Ethics in Law Enforcement


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Ethics in Law Enforcement, Is a  textbook written by Steve McCartney

About the Book

In this book, you will examine the moral and ethical issues that exist within law enforcement. This book will also familiarize you with the basic history, principles, and theories of ethics. These concepts will then be applied to the major components of the criminal justice system: policing, the courts, and corrections. Discussion will focus on personal values, individual responsibility, decision making, discretion, and the structure of accountability. Specific topics covered will include core values, codes of conduct, ethical dilemmas, organizational consequences, liability, and the importance of critical thinking. By the end of this book, you will be able to distinguish and critically debate contemporary ethical issues in law enforcement.

About the Contributors


Steve McCartney, MSc, retired from the Vancouver Police Department after 28 years of service. While with the V.P.D. he served in a variety of capacities including patrol, Detective Constable with Strike Force, Sexual Offence Squad, the Provincial Unsolved Homicide Unit and VPD Homicide Unit. After leaving the V.P.D., he was seconded to the B.C. Police Academy at the Justice Institute of British Columbia as an instructor in Investigation and Patrol. Upon retiring from the V.P.D. he became the Program Chair of Law Enforcement Studies at the Justice Institute of British Columbia, where he currently teaches Applied Ethics in Law Enforcement and Law Enforcement Communication Skills.

Rick Parent, PhD, is an Associate Professor at Simon Fraser University, School of Criminology – Police Studies.   Rick completed 30 years of service as a police officer and is a former police recruit instructor at the B.C. Police Academy. His research and expertise is in the area of police ethics and accountability and, the police use of lethal force including the phenomena of “suicide by cop”. Dr. Parent is also the subject matter expert/author of the Canadian Police Knowledge Network course entitled “Police Ethics and Accountability”, the co-author of the book entitled “Community-Based Strategic Policing in Canada, 4th edition and, a senior researcher for the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society (TSAS).

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Ethical Behaviour

  • 1.1 The Importance of Ethical Behaviour
  • 1.2 Ethics and the Pursuit of a Law Enforcement Career
  • 1.3 As Employees in Law Enforcement Agencies

Chapter 2: Ethical Systems

  • 2.1 Major Ethical Systems
  • 2.2 Utilitarian Ethics
  • 2.3 Deontology
  • 2.4 Virtue Ethics
  • 2.5 Ethics of Care
  • 2.6 Egoism
  • 2.7 Religion or Divine Command Theory
  • 2.8 Natural Law
  • 2.9 Social Contract Theory
  • 2.10 Rawls’ Theory of Justice
  • 2.11 Moral Relativism

Chapter 3: Ethical Dilemmas and the Process of Effective Resolution

  • 3.1 Ethical Dilemmas
  • 3.2 Values
  • 3.3 Solving Ethical Dilemmas

Chapter 4: Key Ethical Issues within Law Enforcement

  • 4.1 Ethical Issues
  • 4.2 The Ethics of Power and Authority
  • 4.3 The Milgram Experiment
  • 4.4 Person, Gender, and Cultural Differences in Conformity
  • 4.5 Ethical Issues during an Investigation
  • 4.6 Gratuities

Chapter 5: Accountability and Investigation

  • 5.1 Autonomy and Accountability
  • 5.2 British Columbia’s Police Act
  • 5.3 The Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act
  • 5.4 Investigation Models
  • 5.5 Independent Investigations Office

Chapter 6: Policing

  • 6.1 Noble Cause Corruption
  • 6.2 Policing Public Demonstrations and Crowd Control
  • 6.3 Sex Offender Notification Laws
  • 6.4 Ethics of Private Policing

Chapter 7: Discretion, Supervision, and Leadership

  • 7.1 The Ethics Surrounding Discretion
  • 7.2 Discretion and Supervision
  • 7.3 Selective Enforcement
  • 7.4 Loyalty
  • 7.5 Ethical Leadership
  • 7.6 Transactional and Transformational Leadership

Chapter 8: The Culture of Law Enforcement

  • 8.1 Police Subculture
  • 8.2 Socialization of Police
  • 8.3 Skepticism and Cynicism
  • 8.4 Moral Culpability versus Legal Culpability


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Additional information


Steve McCartney

Rick Parent, Simon Fraser University








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