According Robert Peel (1788-1850), stated that the

According to (Northouse, 2010) ethics is concerned with the values and
moral standards of both individuals and society as a whole.  It is therefore transferable that Policing,
which serves society has a considerable ethical obligation in the way it
conducts itself and those who serve. This was further supported by (MacVean & Neyroud, 2012) who stated that
ethics are a critical component of policing.

This report will examine the ethical approaches
to the use of force by Police officers, something which is regularly portrayed
in a negative light by the press. This report will also examine how the use of
force is justified through a utilitarianism system of ethical thinking whilst examining how these ethical considerations can
alter the thought process around the use of force and its legitimacy in the
eyes of both the officer and public. As there are many ethical models
available, such as Categorical Imperative and Deontology support by Immanuel
Kant (1724-1804), who based his theory on duty and universal rules which would
determine the correct course of action (Donaldson, Werhane, & Cording , 2002), the Utilitarianism model
has been chosen as the basis of this report, due to its close relationship with
the greater good theory.

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Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850), stated that the
basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder (MacVean & Neyroud, 2012), and as such the use
of force was not only widely expected but anticipated. This was further
explained in one of the nine ‘Pelian Principles’ which states “Police use physical force to the extent
necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the
exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.” (Nazemi, 2017)WC1 

The relationship between ethics and the purpose
of the organisation is critical to any understanding of the ethical challenges
in policing (Neyroud 2006), further
enhanced by the way in which the public view the Police service as a whole. Owen and Pfeifer (2003) explained that the
police are perceived as upholders and exemplars of the law and that such a
position affords its holders power, status and respect. This position, however,
results in extraordinary expectations and, as such, police officers are expected
to be mindful, dutiful and above all ethical.

But why is it that the ethical considerations are
now deemed necessary when undertaking any aspect of Policing in its various
guises? Although ethical theory development dates back to Plato (427-347 B.C)
and Aristotle (384-322 B.C) many historically deem ethics as a topic considered
only by medical professionals and it wasn’t until the early 1900’s when the
ethical considerations leading to a decision or act being undertaken was
considered by the public. Although many theories and ethical models have been
discussed for a number of years, the public’s grasp of ethics is still in its
infancy, however more people are engaged with the process of understanding or
questioning the thought process behind the decision or act undertaken by any
public figure.

As this new way of thinking continues to
take hold, the public have increasingly questioned the Police and its serving
members at every level, on both high and low profile incidents, sometimes
unknowingly uncovering a number of miscarriages of justice or criminal activities
undertaken deemed by many as unethical, by senior officers. These acts did, and
have continued to stain the history of the Police to which many people still
recall and ultimately base there distrust in the service as a whole. The
importance of an ethical approach to Policing in its entirety cannot be
discouraged or ignored, as MacVean & Neyroud (2012, p. 3) state,

day-to-day decisions made by police officers in undertaking their duties can
make a difference to the outcomes of any situation.  Consequently, police officers and police
forces are now increasingly being asked to account not just for the decisions
they make, but also for the way they have made them.”

Due to the mistakes made in the past Officers now face greater scrutiny
on a daily basis surrounding the activities they undertake no matter how
insignificant, and although spoken about, there are currently no clear set of
guidelines for each and every aspect of policing, therefore the circumstances
of a policing activity may stay the same yet the course of action carried out
will ultimately change dependant on the standard, values and ethical
considerations, if any, of the officer in charge. And even if brought to
account for their actions who is to say that what the officer believed to be
right, was in fact wrong? And why would an officer even stop to contemplate
their ethical values or alternatively would an officer even have the time to
consider their actions and even if they did, as MacVean
& Neyroud (2012, p. 3) stated, “…we will learn, ethics are

A utilitarianism perspective, states that we
should behave in a manner which creates the greatest good for the greatest
number of people (Northouse, 2010) a view point also backed up by Schumann (2001) who touched upon the social
aspect of Policing when stating that a morally correct action, is the action
that maximises social benefits whilst minimising social costs. Given these
views, we can therefore establish that given a person / officer’s personal
belief in any given subject or situation in which they find themselves, as long
as the ends justify the means , or society or a cross section of society would
condone their actions, then their actions would be justified and proportionate
in their eyes.

Although a very plain and easy approach to take
in life, we can at first look to apply this to every aspect of policing in
every guise. However this paper will suggest that this approach may not be as
clear cut as first thought, and by examining the utilitarian approach in
relation to the use of force, for which many officer will be judged and held to
account, it is important to also consider the plethora of laws and guidelines
which could potentially overrule an ethical perspective as Police officers have
to act within the law and as practically as possible in the circumstance in
order to strike a balance between the liberties of the public and the need to
maintain order (HMIC, February 2011).

As a system of ethics there is no denying that
the utilitarian view point would be the best fit for any Police force, as it
seeks to maximise the greater good for the greater number of people, and as a
public service what better ethical model would fit the aims of the service as a
whole? A very simplistic and single minded viewpoint, however in considering
this approach the implications must be addressed. Considering the use of force
on every level in this approach would place upon the officer the role of the
courts, and as long as the officers thought process considered whether the ends
justified the means, then forces throughout the world could be viewed as heavy
handed and in some cases militant. As an example the reporting of underage
sexual grooming and assaults are now unfortunately common place, and no longer
hidden as they once were in days gone by. If an officer was to assault a sexual
predator, and therefore stop further offences being committed by that
individual, protecting young vulnerable individuals, would this be considered
as ethical under the utilitarian approach? I’m sure many individuals would see
this action as just and proportionate given the severity of the crimes
committed and stopped, however when are the personal rights of the individual
assaulted taken into consideration, and should they?

Modern society has a greater understanding of
individual rights of humans and in some cases such as terrorism, these are
sometimes frowned upon. However the rights of an individual are real and need
to be considered. Given
the example given WC2 it is hard to
determine what brought that person to partake in such despicable crimes,
however if we take a shop lifter as an example what was it that brought about
the act, is he feeding hungry children or financing a drug habit brought about
by abuse or neglect? There are many more catalysts for personal behaviour but
given these two, would a utilitarian approach to force still be applicable in
these circumstances and to what extent would an advocate of this approach turn
a blind eye to the circumstances which led to the act and still use force
against the offender?

This lack
of concern over the intentions behind such an assault are summed up by Matthis & Shannon (2009, p.104) when they

“…if the
ethics of all actions are judged by their consequences alone, it means that
there are no good or bad actions per se. 
It also implies that the intentions which underlie these actions are of
no importance…A motive is only bad if it gives rise to an action with adverse

Given the utilitarian viewpoint on physical
force, and notwithstanding the personal views of the officer in question, can
officers who choose to use force actually ever get it right? When discussing
police officer attitudes towards a utilitarian viewpoint Shernock (1990) WC3 stated
“…they justify their rule deviations be claiming their actions are directed
toward what they define as the ultimate goal of criminal justice, guaranteeing
a just social order by protecting citizens.” With this statement in mind, which
casts the shadow of doubt over each and every possible solution to a set
circumstance in which force is used, the fact that Police are reportedly
“justifying their rule deviations” tends to lean towards a general lack of
trust, even when every possible solution may have been considered. Furthermore
this use of force may even have come from those officers with academic backgounds
who would understand and partaken in ethical considerations.

Given the above, history has
taught us that not every officer has stuck to the letter of the law and it
would be foolish of any author to try and back up false claims by officers who
have been left wanting, however these officers are a minority yet somehow there
actions take up a majority of the publics perception. What we do have to
consider, is that police officers are members of the community with varied
backgounds and upbringings, some better than others as with any profession. What
this then brings to the forefront, is that each officer will react differently
to each scenario to which they attend. Some will take up the use of force
earlier than others, especially if they themselves have a previous dealings
with that type of person or indeed if they have themselves been annoyed by the
offender in a proffessional capacity, due to their ongoing criminal behaviour.
In their own minds the justice which they dispense whether that be force or any
other guise, is formulated by a mixture of law, guidlines, training, personal
experiences and their own ethical considerations, as officers are not robots
and each and every one differs. A point made by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle 384 – 322 BC
who was an early proponent of virtue ethics (Crane & Matten, 2004) Aristotle himself
believed that an individual’s character is based on six pillars: community,
excellence, role identity, holism, integrity and judgement. And as such each
individual has their own belief and inner ethical approach to everyday




We are all
individuals, but our identities and meanings are found in communities. For
most of us that means the organisation we work for: i.e. the police service,
and “to live the good life one must live in a great city”.


Virtue is doing
one’s best and striving to be excellent, not just doing what is expected of

Role Identity

We must not only
be personally excellent but to reveal and identity of excellence to others.
In other words act as a role model.


Integrity is a
lynchpin to all other virtues. We have to have high moral principles and the
courage to go against the rules for the sake of community.


Concerned with
social organisation, happiness and team working. Working together for the happiness
of the community.


Core aspect of a
virtuous life and requires ethical consideration and thought on the basic
facts, the circumstances and the persons involved.

Source: Solomon, R.
C. in Donaldson et al (2002)

It may be true that officers
wish that a harsher form of justice could be dished out to offenders on the
streets, as they may see the court system as a waste of time, however WC4 not
everyone officer would take up the offer if it was handed to them, which would
mirror the general population if they too were given the same proposition.

What officers do have to
consider is that the use of force is significant, and one area to which they
must justify their actions as the a potential use of force is required daily.
What we must also consider is that the use of force is not always instigated by
the officer, and any use of force may be a response to force put upon
themselves. This backed up by Johnson (2011) who citied Friedrich (1980) who
stated”….those most likely to be recipients of police physical force were
criminal suspects who were physically aggressive or noncompliant with the
police and displayed a hostile demeanor.” Given this supportive stance however
true, even the use of force carried out following an attack must still be
subject to ethical consideration, and officers still have to know when enough
is enough.

So given that officers can
retalliate with force, to what degree can the service as a whole produce
training packages or guidelines from which officers can be guided as to what to
do in that given situation. The honest truth is that this just isnt possible,
as aluded to earlier no two situations are the same. What forces can and have
done is to produce frameworks to which officers apply their own discretion and
ability, again bringing back the consideration earlier discussed in that not
every officer would deal with a situation the same. As an example given one
officers knoweldge of a martial art against anothers lack of knoweldge, would
the use of a possible deadly strike be condidered ethical against anothers
officers judgement to not use any force in the same situation? Proving once
again that the ethical consideratrions undertaken by officers are somewhat
subjective, but why trouble ourselves with such an issue if the end result
suits the community as a whole.

So far this paper has discussed
the use of what some would portray to be low levels of force, but woud the
utilitarian viewpoint still hold true with the most extreme use of force, when
an officer uses a firearm to take a member of the publics life. Although there
are may laws and guideleines surrounding such use of force in public, not
withstanding the prolonged investigation which follows, a use of force in any
guise would still be ethical under the utlitarain viewpoint as the greater good
would benefit as that person was deemed so dangerous to the general public that
his or her life needed to be taken. And what of their rights as a human, or
what if that person was not sound in mind?

Clearly a factor worthy of note supported by the Police Complaint
Authority (2003) who stated,

“Findings suggest that the majority of the decedents were
made vulnerable by their psychiatric conditions and consumption of substances
at the time and that effective police command, which prolonged the duration of
an incident, was crucial in influencing the outcome.”


This paper has attempted to
examine just one area of policing which affects each and every Police force
world wide, against just the viewpoint of a specific ethical model. Although
debated and argued about for many years, the ethical approaches to Policing are
not clear cut and what this paper has shown is that given the unique
circumstances of any policing incident the approaches of the officers attending
could be vastly different. What is clear is that whatever route the officers
take with a situation there will always be someone who could but utilising
another ethical model or put another spin on the decisions made and come up
with yet another possible solution, which could and in many case has proven to
discredit officers or force as a whole. There are many different ethical models
and as a Police officer is would be unwise as to not consider them all,
although highly unlikely, however given the possibilities of social media and
news coverage, can officers realistically ever get a decision right?

As alluded to earlier officers
are different in the thought processeses, backgounds training and personal
ethical belief. Therefore with the lack of specific rules or regulations for
each and every situation, you will 
invariably come out with multiple end results, some resulting in force
being used, others without. But that doesn’t mean to say that these outsomes or
wrong or are in any way unjustified or indeed illegal, it does however show up
a distinct lack of ethical training in Police forces and maybe with a little
knowledge officers may have behaved differently. So why has it taken for so
long for Policing to jump onto the ethical bandwagon and deal with this issue
upfront in the full view of the public which they serve. A possible anwer to
that question is that ethics as a topic is too vast and ethical models are so
varied in style for a force to take on a specifc viewpoint and prodeuce
guidlines. And why would they given the possible backlash from members of the
public who don’t agree or lean towards a different approach in the own personal
style. The fact that ethics as a subject is too vast is in no way an excuse for
the lack of understanding or training given, but what it does bring to the
forefront is the necessity for ethical theory training to not just Policng but
all emergency services who may have dealings with the public. An argument
supported by Neyroud & Beckley (2001) as quoted in Neyroud (2006) who

“…good policing in the 21st century requires
more than ‘good performance’. It needs a renewal of the contract between the
police officer and the citizen, which, in turn, requires greater openness and
scrutiny, continuously improving professional standards and a new commitment to
ethics at the core of policing”

line in here to link back to the question – Today, ethical decisions regarding
the use of police force is still high on the agenda and a key part of day to
day policing.

needs rewording

forget your page numbers for quotes.