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Ethical Decision Making

Acting responsibly towards the public, the policing profession and its partners, and to ourselves personally, will reduce the number and severity of ethical difficulties faced in policing, but it will not eliminate them. Ethical difficulties emerge when police officers, either as individuals or collectively, act in a way that is not defensible on legal and ethical grounds. To avoid such difficulties, police officers, along with their respective organizations and agencies, should ask themselves the following questions, which help to identify ethical issues and to test decisions on ethical grounds:

  1. Is the activity or decision consistent with organizational or agency policy and the law?
  2. Is the activity or decision consistent with the British Columbia Police Code of Ethics?
  3. What are the outcomes or consequences resulting from the activity or decision and whom do they affect?
  4. Do the outcomes or consequences generate more harm than good? Do they create legitimate controversy?
  5. Is the activity or decision likely to raise actual or perceived conflicts of interest where a personal advantage is gained because of one’s professional position?
  6. Can the activity or decision be justified legally and ethically? Would the activity or decision withstand public scrutiny on legal and ethical grounds if it resulted in problems that became known generally?

If the answers indicate that there may be a question of professional ethics, then consultation should occur with someone trustworthy and experienced who can provide reasonable direction and advice.

Policing is serious work and there are important issues at stake. It requires not only technical competence, but also a willingness to take difficult action in trying times. As well, it requires a recognition that we must act with a concerted commitment to serve and protect using democratic principles in the service of the law while honoring human dignity in the pursuit of justice. And it is this commitment to principled policing that distinguishes us as professionals, both to ourselves and to the public.

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