Moral Judgment

You are a rookie police officer on your first patrol. The older, experienced officer tells you that the restaurant on the corner likes to have you guys around, so it gives free meals. Your partner orders steak, potatoes, and all the trimmings. What are you going to do? What if it were just coffee at a convenience store? What if the owner refused to take your money at the cash register?

Example of Analysis:

Moral Judgment: Depends on the department’s rule book (often rule books specifically exclude coffee from prohibition).
The analysis will assume there is a policy prohibiting gratuities.
Moral Rules: Follow the law (and rules of one’s organization). Don’t use people or one’s profession for inappropriate personal gain. Don’t take something for nothing.
Ethical system: Ethical formalism would base the decision on duty. One’s duty is to follow the rules. Also, the second part of the categorical imperative states, treat each person as a means and not as an end. The moral rules are consistent with ethical formalism.
Utilitarianism would also condemn the practice of ignoring organizational rules. Even though it might result in a net utility for the officers and for the business owners, the department suffers from the hypocrisy and the community suffers from (perhaps) unequal patrol coverage and a lowered perception of police.
The situation is complex because it seems so innocuous and the officer who refuses to take gratuities looks like a jerk. Officers might deal with the situation in various ways—some leave a tip equal to the price of the meal; some send the money to the restaurant after the fact. Dealing with the partner is a different problem: some officers take their lunch with them to avoid the situation; some make it clear before the situation that they don’t accept free lunches and deal with the partner’s reaction. Classroom discussions are most interesting when there are police officers and restaurant workers in the same class. In this situation, each is able to hear the other’s perspective in the neutral setting.

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