Ethics of Gifts and Gratuities in Law Enforcement

Mitchell, Conor
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Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas (LEMIT)
This paper explores the ethical dilemma of accepting gifts from the public or businesses while on duty as a police officer. This is relevant because it is a dilemma that occurs very often to uniformed officers, especially when it comes to eating at a restaurant or getting coffee at a store. The actions and decisions that an officer makes during these circumstances are often observed by other members of the public. Many departments have a strict policy prohibiting the acceptance of any gift or gratuity. These policies are frequently violated; most of the time based on the reasonableness of each different circumstance. The violation of these policies, although often reasonable in nature, undermine every other policy a department has. This paper explains the difference between a gift and a gratuity, and how this difference relates to a law enforcement officer confronted with this issue. The concept of reasonableness is explored, as is ethical decision making. The paper also differentiates a gift given in good faith, and a gratuity with reciprocity expected. The thesis of the paper is that strict policies governing an officer’s decision making in unique circumstances in general, and the acceptance of gifts specifically, will fail. It points out that officers are tasked with making difficult decisions daily that have enormous consequences, so it is unreasonable to try to make a strict policy on how an officer should pay for lunch. Two different ethical decision making models are introduced, as are examples of determining “reasonableness”. The conclusion of the paper is that departments should not have a zero tolerance policy of accepting gifts, but should instead offer guidelines for reasonable behavior in this area.
Police Ethics, Police Corruption