[Authentic] Assignment – LOYALTY, ETHICS and WHISTLE BLOWING

Although there can be little doubt that its interpretation varies according to the proverbial eye of the beholder, loyalty is universally regarded as an admirable trait and especially so in complex organizations with a clearly delineated, hierarchical structure.  However, while loyalty to the organization in general and to one’s superiors in particular is expected, such loyalty, when not balanced by strong ethical standards, can lead to personal and organizational conflict.  Within that inherently problematic context, “Whistle Blowing,” despite being protected via whistle blower laws and encouraged, at least philosophically, to root out corruption and unethical behavior is frequently cast in a negative light. Whistle blowers are often, and sometimes rightly so, labeled as disgruntled employees, are frequently ostracized, at best, and may well lose their livelihood at worst because of whistle blowing’s negative impact on the perception of one’s loyalty, and because of the well-established aversion in American  culture  to “tattle tales” or “snitches.” Unfortunately, and despite expanded laws designed to protect them, whistle blowers still run considerable risk, both personally and professionally, if they choose to expose what they perceive as unethical behavior within the organization.
In most public organizations there is great organizational pressure to be a “Team Player” and nowhere more so than in the rigidly hierarchical but extremely cohesive law enforcement subculture.  Such pressure, especially when couched within in the overriding principle of loyalty, can not only be intense, but can, in and of itself, create potentially debilitating ethical dilemmas. For example, the pressure for team play can be manifested in very powerful informal codes, which basically assert “do not speak negatively of your colleagues,” or in the police culture, “never rat on a fellow officer.” As such they serve to perpetuate whatever behaviors they seek to protect.  Such codes are very difficult to break, especially in law enforcement since the police operate in a unique environment in which even their exemplary oath to “protect and serve” puts them at odds with a sizeable segment of the population.  Not surprisingly, police can easily come to feel they are part of a misunderstood and underappreciated “thin blue line” between order and anarchy. As such, and the fact that they operate in an environment where they face certain dangers each day, police tend to form even  stronger, interpersonal  bonds that include the unwavering expectation that in order to protect and serve others they must protect and serve their own.
Ironically, and regardless of such unrelenting pressures, it can certainly be argued that to detect unethical behavior without taking action to stop it is, inherently , unethical. And yet, being ethical in an organization with a blatantly, or even questionably, unethical climate is extremely difficult, in large part because there can be, and frequently is, a personal and/or professional cost to being ethical.  Simply put, exposing ethics problems in an organization carries risks to family and career, at best, and personal safety at worst. On the other hand, there is an undeniable consensus that to be an ethical person, one must neither condone unethical behavior, nor fail to do all that can be done to correct it.  The effort to correct such behavior comes with the further expectation being that if individual efforts are unsuccessful they should be taken “up the line,” to the appropriate officials. Furthermore, should such initiatives fail, there is arguably the ultimate obligation to “go public.” Needless to say, none of these are easy paths to take, especially since to avoid being coopted into unethical behavior resignation could well be the option of last resort.
While some behaviors are clearly unethical, there are inevitable ambiguities within and between the manifest rules and regulations in the organization as opposed to the equally powerful latent expectations (e.g., the bonds between those in law enforcement) that generate ethical dilemmas which cannot be avoided in the decision making process by public officials. Adding the fact that the general public frequently has different views than those of public officials as to not only what constitutes unethical behavior, but how, when detected, it should be addressed and the stage is set for studying an actual, high-profile case dealing with the dilemmas of loyalty, ethics and whistle blowing by law enforcement officials who were called upon to confront corruption in the volatile world of law enforcement.
The Setting
Oakland County, located in the northwestern corner of the state, with a population of about 200,000 residents is split into two predominant areas. The north county area has a rural demographic, and whi…

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