In justice, crime and ethics, the smallest bits of elements or material could mean life and death (Braswell, 2002). Ethics in criminal justice, in particular police ethics and the judiciary ethics, is a constant element of study since it is a vital part of criminal justice systems. Among the most common ethical issues are the four categories: discretion, duty, honesty, and loyalty. They pose as the most popular ethical dilemmas. Dilemmas are situations where a public officer has no clear judgment of the right course of action to pursue. It also means that the chosen action that the officer deems appropriate is difficult to achieve or implement, and the deemed wrong course of action is quite luring and tempting (Braswell, 2002). This paper aims at establishing an order of importance amongst the above listed categories. It will then prove that the order of importance varies by role and show that the decisions encountered in the dilemmas are different for a judge than it is to a police officer.
All factors considered, this paper is of the opinion that discretion ranks first in the order of importance. All the other actions rely on discretion. It is the ability to make a judgement or choice where action needs to be taken in one way or the other. Every ethical dilemma is inclusive of critical decisions and choices. A police officer faces discretion almost every time from issuing a ticket to making a simple arrest. Discretion dictates what needs to be done when an officer faces altercation. When a situation has no clear policy or guidelines on how to go about it, an officer then faces a hard task to make a choice. Such situations include family quarrels and misunderstanding. Here, an officer has no way of telling what the right thing is even if he/she wishes to do the right thing. The officer must then weigh the problem against the solutions and consequences before taking any action. Interpersonal problems involving related parties like fathers and sons or boyfriend and girlfriend are also a hard case to tackle. Again the officer must carry out a choice cautiously since the right thing to do is not clearly stipulated in any set of rules and regulations.
The second in the order of importance is duty. This is a broad category that constitutes all responsibilities that are primarily attached to a specified role. A duty dilemma is an incidence that involves a real question regarding the exact duty of a police officer or a judge in a specific situation. Another issue involved in duty arises when a situation demands that an officer of the law makes a choice even though the appropriate action seems time-consuming or inconvenient. It also depends on a person’s character where one officer may feel obliged to help a poor family or homeless kids find a place to stay, while another feels no such obligation and is free of the responsibility. Other types of duties are straightforward where an officer of the law knows what needs to be done, and the decision is not a hard one. However, the situation may be a not compelling one where a crime is committed, but the officer does not have to go there since their shift has come to an end. So, the officer may choose to go by the accident scene or abandon it altogether (Engel, 2003). Another issue related to duty is a situation where an officer may contract various diseases like HIV resulting from contact with injured victims or suspects. Here an officer may decide to abandon duty for personal and health issues (Green, 2006). Other issues within the category of duty include “stealing” office hours to attend to personal business. It is however clear that not all officers think alike. Where some feel obliged to perform a certain duty, others may feel that it is not part of their responsibility (Weiss, 2004). However, officers must distinguish good ethics from bad ones.
The third in the order of importance is honesty. When an officer of the law carries out discretion and duty, then honesty is next in line. After choosing a course of action and determining whether it is within duty, an officer then faces honesty when performing the task. Issues include making an arrest, enrichment, self-protection and issues with bribery. Officers are usually confronted with a temptation to take some money or other goods in a crime scene. An indiscretion such as keeping $50 found at a burglary scene is considered unethical. Another form of dilemma involving honesty is an attempt to cover up for a bad deed by an officer through omitting some facts or lying about an issue. It may be a misrepresentation of facts so as to keep an arrest or risk losing it. Corruption through bribery is also a major issue in ethical mandate. An officer may decide to look the other way in exchange for money or other favors.
The least important element in the order of importance is loyalty. When a situation involving wrongdoing of another officer occurs, loyalty issues are put to test against duty and responsibility. Reporting a fellow officer can be regarded as disloyal, but then the one reporting is considered to have done the right thing. These decisions are ethically difficult to make as one goes against the code of conducts or ethics (Braswell, 2002).
In conclusion, it is quite clear from the above description that the order of importance varies by role. Some decisions and choices have no heavy ethical rationale in their support. Some of the roles demand actions that are fundamental, and others are personal and self serving. Some of the decisions are mandatory, for example, in discretion, an officer’s decision to make an arrest or not, or what decision to take when it determines the direction of the whole issue. It is quite different for a judge than for a policeman since a judge is fully and often required to present ethical rationales for any decision made. A police officer is seldom required to present ethical rationales regarding discretion and other decisions.