September 3, 2011 By Dorothy Cotton
As a person with way too much education, I am a big fan of books, which have many valuable uses. You can use them to prop up your computer monitor (I have two intro psychology textbooks designated specifically for this purpose) or increase upper body strength by carrying them. Impress others by carefully selecting and prominently displaying the right titles or use books as a foil to pretend that you are reading when you’re actually spying on nearby people. Go to bookstores as an excuse to get a good cup of coffee – you can even delude yourself into thinking you will improve yourself by reading. I must confess that I am much better at buying books than actually reading them. I harbor a secret belief that if you carry a book around long enough, the information will seep into your brain. If that is truly the case, then I must now be the most ethical person in the world – because I have been carting around the book “Ethical Issues in Law Enforcement” for several years now. Until recently, my observations about it have been confined to the following:1. It is heavy2. I like the colours in the cover3. Oddly enough, the first author is a psychologist who has written a great deal about ethics in psychology as well as policing and related careers.Ethics is important in policing, as it is in many, if not all, areas of life. We have personal ethics, professional ethics, ethics related to sport, religion, grocery shopping, buying cars…The trouble with ethics is that there can be a big gap between what we believe and what we do. Buying local produce, for example, may sound like a good idea until we find out that the stuff from Far Away costs half as much. Driving a small efficient car seems like the responsible thing to do until our friends make fun of us for driving a wussy vehicle. In other words, it is all well and good to have an articulated set of ethics principles and a strategy for ethical decision-making but if you do not act in accord with your ethical principles…I think this is where the concept of “integrity” comes in. When I first got involved in the police world some years ago, I was surprised at how often the word was used. It is not something we talk about much in psychology. The word does not appear at all in my own Standards of Professional Conduct, though it can be found in the Canadian Psychological Association Code of Ethics for Psychologists in the form of Principle III “Integrity in Relationships,” which generally means you should play nice with your clients – it includes such things as accuracy and honesty; straightforwardness and openness; the maximization of objectivity and minimization of bias; and, avoidance of conflicts of interest.Interestingly, I think this definition of integrity is slightly different from what police officers mean when they talk about it. Evans (author of the aforementioned book) describes integrity in policing as acting in accord with one’s principles or values. He points out that it is possible for integrity to be a bad thing if one’s values are not great. If you act in accord with bad values, you may have integrity – but you have still done something bad.Consider the case of a police officer aware that a colleague is doing something wrong. What values are involved here? One might have the value of advancing public safety and always telling the truth. If these were your values and you acted in accord with them, you would rat out your colleague. However if loyalty to “the team” were your overriding value, then integrity would dictate that you remain quiet and not get your colleague in trouble.So I guess the definition of integrity used by Evans is not really enough. We need something that speaks to both process AND content. In other words, you not only have to act in accord with your values, you have to have decent values to start with. Consider these alternative definitions:• The settled disposition, resolve and determination, the established habit of doing right where there is no one to make you do it but yourself.• A person of integrity is somebody who has a reasonably coherent and relatively stable set of core moral values and virtues to which they are freely and genuinely committed and which reflect in their act and speech. So, the person’s words and actions should be of one piece.So that catch-all term of “integrity” is apparently more complex than it appears on the surface. We have to have a clearly articulated set of values, they should be good (a whole issue in and of itself) and you have to act in accord with them. And of course, when it comes to that last part, it also becomes clear that integrity is not something that is entirely self-contained within the individual. People develop their values in the context of their families, colleagues, social systems, religious affiliations and cultures and enact them in the context of the organizations within which they work. It’s not simple. Sometimes we are not even aware of certain values till they are challenged. We may assume that others share our values – until they don’t. We may assume that we will be supported in acting in accord with our values – until we aren’t. We may assume that our values are fixed and unchanging – until they change.At an individual level, we have to have values and attempt to act in accord with them. At the organizational level, it means we have to support appropriate values. Psychologists may not talk a lot about integrity but they do know about the relationship between thoughts and behaviours. We know that unfortunately, the biggest determinant of behaviour is not attitudes or beliefs – it is the immediate circumstances surrounding a situation. So integrity is good and necessary but it is not enough.Over to you, police organizations. How do you reinforce/reward/enforce ethical behaviour? Hiring the right people is a good start – but it is only a start. Much of the rest is up to you.
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