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Ethical Leadership in Criminal Justice


This term paper describes different approaches directed on fostering ethical leadership in law enforcement agencies. Current work is based on theoretical knowledge and practical experience of agencies on the territory of the USA and Sweden. The great importance of the ethical leadership in criminal justice is connected with the numerous moral issues which arise in the modern world. Development and constant improvement of ethics, moral behavior, loyalty, critical assessment of dirty actions, understanding of right and wrong will help police officers to stand against these issues.

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Literature Review

This term paper is based on numerous sources which provide information concerning initiatives adopted in the police departments and practiced there. The procedure of development of ethical behavior of leaders and staff and its effective incorporation into the department policy is described by Jay Fortenbery (2015) in his work “Developing Ethical Law Enforcement Leaders: A Plan of Action.” James Wilson (2011) showed different ways of constant improvement of the effectiveness of abovementioned behavior of police officers. The necessity of creation of loyal environment is described by Abby Peterson and Sara Uhnoo (2012) in their work “Trials of Loyalty: Ethic Minority Police Officers as “Outsiders” Within a Greedy Institution.” This idea is also reflected by Michael White and Robert Kane, who found out that the behavior of officers who acted unethically in the past is greatly improved by supportive and positive environment.

In the challenging working situations much attention should be paid to assessment of proper application of dirty means (Klockars, 1980) and actions directed on saving human lives and maintenance of discipline by coercion (Kanaboshi, 2014). Real life examples are taken from the article “Ethical Leadership – Part 1” written by Mike Raneses (2010). Consequences of poor leadership are shown by Brian Kelly (2013).


Current work describes development of ethical leadership skills in different law enforcement agencies. The information is supported by real life examples from police departments of the USA and Sweden. Theoretical information is backed up with instances and strategies developed by recognized official institutions. This enables providing reliable description of the chosen topic. Current work is based on the information taken from the Internet, the library and on personal knowledge obtained from the lectures, readings and discussions.

Analysis of Ethical Leadership in Criminal Justice

Ethical leadership is a process whereby a leader of the department motivates the police officers to act ethically. He or she proclaims moral standards and participates in creation of ethical environment in the department. Development of ethical behaviors is one of the main goals of the current criminal justice system. Nowadays police departments should put their efforts on fighting against corruption, brutality and race discrimination, because these issues became extremely sharp. Police officers are human beings and the society cannot expect total absence of corruption and unethical behavior from them. That is why special strategies should be developed and realized for minimization of ethical issues in the system of criminal justice.

These strategies are directed on formation of personal understanding of acceptable and unacceptable behavior, creation of ethical working environment and high moral standards. The first approach is development of special ethical codes of conduct and duty manuals. They should contain detailed description of actions which must or must not be performed by police officers. The code of ethics that was adopted by the International Association of Chief of Police is an example of such directive for actions. It is aimed at prevention of unethical behavior. Leaders of law enforcement agencies should act as examples of strict abidance by this code of ethics. Ethical trainings conducted in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation supported the idea that ethical behavior of designated leaders forms the background for the conduct of the whole department (Raneses, 2010).

Special duty manuals can be developed in order to facilitate maintenance of ethical standards. These documents contain information about the mission and core values of the law enforcement agency, clarification of acceptable and unacceptable actions, ethical and unethical behaviors, use of drugs and alcohol, handling arrests and procedures of collecting evidences. Much attention should be paid to “standards of conduct, acceptance of gifts and rewards, conflicts of interest, and abuse of position” (Fortenbery, 2015). Any manual should contain information concerning punishments of failure to comply with rules and regulations established in it. Leaders should take an active part in development of these documents and their constant application in cases of relevant moral issues which arise in course of time. They should perform control of compliance of police officers to established standards.

Strict subordination in law enforcement agency is one of the most important conditions of abidance by established ethical rules and abovementioned codes and guidelines. Leaders should support strict subordination and obedience to their instructions. Any unethical activities or fails should be discussed and even punished to give the message to the rest of the staff. Personnel should also be rewarded, for example, by special ceremonies of recognition of its achievements. These actions will “instill sound moral behavior” (Fortenbery, 2015). Much attention should be paid to the fact such activities should be performed “routinely, not just when scandal has prompted public investigations” (Wilson, 2011).

Ethical leadership can be fostered with special regular trainings directed on development of ethical behavior and setting ethical values. Encouragement of ethical conduct of police officers can be reached through making different scenarios for forming officers’ outlooks, and exchanging information and visions between officers and their leader. Assessment of moral behavior of participants can be performed through giving written tasks directed on obtaining personal response on different ethical dilemmas. These trainings should encourage making moral decisions by participants in challenging situations. Providing the understanding of the great value of ethical actions during these teachings is very important. “An organization can develop and implement the best department policy, but a policy is useless until employees are trained and fully understand the information” (Fortenbery, 2015). Officers should consider themselves as protectors instead of oppressors. If they act as oppressors, they will lose social trust and support.

It should be mentioned that the work of law enforcement departments is closely connected with application of some dirty means for the situations “when the ends to be achieved are urgent and unquestionably good and only dirty means will work to achieve them” (Klockars, 1980). Ethical leaders should thoroughly investigate such situations in order to assure that only dirty means could be applied in the particular case, because sometimes they can be applied to innocent people. Leaders should not accept and must even punish such activities in order to eliminate unmoral behavior of police officers.

Unethical behavior towards members of the agency also should not be accepted. In the multicultural society of the USA much attention should be paid to loyal attitude to minorities. Nowadays, minority representatives are recruited into the law enforcement agencies for better reflection of the population that they are policing. In some agencies they face discrimination and unequal treatment like it happened in police departments in Sweden. Abby Peterson and Sara Uhnoo (2012) in their work “Trials of Loyalty: Ethic Minority Police Officers as “Outsiders” Within a Greedy Institution” showed that minority police officers faced constant mockeries, jokes, banters and necessities to past special tests for showing their loyalty to other police officers. Ethical leaders should eliminate the reflection of discrimination in their police departments by development and presentation of different directives, involvement of minority officers into the decision making process and their equal treatment. These actions will create the honorable, respectful, trustful and supportive environment where people will cooperate with each other. The work of police officers is connected with constant threats to their lives. Members of the law enforcement agency should trust and respect each other to provide protection from dangers and violence in their working environment.

Ethics of actions of law makers should be thoroughly assessed, because some of their doings directed on saving people’s lives and maintaining discipline can be highly unethical. The examples of such activities are presented by Naoki Kanaboshi (2014) in his article “Prison Inmates’ Right to Hunger Strike: Its Use and Its Limits under the U.S. Constitutions.” The author discusses unethical behavior and even violation of human rights in the process of force-feeding during hunger strikes in prisons. These actions do not let convicts express their opinion concerning policy of prison authorities: “it would be difficult to imagine a greater intrusion upon one’s right to bodily integrity and self – determination than force – feeding (Kanaboshi (2014). This process also inflicts considerable pain to prisoners. Notwithstanding the general good cause, force-feeding is considered to be highly unethical and unmoral. Ethical leaders should clearly recognize the existing issues and try to eliminate any actions that violate rights of other people.

Discussion of Ethical Leadership

The abovementioned approaches directed on fostering ethical leadership will lead to considerable improvement of ethical behavior if they are implemented on the regular basis. As per personal opinion based on studied information, ethical leaders should create and constantly support highly moral, ethical and loyal behavior of police officers towards the members of their agencies and common people. The example of the Swedish police department showed that police officers can face discrimination from their colleagues. This unequal treatment and lack of support can endanger their lives.

Necessity of creation of highly ethical environment is formed on the obtained understanding that this environment can have a considerable effect on formation of personal behavior of members of the agency. If person acts unethically, he/she can be “flushed from the department…in various forms of informal (or even formal) admonishment” (White, & Kane, 2013). According to different studies described in “Pathways to Career – Ending Police Misconduct,” even officers, who acted unethically in the past but who have been working in a supportive and positive environment, are less likely to be engaged in unethical and unmoral activities (White, & Kane, 2013).

Creation of highly ethical environment should be supported by involvement of all members into the decision making process and development of their clear understanding of the necessity of moral behavior. This can be facilitated with establishment of trainings and realization of guidelines described above. Leader’s inability to provide this support can lead to considerable problems, like it happened in police department of Bainbridge Island. According to the official investigations, poor leadership and police officers’ fear to speak up can cause such negative issues as “poor first-line supervision, poor communication and divided community support for the police department” (Kelly, 2013)


This term paper makes an emphasis on the necessity of development of leadership ethics in criminal justice for solving the greatest issues of the current time, like discrimination and offense. Effective approaches are described in this paper. They include development and representation of code of ethics, constant trainings, support of ethical behavior and punishment of unethical actions, development of loyalty, and critical assessment of coercion. The emphasis is paid on the necessity of creation of highly moral and ethical environment supported and understood by all members of the police department. This environment can shape the behavior of police officers and eliminate the possibility of unmoral actions even for those people who acted unethically in the past.

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