In the era of “fake news” and information overload by social media, it is difficult to sort out and distinguish integrity. It is difficult to sift out if the information comes from a trustworthy source, or in other words, comes from a source based on integrity. “You don’t lose your integrity, you give it away.” This statement seems to be very true in modern-day policing. Integrity does seem to be lacking among many leaders today, yet, ironically, integrity and other moral standards are core themes among the various leadership styles.
In the midst of today’s culture, having integrity is key to well-being. According to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of integrity is a firm “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values: incorruptibility.” In the following paragraphs, I will detail some of the key components of integrity and its importance to becoming a police officer.
Firstly, one of the essential characteristics is honesty or truthfulness.
A person who deals with situations with integrity is someone who is dealing with them honestly. However, they not only convey honesty but use truth as a moral compass to guide them. If honesty is compromised this opens the door for the opportunity to be swayed by many influences. Whether these influences are positive or negative, the person becomes corruptible. As a law enforcement officer, honesty or truthfulness is essential to one’s character. Police officers are given authority and if they do not carry it out with honesty, they are susceptible to corruption resulting in the use of that authority for damaging purposes.
They no longer become a good example for the community and consequently, the community no longer sees integrity in policing as a whole.
Another essential characteristic of integrity is accountability. Guided by honesty and truth as mentioned above, a person who has integrity will hold him or herself accountable for their actions. This does not only mean that they will hold themselves responsible when they are doing good things, but they also hold themselves responsible when they make mistakes. Having integrity does not mean that a person will never make a mistake, but it means that they will immediately own up to the mistake and immediately try to repair it. For example, if an officer made a mistake while writing a report, it is important that the officer try to amend that report to accurately reflect what happened.
Thirdly, humility should also be considered a crucial characteristic of integrity. As mentioned before, people with integrity are not expected to be perfect people that never make a mistake. Therefore, they recognize that they may not know everything, and they also have an understanding that they will always be learning. They are willing to learn new values and information that will keep them honest and accountable. A person with integrity will not know they have integrity unless put through situations and encounters with negative influences. Therefore, an integral person will remain humble recognizing that they will continually learn lessons of honesty and accountability. A police officer who has integrity will be willing to learn from community members and not distance themselves from those he or she serves.
The last topic to be discussed is having good ethical values. When speaking about having good ethics you have to be able to recognize that you are held to a higher standard as a law enforcement officer. Ethics is a word that can be defined as right behavior, but the word has so many other words that fit, such as honor, selfless sacrifice, and personal courage. Socrates said, “To know the good is to do the good.” The law enforcement code of ethics states “As a law enforcement officer, my fundamental duty is to serve the community; to safeguard lives and property; to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation and the peaceful against violence or disorder; and to respect the constitutional rights of all to liberty, equality, and justice. I will keep my private life unsullied as an example to all and will behave in a manner that does not bring discredit to me or to my agency. I will maintain courageous calm in the face of danger, scorn or ridicule; develop self-restraint, and be constantly mindful of the welfare of others. Honest in thought and deed both in my personal and official life, I will be exemplary in obeying the law and the regulations of my department. Whatever I see or hear of a confidential nature or that is confided to me in my official capacity will be kept ever secret unless revelation is necessary for the performance of my duty. I will never act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudices, political beliefs, aspirations, animosities, or friendships to influence my decisions. With no compromise for crime and with relentless prosecution of criminals, I will enforce the law courteously and appropriately without fear or favor, malice or ill will, never employing unnecessary force or violence and never accepting gratuities. I recognize the badge of my office as a symbol of public faith, and I accept it as a public trust to be held so long as I am true to the ethics of police service. I will never engage in acts of corruption or bribery, nor will I condone such acts by other police officers. I will cooperate with all legally authorized agencies and their representatives in the pursuit of justice.I know that I alone am responsible for my own standard of professional performance and will take every reasonable opportunity to enhance and improve my level of knowledge and competence.”
We must hold ourselves to that higher standard of behavior both in our professional as well as personal lives, as expected by the general public. Law enforcement officers must commit to the highest moral and ethical standards, meaning they cannot be prejudice or favor someone without knowing every detail and must show good personal conduct, have high integrity on and off duty. Ethics are important for law enforcement because it keeps individual personnel from stepping outside the boundaries and helps in attaining as much fairness as possible. There will always be individual law enforcement officers that drift outside their boundaries, but the hope is that one day those bad apples that do exist in each department eventually end up being held responsible for their actions because in the long run the actions of the bad apples outweigh the actions of the law enforcement officers who actually want to make a difference in their respective communities. Being aware that others are looking up to you and being able to show initiative in getting the job done properly and with empathy goes a long way for the community as a whole. As a law enforcement officer being able to give the community the relatability and trust that must be earned for them to trust you is a sacrifice. Developing leadership skills is at the foundation of being a quality law enforcement officer and thereby having a quality agency. There are two neglected areas in policing today that must be addressed in order for the community to feel as if we are doing our jobs morally and ethically correct. Those two documents are the oath of office that is taken by every police officer in this country and the code of ethics. These two documents serve as the body for law enforcement officers and their respective departments to build trust and honesty among the community. As law enforcement officers we have to remind ourselves every day that the community we serve is the community that we live in, we are nothing without the community if they turn their backs on us because we have not done the correct things in their eyes.
Ethical decisions are a critical part of a law enforcement officer’s job. The law enforcement officer will likely be faced with making a decision of this nature over and over again throughout their career. In most cases a decision that the law enforcement officer makes will either make or break them as a police officer and the decision they make will either strengthen or weaken their ethical values.
Personally, integrity has made a strong impact on me through the different leaders and people that I have encountered. One person that I look up to is my mother. She has been able to provide me with a great example of integrity. My mother has always been honest in all aspects- financially when interacting with her family, and her employment. Similarly, she has always been accountable for her actions. She is able to admit her mistakes and learn from them thus also showing humility from this. She lives up to the definition of integrity, never allowing anyone or anything to corrupt her.
In summary, honesty, accountability, humility, and ethical values are just some of the characteristics of integrity. There are many others. However, all go hand in hand and are like pieces fitting into a puzzle. Integrity is one’s personal life is important because it forms your identity. If one has integral people around them, they have a greater chance of also having integrity. Even if a person does not have these positive influences, they are to be the ones who exemplify integrity for others. Essentially this is what we are being taught in the academy. The instructors are constantly attempting to instill integrity in us. They recognize that whether we have had examples of integrity or not, they will step in and be those examples. It is important that we value this as police recruits because they truly understand what it means to have integrity as a law enforcement officer. It would be foolish for us to believe that we will have integrity as law enforcement officers if we are not even able to exemplify this is the Essex county police academy. They are trying to establish a culture of integrity even before we become law enforcement officers in our communities.
With today’s challenges in policing, it is vital that integrity is displayed when out in the field as a law enforcement officer. Because of national media coverage, community members already view law enforcement officers as lacking in integrity even before they meet the officers because of what is shown on television. Law enforcement officers are seen as corrupt and as exerting their authority for selfish ways. Many community members believe that a law enforcement officer’s sworn oath is no longer to “protect and serve,” but to “protect the self.”
Integrity in policing is about ensuring that the people who work for the police uphold the values of the service, strive to do the right thing in all situations and have the confidence of the public. Any compromise of the trust established by law enforcement can lead to disorder in the community. It is not simply about whether the public thinks the police are involved in corruption and misconduct, although clearly, this is important. It is also about how well the law enforcement officers make decisions, deal with situations, and treat people day in, day out.
If the public does not trust the police to be fair and act ethically and in their best interests, the evidence suggests they will be more likely to break the law and be less inclined to help the police. As law enforcement officers, in modern-day policing we are called on to be more than just someone who upholds the law and put people in jail, we are called on to wear many different hats and have many different roles to keep the public safe and give the peace of mind to be able to leave their homes and come back safely without the threat of harm to themselves or other family members. As a law enforcement officer, I hope to change this view throughout the communities of the City of Newark. Through my experience so far in the Essex county police academy, in addition to the examples of integrity in my personal life, I hope that my efforts will be able to start a ripple effect towards the improvement of police-community relations. As I continue to demonstrate honesty, accountability, and humility, I hope to make a long-lasting impact in my career as a Newark police officer.
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