Chapter 6: Policing

6.1 Noble Cause Corruption

According to Caldero and Crank (2004, p.17) noble cause is a “moral commitment to make the world a safer place.” This commitment is why most people join law enforcement agencies, and while this is an admirable goal, when the commitment to make the world a safer place becomes more important than the means to accomplish these goals, corruption may result. There are reasons why within law enforcement the means to accomplish the ends are particularly magnified. Caldero and Crank (2004, p.17) describe the “scent of a victim’s blood,” which means officers in law enforcement are motivated by the suffering of victims and their families. As officers sworn to uphold the law, they are duty bound to stop further violence against other victims. The vivid recollection of victims suffering can, at times, compel officers to focus only on the end result of making the world a safer place. Officers generally join law enforcement to protect the vulnerable, to help others, and to enforce the law; their cause is generally a noble one, filled with good intent.

When officers reach a point where they are more concerned with the end result, they may resort to unethical and even unlawful activities to protect victims from further victimization and other citizens from becoming victimized. This rationale is an example of teleological thinking where the means are not as important as the ends. Utilitarianism would be an example of an ethical system that would be used to justify such an action. Ultimately, as Pollock (2010) reminds us, the values that an officer brings to the job are those that induce him or her to use unethical means to fulfill the end value: to “make the world a safer place.”

When confronting a situation in which an officer is faced with noble cause misconduct, Pollock (2010) suggests the following questions be considered by the officer:

  • Is the activity he or she about to partake in illegal?
  • Is the activity allowed under departmental policy?
  • Is the activity unethical?
  • Is the activity acceptable under any ethical system, or just utilitarianism?

While acknowledging that there is a need for tenacity in law enforcement, often the lines may be blurred between tenacious police work and noble cause corruption. By asking these questions, it is possible to determine whether the act is good police work, or noble cause corruption.


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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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