Why Ethics Demand Immediate Attention

The theme of the December 2015 issue of The Police Chief is ethics and professionalism. It is not in doubt that ethics in law enforcement demands immediate attention. As the authors of the following articles demonstrate, there are fundamental issues enveloping policing that require not only careful deliberation, but prompt action. In essence, the five articles in this section can be understood as dealing with the front end of ethical leadership, governance, and culture. Indeed, in this magazine in 2002, Paul Tinsley and Craig MacMillan critically challenged the refrain that police ethics education is a waste of time.1 At that time, 13 years ago, it seemed necessary to refute varied objections to ethics education in policing, including that (1) it did not have real educative value because morality is taught by family and culture; (2) ethics permeates policing and being acquired incidentally within the traditional disciplines does not require separate training; (3) ethics is nothing more than common sense (or relatedly, the “simplicity assumption,” wherein the injunction is just “do the right thing” without addressing what that is); (4) ethics is too vague and ambiguous; and (5) there are no generally accepted ethics models that can be taught and applied to police dilemmas.2 For the most part, the discussion and understanding around ethics has evolved and embraced the notion that, as a profession, policing must engage in ethical dialogue and education. Perhaps as a mark of the maturation of the ethics in policing, situations of “ethical dissonance” (i.e., where an officer’s moral view may not coincide fully with certain isolated facets of police work) are, in some quarters at least, contemplated as potentially being subject to accommodation where that view is legally protected against discrimination.