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Epistemology and Duty Ethics in Criminal Justice
1 Ethics in Law Enforcement Agencies
As Roufa (2019) notes, ethics in law enforcement are essential to prevent behaviors from going unchecked and bad reputations from being developed. Ethics in law enforcement agencies can provide guidelines, identify values that should be promoted, and dictate what sort of actions, behaviors and attitudes law enforcement agents should demonstrate. The Law Enforcement Oath of Office focuses on protecting, upholding and defending the Constitution of the US. It also contains terms regarding how officers should conduct themselves: soberly, honorably and honestly.
Law enforcement agencies tend to codify the ethics they want their officers to follower. The reason for this is that they want their officers to engage in ethical decision making, which means making the right decision morally. Sometimes officers can have an unconscious or implicit bias and this can affect their decision making (Hehman, Flake & Calanchini, 2018). Having a code of ethics in place helps officers to remember to base their decisions on the ethical code’s guidance. That way they are not basing decisions on any potential implicit bias they may have.
In order for the ethical code to be implemented effectively, officers need to engage in critical thinking. This means they have to ask themselves a series of questions when making decisions regarding the morality of the actions under consideration. They must ask if the action would be legal, whether it will result in a good end, whether it will be practical—i.e., have utility; whether there might be a better option that would result in a greater good; whether the action might contradict or undermine another principle; whether the action might violate any ethical principle even if it does bring about some good; and whether one would be able to justify with reason the action if necessary before the public.
2 Ethics within Philosophy in a Criminal Justice Context
The three main ethical philosophies are Virtue Ethics, Deontology (Duty Ethics) and Utilitarianism. A fourth ethical philosophy is often used to justify questionable behaviors and it is known as Ethical Egoism; individuals tend to turn to Ethical Egoism when they want the ends they seek to justify the means. Each of the…
…use of their free will to pursue objectives that are important to them (Holmes, 2007).
Ethics apply to criminal justice because they set the parameters for how the system of criminal justice should be arranged. The criminal justice system in the US was developed during the Enlightenment era so Enlightenment philosophy influenced it heavily; however, as time has passed, other ethical perspectives have been used to allow the system to evolve.
Epistemology relates to how knowledge is derived, and in the criminal justice system researchers will use epistemology to develop theories of crime, to construct programs and processes for how to police—i.e., community policing, and so on. Forensics, law, and bail reform will all rely on epistemology at some point as they rely on information and data to develop new approaches.
Philosophy of mind pertains to criminal justice in the sense that officers will want to understand how free will plays a part in their actions and the actions of others. Developing theories for why people commit crimes will depend on this aspect of philosophy as well. The human will is at the heart of all…
Cahn, S. & Markie, P. (2011). Ethics: History, Theory and Contemporary Issues, 5th Edition. UK: Oxford University Press.
Hehman, E., Flake, J. K., & Calanchini, J. (2018). Disproportionate use of lethal force in policing is associated with regional racial biases of residents. Social psychological and personality science, 9(4), 393-401.
Holmes, A. (2007). Ethics: Approaching moral decisions. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Roufa, T. (2019). Ethics in law enforcement. Retrieved from https://www.thebalancecareers.com/ethics-in-law-enforcement-and-policing-974542
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