liquor on the floor of the hotel was a serious drift from integrity and violation of ethical values.
What Measures besides Disciplining the Officers Would be Imposed to Minimize the Likelihood of the Conduct Re-occurring?
For the newly appointed police chief, it is important to embrace policies and strategies that will discourage such misconducts and uphold absolute professionalism and integrity in the police service. The first strategy should involve constructive and relevant research. This should target all areas that affect police service ranging from the curriculum offered in training and its relevance to the needs of society. In this process, the curriculum should be revised to incorporate more issues that relate to discipline, ethics, and integrity of the force. In addition to this, professionalism should be enhanced by promoting further training. The police officers should be encouraged to pursue further education and embrace academic excellence just like other professions. This can be improved through relevant scholarships that target officers in areas such as criminology, peace and security studies, conflict resolutions, and disaster management among others. This will improve the professional view of the police force and build the capacity of the officers.
The recruitment process should also be vetted and improved. Thorough screening strategies should be implemented that would lock out people who are likely to show unethical conduct during their service. In this process, recommendations from trusted personalities such as local government administrators and religious leaders should be incorporated.
The ethical codes of conduct should also be qualified and made specific. The police officers should be made to understand specific acts that are considered as unethical. Furthermore, corporation with other police units in other states cannot be ignored. Uniformity of standards in police service shall be useful in enhancing discipline beyond their geographical jurisdictions. It is also important to set up watchdogs and special investigators among the police themselves. This will improve a sense of responsibility among the officers away from the sight of their normal leaders. Police leadership should also be strengthened and citizens’ involvement be responsibly incorporated.
Finally, the police service can also be improved through enhancing a better working environment for the officers. It has been reported that gross misconduct of the police is associated to their low pay, poor housing, and poor social amenities. If such conditions are improved, the police officers will be positively motivated to shun such evils as corruption and other forms of misconduct.
Police service is a very important part of criminal justice system in every government. The concept of professionalism, integrity, and ethical behavior of police has been an issue of global concern. In the United States, the behavior of the New York City Police while attending an occasion in Washington DC in May 21, 1995 has been cited as an example of serious misconduct of police officers. Although they justified their act by the claim of being off duty and far away from their area of jurisdiction, their behavior was criticized for being unprofessional and against the ethical and integrity requirements. New strategies should also be embraced that is aimed at improving the training, service, and living standard of the police.