Comparative Ethics Review

Gabby Bandovich is currently a LEJA Graduate Assistant and student in the Law Enforcement and Justice Administration Department. She graduated from WIU in May 2019 as a double major in Law Enforcement and Justice Administration and Foreign Languages and Cultures. Gabby will graduate from the LEJA Master’s Program in May 2020 and is looking forward to pursuing a career in federal Law Enforcement.

In a book entitled Law Enforcement Ethics: Classic and Contemporary Issues, author Brian Fitch claims “the patchy, haphazard implementation of ethics training remains little more than a knee-jerk reaction to police abuse or corruption” (Fitch, 2014).  Ethics training fails primarily due to its lecture based methods and lack of practical application during training.  Utilizing The Ethics Primer, by James Svara, an evaluation of Fitch’s ideology can be made through Svara’s ethical triangle. Svara claimed that the three concepts within the ethical triangle, virtue, principle, and consequence, are the most important parts of understanding and applying ethics in an organization. 

The virtue perspective places strong emphasis on how virtues are developed early in life and highlight the benefits for individuals to apply their virtues and prior knowledge within police work to new situations. In discussing the Principle Perspective, Svara declares developing principles which identify the right actions from wrong actions and being able to apply these principles to future scenarios is vital in police work. This application is key to ethics training, as officers must apply principles in training to utilize later in the field.  The Consequentialism perspective focuses primarily on how the results of an action determine whether or not the action was right or wrong. This develops the premise that evaluating future consequences from the present will automatically cause people to make the right, ethical decision. However, law enforcement should feel motivated intrinsically to act ethically in this line of work, rather than extrinsically simply to avoid consequences.

The resolution of this issue is critical to the profession of law enforcement because officers are under increasingly high pressure to perform properly and ethically each day. After briefly applying Svara’s three principles to this issue, the benefits to implementing a newfound strategy to ethical policing are clear. Ethics training should be lengthened within the academy through engaging, hands-on activities and extended in-service training. This will allow the duty of officers and the responsibility to the community to be strengthened via strong ethics.