Now that the general meaning of codes of ethics has been stated, what is the purpose of using a code? First, codes guide the practitioner by acting as a ruler against which to measure actions. They provide a framework for members to use as a reference in more specific cases. They monitor, promote, and protect the profession by imparting standards. The codes are a method of maintaining harmony within professional organizations as they are used to adjudicate disputes among members (Barnett, 2001). In 1982, John Jay College of Criminal Justice founded the Institute for Criminal Justice Ethics to increase ethical standards, to inspire research, and to ensure ethical actions in criminal justice. The primary qualities with which the institute was concerned were the ethics of public service and the ethics of professionalism. The quality of public service includes such a responsibility to protect society that it overrules any connection with a particular group or individual. Those in public service are said to hold a higher moral character than the average person, which is not seen as a privilege as much as a benefit. Professionalism is striving toward excellence in a given field. It requires self-discipline, reasoning, maturity, rejection of private gain, and being good in general. The two methodologies toward professionalism include managerial or organizational and honorable or morality. Managerial involves discipline, compliance, and organizational loyalty, whereas morality deals with the moral character of employees as well as managerial activities that influence the professional culture. The functions codes of ethics serve include educating new members, narrowing problem areas, potentially reducing the number of regulations imposed, providing a starting point for scrutiny over issues in the field, and setting forth rules for specific behaviors (Souryal, 2014).

According to Peterson and Murdock (1989), codes of ethics serve three main purposes. First, the codes assure people outside of the profession that they can expect to receive a certain degree of uniformity in standards of performance and moral conduct from members. Next, the codes assure members within the profession that they can similarly rely on colleagues to maintain a certain level of technical and moral standards in exchange for conducting themselves in accordance with the same principles. Finally, the codes serve as a notice that people engaged in the profession, who are nonmembers of the association, are not bound to the code. The nonmembership may cause conduct of a lower order than of those within the organization or may give the mis- impression of those who are not involved in the organization. How successful are codes of ethics? What defines success? At this point, there is no conclusive answer, but the following points may help in establishing an opinion:

  • • Codes that are taken seriously by professionals are meaningful to their work (Martin, 2000).
  • • The importance of successful codes must be acknowledged by administrators and supervisors.
  • • People must follow the standards set forth.
  • • A healthy organizational environment allows for the effectiveness of codes (Souryal, 2014).

Think about the codes of ethics you follow as part of an organization: Do you think they are successful based on these criteria? Are there discrepancies? Would you be able to apply them to a variety of situations you may encounter? Codes of ethics are important to professions and serve a very important function in forensic science.

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