Special units in police forces are essential to the function of any organization, however some of these special units might evolve into feeling superior to the rest of the agency. The mentality of doing it their own way sets in and more likely than not this behavior is not cohesive with the policies and procedures in place by the agency. Unfortunately, this attitude develops from not being checked, and leads to the unit feeling as though they are untouchable. When not having checks and balances is coupled with a leader who exhibits signs of misconduct, the potential for more massive amounts of corruption and misconduct are more likely as portrayed in the movie “Training Day” starring Denzel Washington as a corrupt NARC unit commander. The most common types of police misconduct include excessive force, sexual assault, intentional false arrest, falsifying evidence, extortion, and other related offenses (Color 2000). Police misconduct has become more prevalent since 1970 when drugs became a major driver of corruption replacing gambling, prostitution and alcohol (Bayley 2011).
Public activists groups and internal affairs units are put in place in law enforcement agencies which primarily govern police misconduct investigations by officers under the “Depravation of Right under Color of Law,” Title 18, US Code, Section 242, (Color 2000). There are important factors to focus on to help understand and prevent officer misconduct, including officer’s integrity, positive leadership, and continuing ethical boundaries long after the hiring process. However, this scrutiny should not prevent police officers from effectively doing their jobs and seeking a peace officer career. Theories on the role of society in law enforcement, the negative influence of an officer’s department, and a person’s own natural tendency to engage in unethical behavior have been offered as explanations of police corruption (Martin 2011). Therefore, producing an honest and ethical officer is essential to prevent misconduct and corruption in any department. It is also imperative for each individual who is placed into a position where they are granted extreme discretionary powers to encompass personal and professional integrity. A list of characteristics important for officers to possess integrity include; prudence, trust, effacement of self-interests, courage, intellectual honesty, justice and responsibility (Martin 2011).
When a person internalizes these characteristics and upholds the law with integrity, the probability of corruption is far less likely to occur. Even when a person portrays strong characteristics of integrity and desires to uphold the law in an ethical fashion, they may feel the pressure to succumb to fellow officers in order to fit into an exclusive subculture. A subculture is a group of individuals who generally share attitudes, perceptions, assumptions, values, beliefs, ways of living, and traditions. Because police work entails so many experiences unique to the field, the subculture can become stronger than the officer’s own family ties. Conflicts can, and more than likely, will arise when personnel face a choice between what may be ethically right and their devotion to the other members of their subgroup. Such a strong loyalty toward fellow officers causes members to trade their integrity for that allegiance. One conclusion would be that the length of time an officer is exposed to this socialization process, the greater its impact. When this loyalty to the subculture becomes too strong, the unity that follows can adversely affect the ethical values of the officers (Martin 2011).
This type of work environment causes officers to feel like they are doing what is wanted by their organizations and the public and the officers may continue with the behavior because the pressure to produce results is greater than that to follow the rules. A law enforcement department might choose to punish an individual, but the fear of punishment usually is not enough to change unwanted behavior (Martin 2011). With all of the temptation, attempts to fit into a subculture, and desire to please superiors, mentoring younger officers becomes extremely important. Mentoring can either allow corruption to spread, or it can be also be nipped in the bud. With these issues at hand, it is important that law enforcement agencies invest in upstanding supervisors and leaders in their departments because according to statistics, leaders have a significant impact in preventing corruption and therefore play a significant role in the agencies in which they serve. Therefore, it becomes imperative that effective leaders – who share the same goals – be in place to set the standard for subordinates to see and emulate (Martin 2011).
However; while leaders certainly play a critical role in forming the future leaders and overall atmosphere of the organization, they alone cannot ensure that high levels of integrity are continually maintained. Since supervisors are not typically involved unless a complaint against an officer or a serious incident requires their response they are not generally aware of everything that happens in the field on a daily basis. Although it might be mandatory for leaders to provide an environment that encourages proper ethical conduct, it falls upon each member of the organization to ensure that this standard of integrity is carried out. Temptation is always going to be a part of human nature no matter what career someone has, but it’s important for those in law enforcement to harness the temptation and tap into the integral part of themselves.
It has been proven that those who engage in criminal conduct do so as a matter of regularity and we rarely see a person commit a first time offense without repeating it and unfortunately police officers are immune from this statistic. However; even police officers with strong ethics and upstanding integrity who perform their duties well, should still expect allegations of police misconduct at some point in their careers because criminals don’t live at the same standards as an officer should.
However, officers can prevent most misconduct complaints if they conduct themselves in a professional manner and write detailed, accurate reports. While most officers exercise good judgment in crisis situations, they often do not adequately record their actions (Color 2000) which can open doors for civil suits and lead to bureaucratic questioning. A report not only records the facts of incidents but can also reflect the writer’s integrity. Every officer has a responsibility to uphold the law and each of them are given discretionary powers to maintain order and keep crime at a minimum, because of this responsibility it’s even more important to hire, train and keep ethical standards at the highest level possible to help prevent as much misconduct and corruption as possible.
Bayley, D., & Perito, R. (2011). What past scandals teach about current challenges. United States Institute of Peace, 294. Retrieved June 1, 2014, from http://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/SR%20294.pdf Color of law investigations. (2000). Retrieved May 27, 2014, from http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Color%2Bof%2BLaw%2BInvestigations-a065241456 Martin, R. (2011, February 22). Police corruption. Retrieved May 27, 2014, from http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/law-enforcement-bulletin/may_2011/law_enforcement_professionalism
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