Ethics in Law Enforcement
first Edition

Ethics in Law Enforcement

by Steve McCartney, Rick Parent

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.


Front Matter
About the Book
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
1.4. References
1.5. Glossary
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
2.12. References
2.13. Glossary
3. Ethical Dilemmas and the Process of Effective Resolution
3.1. Ethical Dilemmas
3.2. Values
3.3. Solving Ethical Dilemmas
3.4. References
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
4.7. References
4.8. Glossary
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
5.6. References
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
6.5. References
6.6. Glossary
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
7.7. References
7.8. Glossary
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
8.5. References
8.6. Glossary
9. Back Matter
9.1. Appendix. The British Columbia Police Code of Ethics
9.2. About the Authors

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).

Ethics in Law Enforcement by Steve McCartney and Rick Parent is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Unless otherwise noted, this book is released under a  Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported License also known as a CC-BY license. This means you are free to copy, redistribute, modify or adapt this book. Under this license, anyone who redistributes or modifies this textbook, in whole or in part, can do so for free providing they properly attribute the book as follows:

Ethics in Law Enforcement by Steve McCartney and Rick Parent used under a CC-BY 4.0 international license.

Additionally, if you redistribute this textbook, in whole or in part, in either a print or digital format, then you must retain on every physical and/or electronic page the following attribution:

Download this book for free at

If you use this textbook as a bibliographic reference, then you can cite the book as follows:

McCartney, S., & Parent, R. (2015). Ethics in law enforcement. Victoria, BC: BCcampus. Retrieved from

For questions regarding this licensing, please contact To learn more about BCcampus Open Textbook project, visit

Image Cover: Scales of Justice-Frankfurt Version by Michael Coghlan used under CC BY SA 2.0.

The author(s) of this volume are not affiliated with in any manner.