The Law Enforcement Code of Ethics
Some years ago while traveling as an IPA member in South Africa I visited a police station there and while waiting in the lobby noticed a framed document on the wall. A closer look revealed it to be the “Law Enforcement Code of Ethics.” Printed on parchment paper it appeared to be one of the original documents first printed and distributed by the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC), many years ago. No one in the station knew who had framed and hung the document in the lobby but somehow it had traveled many thousand miles from California to Cape Town, South Africa.
Most law enforcement officers are familiar with “The Law Enforcement Code of Ethics” but few know the author of the code or its history. The fact is that a web search of the code and of its history won’t help much as there appears to be general confusion; many articles attribute the code to the International Chiefs of Police Association (IACP) adopted in 1957.
Would you believe that an IPA member and California police officer actually wrote the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics?
The Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC) had been chartered in 1953, and the first conference convened in 1954 to plan the future of the organization. Lieutenant Gene Muehleisen of San Diego PD had been appointed the chairman of a newly created Professionalization Committee. Gene submitted a report that recommended six goals for the coming years, among which were:
The conference adopted the recommendations and directed Gene and his committee to submit proposals at the next conference.
- To develop a Code of Ethics, or a set of rules of professional conduct for law enforcement personnel
- To develop legislation that would create an agency within state government that would set standards for the training of all peace officers in the state.
In 1955 The Professionalization Committee submitted a draft of the “Law Enforcement Code of Ethics, and “The Professional Law Enforcement Act.” The conference voted to accept the Code of Ethics as written and directed Gene to work with the California Peace Officers Association (CPOA) to submit legislation to create the standards setting agency. It must be noted that CPOA had attempted several times to legislate a state standards setting agency but failed. When the PORAC conference adopted the code Gene warned the conference:
"It is not enough to merely speak in high sounding phases of professionalization. We will not reach our goal until the service we render is truly professional and recognized as such by citizens in all levels of society."
Gene brought PORAC’s Code of Ethics to the CPOA conference in 1956 and it was adopted as written. The next stop along the path to acceptance of the code was the prestigious International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). At their annual conference in 1957 the code was accepted by resolution stating in part;
Resolved: That the International Association of Chiefs of Police at its sixty-fourth Annual Conference does hereby adopt the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics, a copy of which is appended to this resolution…
So there you have it! In the months that followed the thousands of law enforcement agencies and professional associations endorsed and adopted the code. It quickly became the code for the profession.
PORAC printed the code and distributed copies to all the agencies in California as well as its individual members. Requests for copies of the code resulted in PORAC printing it on parchment paper and selling it to defray expenses. Thousands of copies were distributed by CPOA and the IACP also.
One of these copies seems to have made its way to Cape Town in South Africa. That’s a world and a half away from California.
In San Diego Gene’s fellow officers presented him with a beautiful engraved copy upon his retirement from San Diego Police Department in 1960. The inscription on the plaque beneath the code appropriately reads, in part, “Presented to Gene S. Muehlesien, whose untiring efforts and contributions resulted in the development and adoption of the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics by the law enforcement profession.”
As a footnote to this story I might add that The “Professional Law Enforcement Act” as amended and submitted by CPOA did not pass out of the legislature, due to concerns about home-rule and finances. The next year Gene teamed up with Ed Davis, chairman of PORAC’s Legislative Committee and amended the legislation to make it voluntary but to provide funds for training by placing a penalty assessment on all criminal fines. The police departments need not participate but they would miss out on the training funds. All law enforcement agencies in California now are members of POST. The crooks would finance the training of the police in California. The bill passed and became law in 1959, establishing the California Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST). Two years later New York adopted similar legislation, to be followed eventually by all of the states.
After retirement Gene was appointed Executive Director of POST and initiated administrative law requiring the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics to be given as an oath to all peace officers in California.
1 Lt. ED Davis of LAPD was later to become chief of police for that department and on retirement ran for the State Senate where he served multiple terms.