NOTE1: I will attempt to do a clean-up later. The following is virtually a copy & paste from a .pdf. The original website and a subsequent website, on which this white paper was posted, have been removed (either the addresses, or websites) form the web. I want to preserve the white paper, as it points to an issue in American society – which should have been cleared up 100%, for all time, by the Nuremberg Trials – “Orders Are Orders” is unacceptable.
Note2: WordPress has not, so far allowed the graphics to be pasted into the following.
Note3: The uploaded .pdf file contains nothing more than the heading, in Appendix A…G, though from the Table of Contents, we can see what WAS contained in them.
Note4: “There is no ‘business ethics’. There is only ethics and no ethics.”~~John C. Maxwell
POLICE OFFICERS OATH OF OFFICE
AND CODE OF ETHICS
A QUESTION OF KNOWLEDGE
Richard W. DeShon
St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department
Eastern Michigan University
School of Police Staff and Command
March 31, 2000
Two of the most neglected areas of police work are code of ethics and oath
of office. These two documents are the most important issues of truth and integrity a
police department has with the community it serves. Most police agencies have
neglected these issues and do not fully understand the impact they have on the
community they serve.
Studies have shown the distrust the public has with several different
professions, the police being one of these professions. In my research I surveyed a
small group of police officers that produced data supporting the publics’ fear of
This problem can be corrected by the police departments doing a better job
of training and educating our officers on the Code of Ethics and the Police Oath of
TABLE OF CONTENTS
3. ETHICS DEFINE……………………………………………………………………………..3
4. DO WE REALLY KNOW WHAT OUR OATH MEANS………………………6
5. PUBLIC TRUST IN THE POLICE……………………………………………………..9
6. ADOPTING THE CODE OF ETHICS……………………………………………….11
7. SURVEY ON OATH AND ETHICS …………………………………………………..12
APPENDIX A – The Constitution of the United States …………….23
APPENDIX B – The Constitution of the State of Michigan……….24
APPENDIX C – Deputy Sheriff Oath of Office…………………………25
APPENDIX D – District Court Judge Oath of Office………………..26
APPENDIX E – Law Enforcement Code Of Ethics………………….27
APPENDIX F – Police Officer Survey Questions …………………….28
APPENDIX G – First Ten Amendments to Constitution…………..29
There are many issues facing today’s police officer and police supervisor.
Some include the police use of excessive force, deadly force, police corruption,
police pursuits and other popular police related topics. While all of these have
problem areas, there are two police topics that touch on all the above issues, police
oath of office and the code of ethics.
Today’s police officer is working in an era where the public’s opinion of the
police is influenced by the negative stories they read in the media, as in the Rodney
King and Malice Green cases. On top of all the media influence of police
misconduct, is the public’s view of all the misconduct by our political leaders.
The public is concerned over its own ethics and morality because it has no
trust in its leaders. I will cover this issue in the chapter on “Public trust in the Police.”
There has never been another time when police officers and political leaders were
viewed by the public with as much distrust. There has also never been a greater
need for the police to understand their oath of office and to be trained in ethical
decision making as well as ethical behavior.
In this paper I will show how the police officer doesn’t understand his
responsibility and commitment to his police oath of office and in turn his code of
ethics. To accomplish this I have given a survey to several Law Enforcement
Officers of all levels and agencies. Clearly the survey shows police officers do not
understand that the oath of office they take is one of the most important statements
made in their career. I will also discuss the current state of police ethics, both from
the police oath and from my own police experience.
Before beginning a discussion on the police oath of office and code of ethics,
both must be defined. There is very little written on the police officer oath of office. I
was forced to look to the political area on oaths and identified the origin from the
United States Constitutional and Michigan Constitution.
The oath of office and police ethics discussed in this paper is looked at as
one in the same. Police ethics is an issue of how to behave. The oath is a sworn
commitment to act in an ethical manner. You can’t have one without the other being
Ethics has many definitions and philosophers of ethics have defined it several
ways. My understanding of ethics is in the belief in God and the drive that people
have to please God by doing good for others. As a parent I have told my children
that they are not put on this earth to please themselves, but to make other peoples
lives better. When my children finally understood this they become mature, caring
adults. A Duch philosopher, Benedict De Spenoza said,
“Because God is infinite and the creator of all, understanding God is the most
important goal in life. Those who understand God will desire good for others
and behave ethically toward them.”
This one statement sums up the duties of a police officer, to serve others and
protect from evil. With this in mind, ethics means to do good or to do right.
Definitions of ethical behavior vary from generation to generation and from
culture to culture. Generally ethical behavior includes the following qualities; honesty,
integrity, fairness, loyalty, kindness, courage generosity, compassion, doing good,
doing right, and unselfishness. When people display these qualities, they are
In my readings on ethics I have found there are three areas that have
traditionally influenced people to do right or behave ethically, the family, religion, and
government. The family is the first social organization that children belong to and the
one from which they receive their first and most important lessons on ethically
behavior. Teaching our sons and daughters to do good for others by how the family
lives, is without a doubt the most influencing of the three. Religion also motivates
people toward ethical behavior. All religions focus on moral ethical beliefs and
codes of conduct in their traditions. The third influence on ethical behavior is
government and its laws. Many people need the constraint of laws to behave legally
and ethically. Others obey laws out of a moral duty to conform to societies’ rules.
Family, religion and government have traditionally been powerful motivating
forces for ethical behavior for all of us, but lets look at the area of ethical behavior in
police officers. The following definitions are those most commonly used during
ethics training for police officers:
Ethics is a code of values that guides our choices and actions and
determines the purpose and course of our lives. Ethics is not a written code
or credo, it is about what we do. (Southwestern Law Enforcement Institute,
Ethical behavior is a standard of conduct when dealing with others that
reflects a public trust attached to a police officer.
Michigan Commission on Law
Enforcement Standards (1998)
Ethical concerns the study of right and wrong, duty, responsibility and
personal character. Ethics is concerned with moral duty, what is morally right
and wrong, etc..
Close and Meier (1995)
Police officers must be held to a higher standard of moral and ethical values
then is expected of the average person. Police officers need the trust and respect of
the public to perform their duties and responsibilities effectively. This trust does not
come without the officer knowing and understanding his sworn oath and code of
DO WE REALLY KNOW THAT OUR OATH MEANS?
All police officers throughout this country must take a sworn oath before they
are authorized to perform the duties of a law enforcement officer. Is this oath a
superficial statement made by our police officers without any understanding of what
they are swearing to? Do they really know what the oath requires of them? I think
most police officers as well as politicians are just reading the words without any
understanding. The oath holds curtain major responsibilities and obligations that the
average citizen or businessperson does not have. Before I discuss the oath I will
point to its origin and attempt to define it.
In America the police officer’s oath originates within the United States
Constitution (Appendix A). The title of executive officers mentioned in the constitution
refers to police officers working under the executive branch of the government. In the
United States Constitution under Article IV it states:
“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of
the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of
the United States and the several States, shall be bound by Oath or
Affirmation, to support this Constitution…”
(U. S. Constitution 1787)
The State of Michigan also covers language requiring an oath of office
before entering upon the duties of a police officer. Article XI, sec.1 in the
Constitution of the State of Michigan (Appendix B), states;
“All officers, legislative, executive and judicial, before entering upon the duties
of their respective officers, shall take and subscribe the following oath or
affirmation: I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution
of the United States and the constitution of this state, and that I will faithfully
discharge the duties of the office of ______ according to the best of my
(Constitution of the State of Michigan 1835)
I am very aware of my oath of office, mainly because I must take it every four years
after the new sheriff has been elected to his office. My oath follows the same
wording as that of both the Constitution of the State of Michigan and the United
States Constitution. (Appendix C). I have also attached a copy of a local District
Court Judges oath for comparison (Appendix E).
It is quit clear that both the U. S. Constitution and the Michigan Constitution
hold police officers and politicians accountable for their actions. If the oath is such
an important word and referred to in both Constitutions, it is our job to know and
understand what this word means.
The American Dictionary of the English Language, define an oath as:
“A solemn affirmation or declaration, made with an appeal to God for truth of
what is affirmed. The appeal to God in an oath, implies that the person
imprecates his vengeance and renounces his favor if the declaration is false,
or if the declaration is a promise, the person invokes the vengeance of God if
he should fail to fulfill it. A false oath is called perjury.”
(Webster Dictionary 1828)
We should also define the Oath further, concerning how we administer it. In
my twenty-two years as a deputy sheriff and appointed by the Sheriff five separate
times, I have always raised my right hand and “solemnly swore” to up hold the
constitution. When defining solemnly we look to corporal. Black’s Law Dictionary
defines solemnly as:
“Corporal oath is one taken by the form of laying the hand on or kissing a
copy of the gospels. The terms corporal oath and solemn oath are
synonymous, and an oath taken with the uplifted hand is properly described
by either term in an indictment for perjury.”
(Black’s Law Dictionary 1891).
Delattre states that frequently departments trivialize the swearing-in
ceremony. By trivializing the ceremony, the department is implying that it does not
take the actual swearing-in seriously. Instead, he advises departments should stress
the importance of the Oath of Office and Code of Ethics given to their officers. The
officers must understand when “swearing” to something, they are offering
themselves, all that they are, as collateral. This stresses the idea that the department
values integrity and honesty (Delattre, 1996).
PUBLIC TRUST IN THE POLICE
The community trust of a police officer has steadily decreased over the last
two decades. This is very evident in a survey taken by Dr. Stephen Vicchio, Police
“…Americans’ ratings of their confidence in various professionals. In this
study, 100 Americans were asked to rank the moral confidence/trust they
have in the following professionals to do the right thing. Position 1 is the most
rusted, and position 12 is the least trusted of those professions listed. Trust
in police officers recorded the largest drop form 1980 to 1995 (5 spaces),
followed by the clergy (3), doctors (1), and lawyers (1), though lawyers simply
moved form 10th position to 11th.
Another disturbing element to these findings is that although there was no
significant difference between men and women respondents, there was a
very big difference between African American and White respondents.
Among blacks, “police officer” held the 9th position in 1980 and the 11th
position in 1995, just ahead of “politician.”
One major conclusion we can make form this and similar studies form around
the country is that the public thinks police departments have an integrity
problem, even if the police themselves do not.” (Vicchio, 1997)
Police Integrity Survey
1. pharmacist 1. firefighter
2. clergy 2. pharmacist
3. firefighter 3. teacher
4. teacher 4. dentist
5. police officer 5. clergy
6. doctor 6. Stockbroker
7. dentist 7. doctor
8. accountant 8. accountant
9. stock broker 9. funeral director
10. lawyer 10. police officer
11. funeral director 11. lawyer
12. politician 12. politician
It is not just an integrity problem, but also an ethical problem we must address in
training and education. The police officer should understand, when he is taking his
oath of office, he is making a sworn statement to act ethical and judge fairly while
performing his duties.
ADOPTING THE CODE OF ETHICS
One of the requirements of a professional is to adhere to a code of ethics.
Several professions have these codes; doctors and lawyers are the most noted. The
police profession has a code of ethics that was written and adopted by The
International Association of Chiefs of Police in 1957 (Appendix E). Many of the law
enforcement agencies throughout the country have recognized and adopted the
code as a guide for proper behavior by their officers. Most states use the code
during law enforcement academy graduations and in doing so, emphasize the
concepts of ethics and values taught to recruits during their academy training. This
is all well and good, but we fail to emphasis the relationship and importance of the
code of ethics and the oath of office as a continued commitment of how the officer is
to conduct his or her self throughout their careers.
Most police officers are given their police certification after reading the code
of ethics and not required or even asked about the document the remainder of their
careers. This practice must change and the officer should understand that the code
of ethics and the oath of office are living breathing documents that he or she should
embrace their entire careers.
SURVEY ON OATH AND ETHICS
In this survey I asked fifteen questions to a total of sixty-nine police officers
(Appendix F). The results of the survey will be shown with graphs and percentages. I
will attempt to show how much knowledge and understanding a police officer has
about his oath of office. There are also a few ethical questions that I pose to the
The first question was on gender, 88 percent of the officers were male. This
is a typical average of male to female ratio of officers in the field of police
Question 1: Gender?
Age was asked in the second question and it covered a wide range, the
largest in the area of 35 to 39. When you total the 4 largest age groups you
come up with 71 percent of ages 25 to 44. This is a average age group of
police officers working in law enforcement.
Question four states that all the people in this study were certified police
officers. The graft shows only police officers responded to the survey.
Question five starts to show how some police officers do not know what an
Question 2: Age?
Question 4: Are You a Police
oath is and the requirement of every police officer in the state to take the oath
of office before performing his duties. Although the 4 percent is a low number
of officers that answered the question negatively, it still shows a lack of
knowledge in the part of the police officer in the field.
Question five (a) give as a better understanding of the police officers
knowledge about his oath. In question five, only 4 percent stated they didn’t
take an oath, but in this question, 24 percent didn’t remember what they
swore an oath to.
Question six was asked to find out if the officers department is committed to
Question 5: Does your department
require you to take a Sworn Oath?
Question 5a: Do you remember what
was said in the Oath?
the oath of office. If the department required a signature from the officer, it
would appear they are holding the officer accountable to his oath. 32 percent
of the officers were not required to sign their oath of office. Almost one third
of the departments are not committed to the oath of office.
Question seven asked if the officer had read the Constitution. 20 percent of
the officers have not read the Constitution. How can anyone swear to uphold
a document without reading it? It appears that 1/5 of the officers surveyed
treat the oath of office no different then any other document of disinterest.
Question 6: Were you required to
sign your Oath?
Question7: Have you read the
Question eight is similar to question seven in content and only had a 5
percent difference in yes/on responses. This helps to verify information, in
that, similar question should receive a similar responses.
Question nine asked the officer if he knew what the first 10 amendments to
the Constitution are called. Most police officers knew that the first 10
Amendments to the Constitution are called The Bill of Rights.
Question 8: Do you know what the
Question 9: Do you know what the
first 10 Amendments to the
Constitution are known as?
Question eleven, twelve and thirteen are similar by asking about the police
officers obligation to the Constitution . Question eleven is straightforward by
asking if the officer has knowledge of an unconstitutional law. 65 percent
have knowledge about an existing law that is unconstitutional.
With the knowledge of question eleven we move to question twelve. Almost
three quarters of the officers stated they would enforce an unconstitutional
law, clearly in violation of their oath of office.
Question thirteen asked if he were ordered to enforce an unconstitutional law
would he? This is not surprising to think that most officers would obey their
Question 11: Do you know any law
that is unconstitutional?
Question 12: If you thought that a legal law or
ordinance was obviously in conflict with the American
Constitution, would you still enforce the law?
supervisor before their obligation to the oath.
Question fourteen and fifteen refer to the legislatures that make the laws.
Both questions asked about the integrity and trust in our legislatures. I was a
little confused with the results. Question fourteen had 65 percent of the
officers state they trusted their legislators to pass constitutional laws. But
question fifteen showed 78 percent thought the legislatures would pass laws
in conflict with the Constitution.
Question 13: If ordered by
supervisor, to enforce
unconstitutional law, would you?
Question 14: Do you trust Legislature
to pass constitutional laws?
Question 15: Do you think a Legislature
would pass a law to serve his own special
interest in conflict with American
Question three on ethnic origin, was not graphed, but it did identify a good
cross section of the American population with: 56 Whites, 10 African
Americans, 2 Hispanic, and 1 Asian.
Question ten covered the 10 Amendments to the United States Constitution
(Appendix G) and was also not graphed. I was able to see a trend in the way
the officers answered the question. You would think that police officers should
know the Amendments pertaining to their work and that is what the data
showed. Most officers knew Amendments number 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6. A few
officers did not answer the question and no one could name all 10
We have all been trained to read, write and calculate numbers. Police
officers have been especially trained in accident investigation, laws of arrest, and
community policing to mention just a few. But, how many of us have taken a course
on ethical conduct or the meaning of our sworn oath? Can integrity be taught? Can
a police agency foster ethical values in its employees? I believe the answer to this
question is yes. Even the habitual problem employee can be taught if the person has
a clear goal and incentive for change. We have seen in the past that fear of
punishment alone has rarely been enough to change behavior. Laws and regulations
are also, not the answer to keeping behavior above the bottom line of ethics.
We can start by leading by example. A supervisor’s attitude of “do as I say
not as I do” cannot be tolerated. Every supervisor has a responsibility to act in moral
and ethical manner. To assure everyone, especially new recruits, know and
understand how they are to behave. A supervisor must inspire and teach
employees to behave ethically, by living an ethical life, both on and off duty.
Ongoing educational programs focusing on ethical reasoning are vital in
trying to improve the ethical behavior of police officers. The code of ethics and oath
of office are two issues that most police agencies do not address. The
administration should define and implement the oath and code as living documents,
showing a commitment to what they stand for. All police agencies throughout the
country should be required to adopt the code of ethics and oath as part of there
polices and procedures. Each department should make it mandatory for officers to
know as a matter of training what those two documents represent. The departments
should hold annual ceremonies were officers renew their code of ethics and oath of
Officers should be educated and trained in early detection of ethical issues.
Self-interest tends to impede one’s ethical awareness. As I mentioned in my paper,
when people realize that we are placed on this earth to help and assist others and
not serve our own special interest, only then are we behaving ethically (doing good).
Black, H.C. (1891). Black’s law dictionary. Minn: West Publishing.
Constitution of the United States. (1787). Article VI. Thomas Federalist Papers.
Constitution of the State of Michigan. (1835). Article XI, Sec. 1. Public Officers
and Employment. Available: http://www,migov.state.mi.us/
Close, D., & Meier, N. (Eds.). (1995). Morality in criminal justice, an introduction
to ethics. New York: Wadsworth Publishing.
Spinoza, B. (1995). Belief in God motivates people to behave ethically. In D. Bender
(Eds.). Ethics (pp.19-22). CA: Greenhaven Press.
Delattre, E.J. (1996). Character and cops. (3rd ed.). Washington: American
Enterprise Institute Press.
Johnston, M. (1995). Police corruption. In D. Close & N. Meier (Eds.)
Morality in criminal justice (pp. 285-313). New York: Wadsworth Publishing.
Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards. (1998). Ethics in
Policing. Lansing, MI: Author.
Southwestern Law Enforcement Institute. (1995). Law enforcement ethics
train-the-trainer. Richardson, TX: University of Texas.
Webster, N. (1828). American dictionary of the english language. California:
Foundation For American Christian Education.