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Ethics of Using Force - Part 1

NCJ Number
POLITIE Volume: 39 Issue: 12 Dated: (December 1977) Pages: 581-585,587-593
H Cortie
Date Published
12 pages
The first of two articles on the use of force provides a general background discussion of morals and ethics and outlines the philosophical basis for professional ethics of Dutch police officers.
Force should be placed in an ethical context so that officers are able to understand the extent to which force affects human dignity and to strike a balance between excessive use of force and outright avoidance of situations requiring justified force. In the discussion of morals and ethics, the two terms are differentiated: morals regulate the behavior of individuals and create obligations based on perceptions of absolute good and evil; morals become ethics when they are generally accepted by society at large and are institutionalized through norms and eventually through laws. Professional ethics or morality are developed for professions which involve moral respnsibility to other individuals, e.g., medicine and law enforcement. An individual's behavior is the expression of his free will, for which he is accountable to his inner conscience as well as to the ethical order of his society. Within this general context, the professional ethics of police officers relate to both preventive and repressive activities. Police ethics are supported by the oath of office, by legal regulations, and by official police instructions. Official instructions call for respect of authority, self-control, the capacity to take action, and courage. No laws govern the use of force by the police, and officers may therefore be found guilty of a criminal offense for using force. Acceptability of police behavior is therefore judged according to whether appropriate means are used to achieve a reasonable goal in keeping order: force can be used when no other alternative holds promise of success and when the force is not excessive for the situation. The police officer must be able to identify morally and socially with the ethical obligations of his or her profession.