From the Archive: Assessing Law Enforcement Ethics

Amendola (1996)- Assessing Law Enforcement Ethics_Page_01Law enforcement officers confront situations that generate ethical dilemmas on a daily basis. Transgressions against ethical standards, whether legal or cultural, have the ability to undermine public confidence in the agency and the profession. In this 1996 study, the Oregon Department of State Police (OSP) took a proactive approach to understanding the prevailing ethical culture in their agency by conducting mail surveys (n=615) and telephone surveys (n=36) of sworn personnel.

The goal of this project was to examine:

  • the level of agreement on values within the organization,
  • whether members of subgroups shared values that differed from other groups’,
  • whether various groups receive consistent information with regard to policies or organizational values,
  • which particular issues need to be further clarified or considered, and
  • how OSP officers view the integrity of the organization and its subunits compared to others.

Major Findings

  • Supervisory values mattered: The values of supervisors had an effect of officers’ attitudes and behaviors. When supervisors were perceived as having good values and behaviors, they were more likely to generate loyalty.
  • Rank was associated with ethical values: As rank increased, so to did one’s rating of one’s own values in relation to others. In short, those of higher rank tended to believe themselves to be more ethical than other people.
  • Number of years in patrol mattered: Senior troopers tended to rate their own behavior as less stringent. There was greater disagreement within this group on attitudes and behaviors.
  • The sergeant’s role was challenging: Sergeants had to balance considerations of management and troopers. The combination of ambiguity and discretion meant that they were a strong influence on trooper behavior.
  • Management rated themselves higher: Management working at headquarters consistently rated themselves higher than others in the organization.

The full report is available in our digital library.

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