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Friday, January 16, 2015

The Meta-Ethics of Police and Prostitute Co-Operation

The Meta-Ethics of Police and Prostitute Co-Operation

A law enforcement consultant on patrol with a local police unit becomes aware that there is a de facto arrangement between the department and local prostitutes that is illegal, but yields results in fighting crime. The consultant has a moral decision to make as to whether to report the department superintendent to the Attorney General or not. Before the decision can be made, the consultant must make several moral judgments to make. He must decide if he can understand the law enforcement perspective through emotivism; he must decide whether the arrangement can be described by objectivist, subjectivist, naturalistic, or non-naturalistic theory; he must consider the effects of moral relativism; he must make a judgment as to whether the superintendent's actions are ethical; and he must determine how ethically justifiable it is to disregard the minor crime of prostitution in the belief that it will assist in capturing more dangerous criminals. He must use those judgments in determining whether or not to report the superintendent.
The consultant must first understand the meta-ethics of the situation. Meta-ethics is the study of ethics attempting to define the properties of ethics. In this case, he can attempt to use emotivism to understand the viewpoint of those involved with the arrangement. Emotivism was primarily defined by Ayers and Stevenson, who contend that ethical statements are actually emotional expressions. This implies that moral judgments are exclamations that can not be true or false. The consultant can see that the arrangement of cooperation works for both parties, and that they must “feel good” about the results.
Next, the consultant must describe the arrangement theoretically. He has several meta-ethical theories to choose from. Moral objectivism is the “view that there is an objective fact of the matter whether any given action is morally right or wrong, permissible or impermissible.” (Sarkissian, 2008, para 1). This is in contrast to a subjectivist position, which holds that there is no “truth” that exists independently of perception, or the mind's eye. This view of ethics is historically linked to Descartes, and his statement, “Cogito ergo sum”, or “I think, therefore I am”. Objectivism can be classified as a type of ethical naturalist theory, as ethical naturalism can be defined as a type of moral realist position; the basic concept is that some ethical propositions are true, and that propositions are made true by objective properties. The distinction between ethical naturalism and non-naturalistic theory, which is another theory based on moral realism, is that under ethical naturalism moral properties can be found by reducing the problem to the underlying natural “facts” such as needs or pleasure. Non-naturalistic theory contradicts this by claiming that moral properties such as “good” and “evil” are indefinable using natural terms. The consultant decides that this cooperation of police and prostitutes can be described under moral objectivist grounds ( as well as ethical naturalist and moral realist theory), as the results of the arrangement are an objective fact.
Moving from theory to applied ethics, the consultant uses utilitarian calculations to judge the ethics of the superintendent. Utilitarianism weighs the consequences of moral actions, and is also a form of moral realism. “...Utilitarianism are examples of ethical naturalism, in which moral judgments are regarded as another class of facts about the natural world.” (Davis, 2004, para. 1). He can consider moral relativism at this point as well. Although moral relativism is considered as a meta-ethic philosophy, because it defines what people consider right and wrong as shaped by their culture, it can be applied in terms of normative ethics as well. In this case, the consequences of the arrangement may be weighed with a lesser negative value on the “evil” of prostitution, considering it's “moral” value is set by culture, and not by objective results. Other consequences that the consultant must weigh are the positive results of the arrangement in saving police resources and keeping sources of intelligence on the street. There are potential negative consequences to voiding the arrangement to consider; corruption of law enforcement agencies is often linked to prostitution.

“laws prohibiting behaviors such as gambling, personal drug use, and prostitution are difficult to enforce, because there is no complainant except the government (represented by the police). As a result, police are mandated to enforce laws that neither the offender nor the 'victim' wishes to have enforced. As a result, 'the law enforcement system is placed in the middle of two conflicting demands. On the one hand, it is their job to enforce the law, albeit with discretion; on the other hand, there is considerable disagreement as to whether or not certain particular activities should be declared criminal.' In this situation police may 'look the other way' or be paid to do so. Also, when arrests are made in gambling, drug, or prostitution cases and the offenders are treated leniently in the courts, it is easier for police to become corrupt because neither the public nor the criminal justice system appears to be serious about enforcing the law.” (Albanese, 2010, p.77)

Therefore, after considering the positive consequences (less crime against the prostitute's customers, better use of police resources, intelligence sources situated on the street) which result in the capture of serious and dangerous criminals, and the potential negative consequence of police corruption if the arrangement is terminated, the consultant judges that the superintendent is acting ethically, if not legally, by creating the arrangement for cooperation between police and the prostitutes.
Finally, the consultant arrives at the decision not to report the superintendent. His judgment is based on the meta-ethic definition of “good” as defined by objective facts. He judges that the facts in this case are the results of the arrangement. He uses the value of “good” to make a decision on whether the superintendent made an ethical choice to allow this arrangement. Using applied ethics as determined by utilitarian values, he decides that the superintendent did make an ethical decision. Considering that the desicion was ethical, and that the results are good, the consultant decides not to report the actions of the superintendent to the Attorney General.

Albanese, J. (2010). Professional Ethics in Criminal Justice: Being Ethical When No One is Looking [VitalSouce bookshelf version]. Retrieved May 28, 2014 from http://digitalbookshelf.southuniversity.edu/books/9781256509936/id/fm02

Davis, C. (2004, December). Idle theory and utilitarianism. IdleTheory. Retrieved May 28, 2014 from http://www.idlex.freeserve.co.uk/idle/evolution/human/ethics/utilitarian.html

Sarkissian, H. (2008, March 18). Objectivism, relativism, and qquatter's rights in metaethics. The Splintered Mind.Retrieved May 28, 2014 from http://schwitzsplinters.blogspot.com/2008/03/objectivism-relativism-and-squatters.html

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