Applied Criminal Justice Ethics – CJ340-01
It is a universally accepted truth that law enforcement officers have very difficult jobs. On a daily basis they must find a balance between following the rules, overcoming biases, and bending the rules to help the greatest number of people possible. Do they always get it right? No, unfortunately they do not. The following three scenarios are examples of three police officers who did not set the right example.
When the first scenario begins, we see two officers engaged in a training drill on something they referred to as a “250,” which is a controversial tactic that is designed to stop crime before it happens. This scenario is generally about the stop and frisk policy which the ethnically diverse residents of New York City, New York say happens far too frequently daily. As the scenario progressed, the viewer was able to hear and see one resident, 16-year-old Alvin’s, firsthand knowledge of the stop and frisk policy because he recorded an interaction with a police officer on his iPod. During this interaction with Alvin, the officer not only used abrasive language such as cursing at him as he barked orders, but he also made the very poor choice to use a racial slur as well. When Alvin asked why he was being stopped, one of the rude officers stated that it was because it was dark outside and he had his hood up. (youtube.com, 2013)
While I understand completely that the officers could not be sure of Alvin’s intentions as he walked through his own neighborhood, I do not believe that the officer was justified in frisking him. A simple conversation would have sufficed in my opinion, because Alvin seemed like a reasonable, cooperative teenager. I believe that the officer’s aggressive language and name calling escalated the situation far faster and further than was necessary as well. The officer who used the racial slurs when addressing Alvin made me think that the Rotten Apple Theory might apply in this scenario. When someone has that much deep-seeded aggression and disdain for a member of another race, it makes me wonder if that racism was a pre-existing condition prior to his law enforcement service and if it suggests a deeper psychological/behavioral problem.
The second scenario begins with a video recording of a local police car in Washington state racing down the highway; this would lead the average viewer to believe that they have been dispatched to an emergency, right? Wrong. Some state troopers did a little digging and discovered that the officers in the vehicle that passed them traveling at 86 miles per hour were en route to a local donut shop. In a time where race relations are extremely tense, police brutality is all over the news, and the general attitude towards the police force are feelings of distrust, these officers really did not bring credit to their badge. Another officer in his patrol car was caught speeding on his way to the office. To make matters worse, this officer is also a driving instructor that knows better. When the officer was confronted about driving 15-20 miles per hour over the speed limit, he did not seem to care but stated “I understand what you’re saying.”
The behavior of the officers in this scenario is not only damaging to the rapport between the local police and the state troopers, it is also an abuse of power and thus damages the rapport with the community they serve. I would even argue that it represents a double standard in the minds of the officers who were caught speeding. As soon as the media obtained this footage, I feel the officers not only did a great disservice to their department but to the police force as a whole. (youtube.com, 2014) It’s unclear which theory of ethical behavior applies in this situation, because the officers were not on official duty and there was no noble cause that they were rushing to aid with. They simply wanted donuts and were running late to work, so they abused their power. If anything, I feel like this demonstrates their lack of virtue and integrity because they thought they could get away with it. (McCartney & Parent, 2016)
The final scenario is egregious and especially damaging to the public’s perception of the police force as the viewer witnesses a white police officer pull over and man handle an African American school teacher in Austin, Texas. Although the driver was wrong for driving 15 miles per hour over the speed limit, the officer was ultimately more at-fault for his unprofessional, aggressive behavior towards her. He instructed the woman to return to her vehicle so he could close the door while he ran her driver’s license but did not allow her very much time to comply before forcibly removing her from the vehicle and shoving her to the ground twice. The officer clearly weighed much more than her and appeared fairly fit, so he could have really hurt her during this altercation that was very unnecessary. The officer either called for backup or had a partner present, because the viewer sees a second officer at the scene. In my opinion, the second officer is also at fault for not intervening. The officer that drove the woman to the police station made a very careless, offensive comment in the patrol car about how the African American community has “violent tendencies” and I felt that it suggested a stereotype and racism.
Nothing about this scenario was ethical or professional. The woman deserved to be stopped for exceeding the speed limit, but she did not deserve to be thrown to the ground and almost collide with a parked truck. This officer did not treat her with the dignity and respect that she deserved, nor did he give her any patience. The officer is clearly a jerk with a short fuse and when there is so much tension over race already and a white officer physically assaults a black female, perception is reality. I feel that he is another example of a rotten apple in the police force because he should not have approached that situation with as much aggression and force as he did. No man should ever be that aggressive towards a woman whether she has committed a crime or not. She might have been compliant if he had allowed her the opportunity and given her a little bit of patience.
Unfortunately, this assignment was not one of the better, more uplifting ones that we have completed in this course. We saw two instances of racism (and unnecessary violence) as well as one instance of police officers that were abusing their power. Although law enforcement officers are under a tremendous amount of pressure each time they put on their uniforms and begin a shift, it would help them and their community to be a bit more patient and allow the alleged perpetrator a chance to explain themselves. More communication and less aggression would go a long way in reducing the number of misunderstandings and improve the poor perceptions of the police that the public has.
Griffin, C., & Ruiz, J. (1999, Spring). Sociopathic Police Personality: Is It a Product of the “Rotten Apple” or the “Rotten Barrel?” Retrieved February 18, 2019, from https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publications/abstract.aspx?ID=181019
McCartney, S., & Parent, R. (2016, September). Virtue Ethics. Retrieved February 19, 2019, from https://opentextbc.ca/ethicsinlawenforcement/chapter/2-4-virtue-ethics/
NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk: Racial Profiling or ‘Proactive Policing’? (2013, May 01). Retrieved February 18, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jqXeW5C324
Washington Police Caught Speeding Past State Troopers. (2014, October 10). Retrieved February 18, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmVVZRtrY5g