An ethics survey was conducted on 520 police officers from three separate forces by the Open University. The Open University is a distance learning and research university founded by Royal Charter in the United Kingdom.
The results revealed a noticeable thin blue line, defining police officers from everyone else, as only half of all police officers admitted they’d report a colleague for misconduct such as administering an assault on a suspect. Of the officers surveyed, only 54 percent said they’d definitely report a fellow officer who punched a suspect for trying to escape, according to the Daily Mail. Additionally, one in five private security officers failed to report a colleague who breached the rules.
Dr. Louise Westmarland, senior lecturer in criminology at the Open University, said the findings presented a discernible “blue wall of silence” which still exists within the agency. Her conclusion was that officers were unlikely to report other officers even in the cases of serious infractions. Nearly 17 percent would not report someone for accepting unsolicited gifts while on duty. One in four would not report an officer for accepting food and alcohol. Overall officers were uncertain about what was against the rules and what was permissible.
Westmarland remarked on the study:
“The findings of the study reveal that officers seem uncertain of the rules and regulations covering their behavior, especially at the lower end of the spectrum. In other words, officers were not clear about the bending of rules covering minor offences such as working in their spare time or accepting free drinks or small gifts. More experienced officers were more likely to report a colleague than younger officers.”
Home Affairs Committee chairman Keith Vaz finds the results unacceptable and is concerned with the outcome of the survey:
“We all expect our police officers to uphold the highest standards of integrity, but this startling research shows how, for many, the line between right and wrong is indeed blurred. It is also apparent that for some officers, the sense of proportion has gone wrong. Use of inappropriate force and cover ups are completely unacceptable for officers of the law. The police service is undergoing significant reform, with the new College of Policing and a tough new Chief Inspector of Constabulary it must take this opportunity to make sure that our expectations for officers’ conduct are clearly established and upheld.”
Weber State University of Ogden, Utah conducted a similar study examining the ethics of future law enforcement officers back in December. Bruce Bayley, associate professor of criminal justice at WSU, reviewed future law enforcement officers, examining their core ethical values, in order to determine if they were in line with the expectations of their career choice. WSU studied 260 criminal justice students over a three-semester period. Students participated in an online, interactive survey and answered 20 ethics questions that did not have a right or wrong answer. A snapshot review of the results was discussed in class afterwards, allowing the students to have debates and thorough discussions.
The outcome of the research encouraged Bayley to conduct the online interactive survey on cadets at WSU’s Law Enforcement Academy and Utah Peace Officers Standard and Training center. Bayley discovered one-third of all cadets were at risk for corruption:
“It means good officers do bad things for good reasons. My theory is that all the crime and cop programs on television that show getting the bad guy no matter what, has skewed their perception.”
By identifying students’ core values, instructors and students can discuss the results of the survey with the intent of dropping the risk numbers by the time they graduate, maintaining the integrity of the profession.