Chapter 4: Key Ethical Issues within Law Enforcement

4.1 Ethical Issues

There are numerous ethical issues that arise in law enforcement that are particular only to law enforcement. While widespread systemic corruption and lawbreaking by law enforcement officers in Canada is relatively rare, although it does occur from time to time. Such infractions include a clear violation of federal, provincial, or municipal statutes, and for the sake of brevity, they do not warrant discussion in this text. However, readers should look at such issues critically to gain an understanding of the variables that surround them. It is important to look beyond the obvious moral, ethical, and/or legal violations of the main actor and to critically assess the ethical issues that can, at times, surround the case peripherally. For example, Vancouver police officer Constable Hodson was arrested for selling drugs from his police car and threatening his former informant. This is a clear-cut violation of numerous statutes, including the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Nonetheless, the following questions may be asked relating to the case:

  • What questions arise about the ethics of the Vancouver Police Department investigating Hodson?
  • Did the Vancouver Police Department choose to ignore warning signs that Hodson was becoming increasingly involved in immoral behaviour?
  • Should the Vancouver Police Department have conducted integrity testing of members making drug arrests?
  • What can the Vancouver Police Department do to avoid such a serious breach in the future?
  • Should the Vancouver Police Department have detected this moral flaw in Hodson before hiring him?

Key ethical issues that face law enforcement are not easy to identify at times, and when they are identified, they are open to interpretation. Often in law enforcement, a high-profile decision made by an officer in a millisecond is analyzed over months and sometimes years. Even with this ability to analyze the decision over years, a consensus is often not reached about whether the law enforcement officer’s actions were ethical or not. It is for this reason that it is important to look at all ethical issues in law enforcement with a critical mind, so we can understand both sides of each issue. It is also why this text will focus on those issues that are not clearly ethical or unethical, but nonetheless are deserving of debate.


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Ethics in Law Enforcement Copyright © 2015 by Steve McCartney and Rick Parent is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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