Answers to “You Decide” Boxes

Suggested answers to “You Decide” boxes in the text provide a well-researched rationale behind the recommended response to key issues facing the law enforcement profession.

Police scholars and police practitioners alike have debated the issue of gratuities for several decades with no true resolution. Although this conduct typically falls under discussions of ethics, it may also be viewed in light of police trust and legitimacy. Still others view it simply as a matter of professionalism.

Police professionalism is typically prescribed by the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics. The Code of Ethics was originally adopted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) at the 64th Annual IACP Conference and Exposition in October 1957. Although not mandatory, most law enforcement agencies follow the Code of Ethics because it stands as a preface to the mission and commitment law enforcement agencies make to the public they serve (International Association of Chiefs of Police, n.d.). The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), another national law enforcement professional organization, also discourages the acceptance of gratuities through its Code of Conduct, which is adopted by all agencies receiving CALEA accreditation and is often referred to when individual agencies establish specific policies that strictly prohibit the acceptance of gratuities, large or small (see, for example, Greenville Police Department Policy and Procedures, Chapter 26, page 5 on Gifts and Gratuities).

Others have argued that the acceptance of gratuities can create the public perception that the police are corrupt. More specifically, although research has found that most citizens are not opposed to the occasional acceptance of small gratuities, one study found that an overwhelming 76 percent of respondents were opposed to police accepting regular free coffee, cold drinks, or discounted meals while on duty. The reasons provided by study respondents are particularly insightful. For instance, 59 percent said that it created the expectation that a favor or service would follow, 48 percent stated that they thought it made officers look as though they were corruptible, and 47 percent thought that the acceptance of a gratuity would lead to other more serious forms of corruption (Prenzler & Mackay, 1995). Although there is relatively little research on citizen perceptions of gratuities, this study has played a significant role in advocating for a complete “no gratuities” response by law enforcement agencies.

By contrast, others justify gratuities by noting that they are no different than the perks received in other occupations, that they compensate for the poor pay police officers earn, and that they have the potential to strengthen police–community relations (Kania, 1988). In the scenario presented here, this final justification may be something to consider. In Lebanese culture, gift giving is an important tradition, and the giving of small gifts is typically a gesture of thanks and friendship. Not accepting them could potentially be hurtful or offensive.

In this situation, the Norwood Police Department strictly prohibits acceptance of gratuities. Although policies such as these frequently go unenforced (Coleman, 2004), Norwood citizens are clearly aware that the policy exists. Additionally, the fact that the officer in plain clothes went so far as to show his badge in order to receive the same discount would also be considered a conduct violation in many agencies (see, for example, Greenville Police Department Policy and Procedure, Chapter 26). These factors, coupled with the results of Prenzler and Mackay’s (1995) study, indicate that more harm than good is likely to result if officers accept the free meal. Moreover, the potential damage that could occur between the business owner and the department (if the officers appear culturally insensitive by not accepting the gift) could easily be avoided if the officers explain to the business owner that it would be a violation of department policy and that no disrespect is intended by not accepting the gift.

In a day and age when public perceptions matter, and often have a direct influence on public trust and legitimacy, what some may deem “small matters,” such as police acceptance of gratuities, can significantly impact an agency’s relationship with the public it serves. Yet, ethically speaking, there could be a complex variety of responses to this issue. The “correct” answer, if there truly is one in such a complicated scenario, becomes guided by the value top leadership places on its relationship with its citizens.


Coleman, S. (2004). When the police should say ‘no!’ to gratuities. Criminal Justice Ethics, 23, 33–44.

Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. (n.d.). CALEA Standards for Law Enforcement Agencies. Retrieved from

Greenville, North Carolina, Police Department. (2017). Greenville Police Department Policies and Procedures, Chapter 26. Retrieved from

International Association of Chiefs of Police (n.d.). Law Enforcement Code of Ethics. Retrieved from

Kania, R. R. E. (1988). Should we tell the police to say ‘yes’ to gratuities? Criminal Justice Ethics, 7, 37–49.

Prenzler, T., & Mackay, P. (1995). Police gratuities: What the public thinks. Criminal Justice Ethics, 14(2), 15–25.