Police portion:




Thomas Gale, Macmillian Reference,USA,, Volume 3 of 4 volumes, pages: 1430-1435, ISBN 0-02-865991-0 

As members of a social institution which, like the military, is a legitimate employer of force in the service of the state, the police must adhere to strict standards of ethical conduct. The rapid pace of scientific and technological change has affected this ethically guided police work in two ways: The detective resources and enforcement powers at their disposal are altered by changes in science and technology; the powers available to illegitimate users of force, those whom the police are charged with opposing, are also altered. At several different levels, the law enforcement institution has adapted to these changes, which have brought both increased opportunity for improved service as well as challenges and controversies.

Police Ethics
Law enforcement officers represent the epitome of society insofar as they daily risk their lives to protect and serve the public and uphold the laws of the state. Their position of authority and their ability to legitimately use force in various contingencies, however, means that they must uphold the strictest of ethical standards in order not to abuse their power. Although it is unrealistic to hold law enforcement officers (or any human being) to standards of perfection, both citizens and the state expect the police to uphold certain values and norms. Although constitutional and other laws (for example, the U.S. Miranda rights of persons accused of crimes established in 1966) play a role in ensuring the ethical conduct of police, these measures are also supplemented by various codes of ethics drafted by professional law enforcement associations.

Two of the most important overarching codes are the Code of Ethics adopted in 1966 by the American Federation of Police and the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics adopted in 1957 (revised in 1989) by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP 1992). The latter is often used as a model by individual police departments in crafting their own codes of conduct and ethics, which then serve as oaths taken by new officers. Another important document on the international level is the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, adopted by the General Assembly in 1979. A key distinguishing feature of this code is the broad directive for police to protect human dignity and uphold human rights. Criminal Justice Ethics, a semiannual journal published by the Institute of Criminal Justice Ethics, and Ethics Roll Call, a quarterly journal published by the Center for Law Enforcement Ethics, serve as key resources for facilitating ongoing discussions in the field of law enforcement ethics, especially as changes in science and technology raise new questions about proper conduct.

Most codes of conduct and codes of ethics for police uphold certain general principles in order to prevent misconduct and abuse of power. These principles include: the duty to uphold the law and loyalty to the constitution; personal integrity, honesty, and honor; responsibility to know the law and understand the limits of one's power; and responsibility to use the least amount of force necessary to achieve the proper end. These principles (in addition to laws) are designed to guard against police deviance, or behavior inconsistent with norms and values. This can include misconduct (e.g., excessive or discriminatory use/non-use of force), corruption (forbidden acts involving misuse of office for gain), and favoritism (unfair treatment of friends or relatives).

One noteworthy point is the scarcity of references to the proper use of science and technology in most codes of ethics. As new technologies emerge and become available for both police and criminals (for example, improved surveillance mechanisms or more deadly weapons), so too do new ethical dilemmas that may or may not be adequately resolved by interpreting the general principles found in police codes of ethics.

Various forms of police deviance often have been exacerbated by inadequate accountability mechanisms. During the last half of the twentieth century, however, this was improved thanks in part to developments in communications and surveillance technologies that allow watchdog groups to monitor police behavior and record and share their findings. For the most part, the increased public scrutiny of police activities has helped to reinforce ethical conduct, but it can also interfere with police operations and unfairly stigmatize officers. One source of deviance is an incentive structure that attaches promotions to number and rate of arrests. This can distract officers from their principle duties of protecting and serving the public. Another common ethical problem is the tribal system of values that can evolve within such tight-knit communities as police departments. The "blue code of silence" sometimes leads to the cover-up of corruption and abuses of power.

Science and Technology in Police Work

Advances in science and technology have both improved the capabilities of law enforcement officers to perform their duties and raised several challenges and controversies. Transportation provides one example of how radically these developments have altered police work. Although foot and horseback patrols still play key roles in law enforcement, the introduction of police cars (first used in Akron, Ohio, in 1899 and popularized in the 1930s) has dramatically increased officer mobility. Now helicopters and motorboats complement ever more powerful police cars equipped with video cameras, laptop computers capable of accessing information systems, and global positioning systems (GPS). In addition to transportation, other areas of major scientific and technological change include identification and crime solving, computers and communication, monitoring and surveillance, and protection and control.

The discovery and utilization of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) has greatly improved the science of identifying people, which involves determining where they have been, what they did, and how they did it. With only a strand of hair, flake of dandruff, or drop of saliva, police laboratories are now able to positively identify individuals. Despite some debate on this issue, in 1996 the National Academy of Sciences determined there is no reason to question the reliability of DNA evidence. The creation of crime laboratories and advances in forensic science (e.g., the microscopic comparison of fibers, bullets, and other tangible evidence) has made identification of hard evidence a powerful means of detection. Fingerprinting, first widely used in the 1920s, is another technique that has vastly improved the ability of police to identify criminals.

In 1967, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) created the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the first nation-wide computer filing system. This helped spark the large-scale computerization of police departments in the United States in the 1970s. Integrated networks of computer databases allow different police departments and different sectors of law enforcement to rapidly share information. Improvements in information and communications technologies can enhance the effectiveness of identification technologies by building national databases of license plates, fingerprints, and even DNA. The 911 system, two-way radios, cell phones, and satellite phones have also increased the ability of police to respond to the public's needs.

Advances in computer and information technology have also improved police monitoring and surveillance. For example, police in the City of London utilize an information technology scheme called Police Informant Management System (PIMS), which allows them to target specific criminal activities and manage informants more effectively. Other monitoring technologies used by the police include camera systems and GPS. Police surveillance work focuses on specific individuals, places, or vehicles deemed suspicious. This more covert work can involve the recording and monitoring of telephone or in-person conversations as well as electronic correspondence. Three notable technologies are the Echelon surveillance program (used to monitor electronic correspondence), the FaceTrac system that "reads" faces, and the Digital Angel tracking chip, which—disguised as jewelry or implanted under the skin—can track the wearer anywhere in the world. For all the advantages these techniques confer on police, there is still no replacement for the proper training of officers to infiltrate criminal groups.

Finally, advances in protective equipment (such as bulletproof vests and helmets) and less-than-lethal technologies have greatly improved police work. Especially during the 1960s, there were many attempts to develop riot control technologies and use-of-force alternatives to guns and the standard side-handle baton. Tried and largely abandoned technologies included rubber, plastic, and wooden bullets, dart and tranquilizer guns, an electrified water jet, and strobe lights (Seaskate 1998). Taser guns, which shoot two wire-controlled darts into the victim and deliver a 50,000-volt shock, bean bag rounds for crowd control, and pepper spray have been more widely employed. Another major development is the RoadSpike, a strip of remote-controlled retractable spikes that allows police to more safely and effectively stop fleeing vehicles while minimizing unintended damage to others.

Police departments have often been slow in reaping the advantages made possible through progress in science and technology (Seaskate 1998). For example, even with massive federal funding, computerization happened slowly and unevenly, since it took a long time for many departments to figure out how information technologies like records management systems and computerized crime mapping could be usefully implemented. Furthermore, many technologies have been adopted from the private sector, but the police also have needs for specialized technologies, which are more difficult to develop and apply. In the United States, the Office of Science and Technology of the National Institute of Justice is responsible for determining and supplying the special technology needs of the nation's police force and for fostering technology research and development.

The use of emerging science and technology by the police can also raise controversies. Cyrille Fijnaut and Gary T. Marx (1995) have argued that the increased use of technical means by the police is one manifestation of the growing technicization of social control (enforcing norms by preventing violations). They suggest that the increased use of technology in social control can cause more problems than it solves. Other controversies stem primarily from specific technologies. Enhanced monitoring and surveillance abilities have raised privacy issues. The reliability of fingerprinting has been questioned (see Cho 2002), especially following one case of wrongful arrest and one of wrongful conviction in 2004 based on faulty interpretation of the fingerprint evidence. Taser guns have also sparked controversy as many concede that they can save lives but that officers may use them too early or too often. More than forty deaths have been linked to Taser guns.

Another important impact of science and technology has been the increasing specialization of law enforcement. Police negotiators, special weapons experts, and tactics teams are often relied on in various circumstances. Deferring to experts is usually the best way of handling a critical situation, but only when time allows. In moments of urgency that require quick judgment and action, this strategy can turn into passive policing possibly to the extent of cowardice. The most horrific example is the Columbine High School tragedy (April 20, 1999), where the first responding police officers, knowing there were children being killed inside, failed to enter the school building. These duty-bound officers, supplied with firearms, body armor, and the color of law, chose to wait for the SWAT team rather than risk their own lives in an attempt to save the students. In the aftermath and on nationwide news, the Jefferson County sheriff stated he did not order his men into the school building because he did not want them hurt.

Criminal Adoption of New Technologies

Much of the same technology used by the police to counteract crime has also been adopted by criminals. Computerization and wireless communications are radically altering some forms of crime. For example, drug trafficking organizations often surpass the communications abilities of law enforcement, and even street-level dealers have access to state-of-the-art communications technologies. Electronic correspondence, the Internet, and cellular communications have made illegal transactions of all kinds more difficult to trace (Seaskate 1998). These technologies also allow terrorist cells to be extremely mobile and highly networked. The development of police technology in the future will be largely set within the context of this evolving technology race with criminals.

Police are forced to deal with new and more sophisticated criminal acts while maintaining their traditional roles of handling traffic, mediating domestic disputes, and providing a range of public services. In order to do so, they must devote a substantial portion of their time to continuing education. Law enforcement officers must attend refresher courses, mandated use-of-force training sessions, and other compendious schools just to keep up with court decisions and novel tricks and tactics being created by the criminal mind. This is in addition to the constant development of hardware, software, and scientific means of detecting criminal activity, which criminals in turn work hard to elude, often through the use of technology.

Unlike the police, however, criminals seldom invest in scientific research or are able to use science to develop new technologies. They are more limited to the creative adaptation of existing technologies, after the manner of the creative consumer analyzed by Michel de Certeau (1984).


It is important that the increased reliance on science and technology does not compromise the ethical standards of law enforcement officers. In order to avoid such a possibility, police departments and professional law enforcement societies should make any necessary updates to their codes of ethics. For example, given increased surveillance capabilities and powers (like those under the USA Patriot Act of 2001), police need to ensure that their conduct strikes the right balance between protection of civil rights (like the right to privacy) and the physical protection of citizens from harm. All such changes in science and technology are rapidly altering the context of police work, and law enforcement officers are continually challenged to find the proper use of new technologies to achieve the goals of protecting the public and upholding the law. The rational use of technology and force by the police requires active democratic involvement and citizen partnerships with the police in order to avoid the rise of a modern police state (see Stevens 2000, Wolfe and Zelman 2001).

Technology also plays a role in globalizing criminal activities. Transportation and communication technologies especially enable criminal and terrorist networks to operate and coordinate actions that span the globe. One possible response to this trend is a more central role for Interpol. Created in 1923, Interpol is the world's largest police organization with 182 member countries. It supports all organizations that combat international crime, and it facilitates and coordinates cross-border police cooperation. In this latter function, Interpol is dependent on communication and information technologies that allow multiple agencies to track criminal activities that cross political boundaries. Given the vital importance of technology for Interpol's mission, it may need to strengthen its budget to support research and development specifically targeted to its needs.

In fact, as science and technology become integral parts of police work, it is important that all governments establish rational bureaucratic structures capable of securing the necessary resources to develop and disseminate novel technologies and improved scientific practices. Furthermore, given the increased technological capabilities of criminals and terrorists, it is essential that police and other first responders are adequately trained and equipped to handle contingencies from hostage situations to attacks using weapons of mass destruction. These requirements became especially apparent for the United Sates in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. One of the responses was the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2002. A central element of the DHS is the Science and Technology Directorate, which works to counter terrorist threats by improving current technological capabilities and developing new technologies. This marks another step in the effort to coordinate and fund federal efforts and encourage industry in the task of providing police with the proper technologies to fulfill their vital mission. However, and in contrast, all of the science, technology and/or modern, crime-detecting gee-whiz gizmos are of no value if police conduct condones anything other than strict compliance to the highest of ethical standards.



Barker, Thomas and Carter, David L. (1994). Police Deviance, 3rd edition. Cincinnati, OH: Anderson. Describes and analyzes many issues of police deviance and misconduct and offers recommendations for mitigation.

Cho, Adrian. (2002). "Fingerprinting Doesn't Hold Up as a Science in Court." Science 295(5554): 418. Reports that the U.S. Supreme Court found that fingerprinting does not uphold three of the four standards for federal rules of scientific evidence established in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals.

de Certeau, Michel. (1984). The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall. Berkley: University of California Press. Marks a turning point in the study of culture from a focus on products and producers to consumers and their creative uses of products.

Fijnaut, Cyrille, and Gary T. Marx, eds. (1995). Undercover: Police Surveillance in Comparative Perspective. The Hague: Kluwer Law International. Argues from police surveillance to the larger thesis that social control is changing worldwide due to the functional needs of the modern state and common cultural beliefs.

Hansen, David A. (1973). Police Ethics. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

Heffernan, William C., and Timothy Stroup, eds. (1985). Police Ethics: Hard Choices in Law Enforcement. New York: John Jay Press.

International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). (1992). "The Evolution of the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics." Police Chief 59(January): 14–17.

Stevens, Richard W. (2000). "What is a Police State?" In Police State Polices Alert Newsletter (Winter) Hartford, WI: Concerned Citizens Opposed to Police States.

Toffler, Alvin, and Heidi Toffler. (1993). War and Anti-War: Survival at the Dawn of the Twenty-first Century. New York: Little, Brown. Shows how technology alters the nature of conflict and argues that technology and innovation can be the wellsprings of a lasting peace.

Wolfe, Claire, and Aaron Zelman. (2001). The State vs. The People. Hartford, WI: Mazel Freedom Press. Defines and differentiates three different types of police-states (traditional, totalitarian, and modern authoritarian) and argues that the United States may be moving toward a form of modern authoritarian police state that grows organically out of fear about crime and terrorism.


Seaskate, Inc. (1988). The Evolution and Development of Police Technology. A technical report prepared for The National Committee on Criminal Justice Technology at the National Institute of Justice. Available from http://inventors.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http://www.nlectc.org/txtfiles/policetech.html . Contains a timeline of police technology and recommendations for federal decision makers on how to improve the technological capabilities