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management and policy decisions

Law enforcement officers are expected to maintain a higher ethical and moral standard than the general population as they have the authority and duty of enforcing the law. However, officers face many difficult decisions, and sometimes these decisions require them to balance conflicting values and interests: to present an individual with a ticket of infraction or not; to arrest or not; to use deadly force or not. Such uncertainty is compounded by the fact that officers are regularly faced with incomplete and inaccurate information, emotionally charged situations (such as in domestic disturbance cases), and the immense pressure of upkeeping officer safety and services to public safety. As a result, policing is a career riddled with many ethical and moral complexities.

To better serve communities, future police officers must receive extensive education on ethics and ethical decision-making. Criminal justice students represent the future of law enforcement and educators must design curriculums to increase students’ ethical decision-making skills. But before better training programs can be created, there must be better understanding about what factors and characteristics contribute to the ethical decisions officers make.

What Type of People Become Officers?

The policing profession attracts a variety of people, but individuals drawn to criminal justice typically have a desire to serve, uphold laws, and live in a rules-based society. Officers should exhibit attributes such as being authoritative and responsible and have leadership qualities including a sense of duty to act on behalf of others.

While we know the general characteristics expected of those who work in law enforcement, they do not necessarily hold true for criminal justice students, who are not yet practitioners. Students have not yet been faced with the life-altering dilemmas experienced by veteran officers.