Reviewing and Revising the Police Code of Ethics

Background to the Police Code of Ethics

Encouraged by the College of Policing and coinciding with the professionalisation agenda of policing in England and Wales, the police Code of Ethics was published in 2014, marking the first in a number of changes to professionalise the police.

The police Code of Ethics sets out and defines what the standards for exemplary behaviour are within the police, and aims to support positive every-day decision-making within the profession. The exercise of professional judgement and personal responsibility is endorsed by the Code, and both encourages and promotes that everyone within policing should do the right thing through their actions and behaviours (College of Policing, 2014). The Code includes the nine policing principles, which were adapted from the Nolan Principles for Public Life, the Standards for Professional Behaviour (SPB), as well as notes on the National Decision Model (NDM). The nine policing principles are:

Policing Principles
AccountabilityIntegrityOpenness
FairnessLeadershipRespect
HonestyObjectivitySelflessness

Policing involves highly complex, ambiguous and emotionally challenging situations, which police officers face on a daily basis, and the Code of Ethics is designed in such a way as to provide a framework that provides guidance and support for police officers to make ethical decisions and conduct themselves professionally and ethically. From a virtue ethical perspective, the Code makes strong reference to the language of virtue throughout, more so than is typically seen in other professional codes (Kristjánsson et al., 2021: 10), and makes clear that police officers’ behaviour should be guided by a strong sense of an internalised moral perspective. In this regard, the Code is fairly unique when compared to other professional ethical codes in that it foregrounds the need for police officers to deploy emotional and behavioural virtues in their work. Accordingly, police officers ought to display ‘compassion and empathy, as appropriate, to people [they] come into contact with’ (2014: 7). In addition, the National Decision Model, included within the Code, offers five steps for ethical decision making, while emphasising the need for wise decision-making. A more detailed review of the Code and NDM can be found in the Jubilee Centre’s recently published Character Virtues in Policing report.  

The Aims and Purpose of the Code of Ethics Review Committee

As part of their continued drive and commitment to ensuring exemplary professionalism throughout policing in England and Wales, the College of Policing has set out a thorough process to review the Code of Ethics. As part of this process, the College has established a review committee that comprises of police officers and staff, academics and subject matter experts. By following a rigorous evidence-based process that is based on the best available evidence from empirical research and the qualitative analyses of practitioner experience, the ethics committee and College of Policing endeavour to ensure that revisions to the Code of Ethics will be undertaken in the most effective way possible.

“The standards of behaviour demonstrated in policing and the ethical considerations of both these behaviours and how policing makes decisions are critical to ensuring the trust and confidence of the public.

A revised Code of Ethics will shape how this is delivered in the coming years. I would therefore encourage everyone to contribute to this important work ensuring ethics is at the centre of how we deliver policing.”

Superintendent Marcus Griffiths, Policing Standards Manager for Ethics, College of Policing

(College of Policing, 2021)

As detailed in the Scope for the Review of the Code of Ethics, the process seeks to ensure that the review of the policing principles is undertaken in order to:

  • Establish whether they reflect the requirements for both contemporary and future policing;
  • Ensure that they are inspirational, befitting and relevant to all in policing;
  • Ensure that they provide a strong and practical ethical framework that supports autonomous professional decision-making and learning and development;
  • Include recommendations from the Hillsborough and Daniel Morgan inquiries.

(College of Policing, 2021: 2)

In addition, the review will aim to ‘update the explanatory text of the SPBs to reflect recent legislative changes and other contemporary issues in policing’ (2021: 2). Lastly, the review aims to ‘provide guidance, recommendations and supporting material to forces, to aid the implementation of ethical decision-making at all levels’ (2021: 2).

Closing Comment

This is an exciting and fortuitous time for the Review of the Code of Ethics to be taking place, following the recent publication of the Character Virtues in Policing report, and the ongoing work by the Jubilee Centre on the ‘Virtues in Policing’ project. Andrew Maile, Research Fellow at the Jubilee Centre, has been appointed to the committee by virtue of his specific expertise and experience as an academic researcher in this field.

Bibliography

College of Policing (2021) Review of the Code of Ethics: Scope [Online] Available at https://assets.college.police.uk/s3fs-public/2021-07/review-of-code-of-ethics-scope.pdf [Accessed: 25 October 2021].

College of Policing (2014) Code of Ethics [Online] Available at: https://assets.college.police.uk/s3fs-public/2021-02/code_of_ethics.pdf [Accessed: 25 October 2021].

College of Policing (2021) Help shape the Code of Ethics Review [Online] Available at: https://www.college.police.uk/article/help-shape-review-code-of-ethics [Accessed: 28 October 2021].

Kristjánsson, K., Thompson, A., Maile, A., Ritzenthaler, S. and Moller, F. (2021) Character Virtues in Policing: Research Report, Birmingham: Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues. Available at: https://www.jubileecentre.ac.uk/userfiles/jubileecentre/pdf/Research%20Reports/CharacterVirtuesinPolicing_ResearchReport.pdf [Accessed: 25 October 2021]

Andrew Maile, Research Fellow, Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues

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