The study of ethics in policing has expanded considerably over the past few years as
cases of police brutality and corruption have surfaced in the media and in the
courtroom. Commentators agreethat three issues have shaped the role of ethics in
policing: styles of policing, the police as an institution, and police culture.
Generally, we think of the police as controllers of crime; however,the original
English conception of the role of the police force emphasized the need for police to
obtain the goodwill of citizens in performing their policing duties. The very first set
ofinstructions to constables, published in England in 1829, reminded the new
There is no qualification more indispensable to a Police Officer than a perfect
command of temper, never sufferinghimself to be moved in the slightest
degree, by any language or threats that may be used; if he does his duty in a
quiet and determined manner, such conduct will probably induce welldisposedby-standers to assist him should he require it. (quoted in Skolnick
and Fyfe 1993: 70)
When policing came to the United States, there was little concern among police
officers about adhering to legalnorms, despite their formal policing role as
enforcers of the law (Haller 1996: 7). In fact, police received little training in law,
and most of those arrested were tried before justices who also hadlittle legal training.
Police were part of the larger political system, seen as a resource at the command
of local political organizations. In the early period, it was common for police
and otherpublic officials to earn rewards by operating rackets (p. 8). Patrolmen
worked on the streets with little supervision, and the main expertise a detective
offered was his knowledge of the underworld.Violence was an accepted
norm, because many policemen believed they were entitled to punish wrongdoers
Ethics and Policing
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