An undercover police officer was on duty inside a bar conducting surveillance of crime suspects. The officer bought a beer to maintain her cover. Unbeknownst to the officer, buying the beer automatically qualified her for a contest sponsored by a beer company. The grand prize winner would win a new car worth $20,000. The undercover officer was the grand prize winner. Her employer, NYPD, believes the car should be turned over to the department because she bought the beer with department money and was on duty at the time. The officer argues that the car should be hers because her employer did not require her to buy beer at the bar. As a member of the Board of Ethics, how would you evaluate the competing claims of the officer and the NYPD?

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The undercover officer’s claim is very weak. She says that her employer did not require her to buy beer at the bar. However, her employer did require her to maintain her cover and provided her with money to do so. Since she bought the beer in order to maintain her...

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The undercover officer’s claim is very weak. She says that her employer did not require her to buy beer at the bar. However, her employer did require her to maintain her cover and provided her with money to do so. Since she bought the beer in order to maintain her cover, with her employer’s money while she was on duty, the fact that her employer did not specifically require her to purchase beer is irrelevant to the ethical issue. If this is her only argument, she is practically guaranteed to lose the case.

This is likely to be a legal issue, as well as a purely ethical one. Most contracts of employment have clear guidelines on precisely what benefits that may accrue to an employee in the course of her employment may be kept by that employee. Since the employee in question works for the government and in a position where bribery is an obvious issue, there will certainly be clear guidelines on the circumstances in which she would be allowed to keep a prize won in the course of her employment. These guidelines are very unlikely to favor the employee and the Board of Ethics would almost certainly rule for the police department.

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