Police Ethics

894 words | 3 page(s)

1. There are multiple actions that the police chief could take against officer Newton in this case. Although officer Newton argues that he has a right to freedom of speech, officer Newton’s tattoo and what it stands for (swastika) is not covered under this federal protection. Ruiz and Hummer (2010) further concur in arguing that police chiefs have the right to regulate and discipline “employee speech that is unrelated to public maters, international vulgar, disruptive, or hate speech” (p. 108). Since a swastika, a symbol of hate was tattooed on officer Newton’s arm; it could be argued that he meets the criterion to be disciplined. Furthermore, the fact other officers are complaining about officer Newton’s tattoo and its meaning would suggest that officer Newton’s actions are causing a disturbance in the police department.

This is further evident as other officers are refusing to back up officer Newton on calls due to his personal views, which directly compromises officer Newton’s safety. In reviewing the details of the case, the police chief has the right to tell officer Newton to have the tattoo covered at all times while at work, discipline him for his decision to put a swastika on his arm, or require him to have that specific tattoo removed or be terminated. However, in threatening to remove officer Newton from his position in the police force, the police chief needs to focus on the swastika tattoo and not the naked lady tattoo. Although this tattoo may be inappropriate for work and the police chief may ask him to cover it, officer Newton does have a right to freedom of speech in relations to that specific tattoo.

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2. As addressed in Kelley v. Johnson police departments do have a right to regulate their officer’s appearance (Park, 2010). Yet, the extent to which departments can regulate their employee’s appearance has long been debated. For example, in 2006, the Baltimore Police Department passed a policy that required all officers to cover their tattoos while working and prohibited them from wearing hair bands. However, many African American officers argued that this policy was discriminatory, as African American officers were primarily wearing them (WBalTV, 2006).

Despite the perceptions held by African American officers, the Baltimore Police Department officially implemented this policy. Yet, other cases have focused on what officers have the right to wear outside of work. In a federal appeals case (Rathert v. Village of Peotone) officers were fighting against the police department that prohibited them from wearing earrings when they were not on duty. However, the federal courts ruled that the Peotone Police Department did in fact have the right to regulate what officers were wearing or doing when they were not at work, as the actions or appearances of officers directly influence the community’s appearance.

In reviewing both examples, it could be argued that police departments have a lot of discretion in terms of regulating their officer’s appearances. Furthermore, in comparing these two cases to officer Newton’s case, it could be argued that police officers have been disciplined and terminated for less serious offenses (Ruiz & Hummer, 2010).

3. The department does have a right to implement a policy against such tattoos. Although officer Newton may feel as though this policy is geared towards him, it is important to ensure that it is generalizable enough to ensure that no other officers get tattoos of a similar, offensive nature. Furthermore, this policy needs to be generalizable enough to ensure that the department is not discriminating against other officers. For example, implementing a policy that prevents potential officers who have tattoos from becoming a police officer could be perceived as discriminatory. Furthermore, this policy would also limit the number of potential officers able to become police officers. Peak (2010) further concurs in noting that many individuals who previous served in the military, and younger generations tend to have tattoos. However, the department could implement a policy that requires all tattoos to be covered. This policy would force all police officers to wear long sleeves if they have a tattoo on their arm in order to cover it. The basis of this policy would focus on ensuring that police officers maintain a professional appearance, instead of discriminating against officers that have tattoos.

4. The Supreme Court decision that is relevant in this situation is Kelley v. Johnson. In this case, a group of police officers were suing their department arguing that placing certain requirements on the officer’s physical appearance was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court justices ruled “that such appearance regulations are generally valid unless those regulations are so irrational that they are arbitrary” (Park, 2010, p. 53). Furthermore, the court ruled that police departments had a right to make their officers look identifiable to the public. Additionally, the Supreme Court ruled that the department had a right “to maintain the espirt de corps (i.e. morale) of the organization” (p. 53).

In applying the findings in Kelley v. Johnson to the Newton situation, the police chief has a right to ensure his staff look professional and identifiable (Park, 2010). Yet officer Newton’s tattoos are not professional. Furthermore, the meaning ascribed to a swastika would suggest that officer Newton is not representing the police force in a professional manner. This is further evident as officer Newton will inevitably have to respond to calls from a diversified audience that may be offended by his tattoos.

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