Study Examines Ethics of Future Law Enforcement Officers

OGDEN, Utah – Future law enforcement officers are encouraged to examine their core ethical values to determine if they are in line with their career choice. To help students identify their beliefs and then evaluate the implications for a demanding profession, a Weber State University professor has developed a one-of-kind, interactive survey.

Recently published in the National Social Science and Technology Journal, the research conducted by Bruce Bayley, associate professor of criminal justice at WSU, studied 260 criminal justice students over a three-semester period. 

Students participated in an online, interactive survey and answered 20 ethics questions that did not have a right or wrong answer. Students received immediate feedback identifying and defining their beliefs.

“The survey and the discussions that followed in class helped students reflect on whether their core values will help or hinder their chosen profession,” Bayley said. “If I have a student whose conscience would not allow him to pull a gun and take someone’s life to save a fellow officer, I would advise that student to seek a career path outside of law enforcement.”

The surveys offered a snap shot into the make up of each class. “There are four main ethical ideologies which range from absolutist thinking to an evaluation of each individual situation.” Bayley said. “I took the results of the survey and created lesson plans that tuned into the mindset of the class. I presented many ‘what if’ ethical dilemmas that students likely may encounter in the future.” 

Many of the situations do not have a right or wrong answer, but Bayley encouraged students to choose the answer that aligned best with the values of law enforcement.

Feedback from the online survey led to in-depth class discussions and self-reflection. “Students left class with more questions than answers and started to think more critically,” Bayley said. “By exploring their beliefs, students increased their ability to relate ethical principles to their own lives and reflect on why they engage in specific behaviors when challenged with an ethical dilemma.”

Eighty-one percent of students believed the survey increased classroom discussions and 86 percent believed the quality of interactions improved. Bayley said the study supports adding an interactive on-line ethics survey to the classroom curriculum. 

The outcome of the research encouraged Bayley to conduct the online interactive survey on cadets at WSU’s Law Enforcement Academy and Utah Peace Officers Standard and Training center. Bayley discovered one-third of all cadets were at risk for noble-cause corruption. “It means good officers do bad things for good reasons,” Bayley said. “My theory is that all the crime and cop programs on television that show getting the bad guy no matter what, has skewed their perception.” By identifying students’ core values, instructors and students can discuss the results of the survey with the intent of dropping the risk numbers by the time they graduate, maintaining the integrity of the profession. 

“Utilizing the on-line interactive survey improved the quality and retention of key ethical principles among criminal justice students,” Bayley said. “It helped students become aware of how they view the world and ultimately decide if criminal justice is the right career path for them.”

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Bruce Bayley, associate professor, criminal justice
801-608-6130 •
Kimberly Jensen, University Communications
801-626-7581 •