Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work


School of Social Work

First Reader/Committee Chair

Lim, Caroline


Background: Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) and other marginalized identities experience constant oppression by the systems of policing. Based on the NASW Code of Ethics, social workers have an ethical responsibility to challenge social injustices. Because of the interactions between the two professions, social workers are in a unique position to engage in this social justice issue. Objective: This research study explored social workers’ perceptions of their ethical responsibilities in responding to oppressive policing. Methods: This concurrent nested mixed-method study gathered data from 12 participants. Participants were social workers within the state of Texas, recruited through purposive sampling methods. Each participant completed a questionnaire and individual interview. Questionnaires were used to gather quantitative data on participants’ professional demographics, relationship with law enforcement, and view of the NASW Code of Ethics. Interviews were used to gather qualitative data on participants’ perceptions of social workers’ ethical responsibilities as well as their perceptions of the relationship between law enforcement and marginalized populations, social workers’ role in policing, the alignment between social work and policing values, ways to address oppressive policing, the social work profession’s response to social movements targeting oppressive policing, and ways to engage with social movements targeting policing. Quantitative data were analyzed using coding methods to run both univariate and bivariate analyses. Qualitative data were analyzed using a bottom-up approach to thematic analysis by applying a combination of grammatical and elemental coding methods. Findings: The study sample featured 12 Texas social workers. Eight of the participants were licensed social workers (66.7%). Most participants were in the beginning of their social work career, having five or less years of experience (66.7%). Participants came from various fields of practice. All participants shared the perception that social workers have an ethical responsibility to challenge police oppression; however, perceptions of professional ethical responsibilities varied across five main categories of general responsibilities as members of the social work profession (91.7%), responsibilities expressed by the NASW Code of Ethics (50%), responsibilities to engage in macro practice (33.3%), responsibilities in engaging with law enforcement (25%), and responsibilities to engage in micro practice (16.7%). Conclusion: While this finding supports the idea that the social work profession does have an ethical responsibility to challenge social injustices within policing, it further demonstrates that individual social workers hold different perceptions as to what ethical engagement with the issue of oppressive policing looks like for the social work profession. This finding revealed a lack of consensus among social workers regarding best practice, demonstrating a need for greater direction from the NASW, improvement in social work education regarding ethics and systemic oppression, and greater emphasis on both implementing interventions that address oppressive policing practices as well as exploring ways that social workers can advocate for alternatives to policing.