Police Corruption

Police corruption has been an problem for as long as there has been policing in America



•      Masters Thesis University of Nevada, Las Vegas, December 1999 available at

•      www.neiassociates.org/barrythesis.pdf

•      Provided valuable contributions to this lecture.


Police Misconduct

•       Police misconduct of yesteryear was centered around the police turning a blind eye toward vice related crimes. As seen during the Lelow Committee, cops got rich by not taking enforcement action. Recently, as seen in the cities of New Orleans, Philadelphia and New York, some police officers are actually committing felony crimes while on-duty. The need to address police misconduct from an ethical frame has never been greater.  


Misconduct and the Chief

•       Historically, police executives have sought to distance themselves from misconduct as a form of political survival.  Rather than addressing the true causal factors, they seek quick fixes. 

•       Quick fixes serve as a catalyst for police misconduct, encouraging only a narrow investigative focus, as opposed to exploring systemic problems.


Misconduct and Humiliation

•      Misconduct should not be viewed as a humiliation for police departments.  It is the manner in which misconduct is handled that often results in departmental shame.

•      Police executives who handle misconduct in an ethical manner realize, this challenge is anopportunity to improve their departments.


Sources of Corruption

•       Vice enforcement is an area that attracts corruption.

•       Police response to misconduct has typically been to blame some 'rotten apples'.  They have failed to address underlying systemic problems.

•       Police reformers have been hindered by an unwillingness of police executives to admit organizational problems.

•       Low income areas experience a higher percentage of police misconduct, than do affluent neighborhoods.

Sources of Corruption

    The public is apathetic toward police misconduct, until the conduct becomes outrageous.

•       Personnel practices (hiring, transfers, promotions and disciplinary process) within the agency are important factors in determining the level of misconduct.

•       There is a correlation between a lack of supervisory accountability and police misconduct.

•       Investigation into misconduct is extremely difficult due to a strong 'code of silence' that permeates all levels of the department.

The Wall of Blue: Police Brotherhood

    Police are members of a brotherhood. This brotherhood plays a role in the way officers see themselves and the world.

•       Misconduct is difficult to investigate due to officers lack of honesty in testifying about the conduct of fellow officers.

•       This code of silence results in police misconduct becoming accepted behavior within police departments.



•       Officers are educated early in their career of the importance of loyalty to fellow officers.

•       Loyalty to their community, the oath of office and the code of ethics are not emphasized as much as is loyalty to fellow officers.

•       Misplaced loyalty is a major factor in continued police misconduct. Police culture allows misplaced loyalty to flourish, rationalizing it as part of the .brotherhood..



•      Only when a zero tolerance approach is taken towards lying, will the code of silence be reduced.

•      Untruthfulness is incompatible with the police role, code of ethics and their oath of office. By meting out light discipline for sustained cases of untruthfulness,

•      Police executives are condoning lying.


Police Culture

•       Police culture influences behavior of officers. Manifestations can easily be identified. Weapons, uniforms, insignias of rank, report forms and identifiable police vehicles.

•       Difficult to identify and powerful, is the culture’s effect on individual behavior. Values and beliefs become indoctrinated in the minds of new officers,

•       This culture is pervasive throughout the agency, ensuring that these values are entrenched in the minds of  those wearing a badge.


Administrative Response

•       Police administrators respond to police misconduct tactically:

•       1. Sterilize the critical area to as small an area as possible. This is done by establishing a secure inner perimeter.

l    “A rogue cop did it, a rotten apple”

•       2. Establish a command post a safe distance away from the critical area. The command post must be free from outside interference.

l    Internal affairs is investigating the matter no comments will be made until investigation is complete.

Administrative Response

•       3. Assign a Public Information Officer to handle the media.

l    PIO to issue the press release of outcome investigation and answer all questions

•       4. When situation turns tactical, the response will be swift and decisive.

l    Investigation must be completed as soon as possible, so stories don’t leak and have a number of press events

•       5. When suspect is taken into custody, he/she will be transported to jail as soon as practical.

l    Officer fired, arrested removed from the scene as quickly as possible. (damage control)

Administrative Response

•      6. A press release will be issued by the Public Information Officer concerning the incident.

l   The press release will discussed a troubled officer, the department will handle. Systemic problems ignored.




Code of Silence: Garrity

•       A weapon used to reduce the code of silence is offering of immunity from prosecution for witness officers. Police officers have qualified immunity during internal investigations.

•       In Garrity v. State of New Jersey, 87 S.Ct. 616 (1967), it was held that statements given as part of an internal investigations were not voluntary and are therefore inadmissible in state criminal proceedings. The Court stated that since officers risk termination if they refuse to answer questions, these statements are coerced.



•       Garrity immunity is weak protection for officers. It is often referred to as a guise used by internal affairs to negate protections of the 5th Amendment (Self Incrimination). Often, officers will complain other citizens have the right to invoke their 5th Amendment in any criminal proceeding, but we can’t. Police officers risk termination if they invoke the 5th during a Garrity interview. Since Garrity interviews can be used in federal criminal proceedings, it follows that coerced statements can be used against police  criminally.



•      The violation of .untruthfulness. is very difficult to prove. The investigator must prove from sources (physical evidence, other witnesses,) the officer lied. The difficulty in proving these cases against witness officers makes its use infrequent.


Police Unions

•       Police unions serve to ensure the code of silence remains a major obstacle for internal investigators to battle.

•       Unions are involved in discipline. In many states an officer can not be interviewed unless a union representative is present. This safeguard includes both the targeted employee and witness officers.

l    Unions gain at the bargaining table during contract negotiations, and by exerting political clout. During contract talks, departments are often willing to give more influence in disciplinary matters as opposed to salary increases.

Police Officer Bill of Rights

•       Police Officer Bill of Rights (state law) provides protections which support for the code of silence.

•       An officer may not be interviewed until he/she receives written notice of the complaint, and is given reasonable time to have representation.

•       This allows for officers to review the documents before any interviews are conducted.

•       Police officers cannot be ordered to take a polygraph examination until the complainant has first taken and passed one. Can not be ordered to take polygraphs unless targets of the investigation.



•       We can see how difficult it is for one officer to implicate another officer in misconduct. An officer who has been loyal to other officers all throughout his career, suddenly finds himself in a position where his testimony can result

•       The role loyalty plays in both organizational and individual behavior is paramount. For the organization, it allows the mission to be accomplished in a predictable manner. The individual employee feels an improved sense of self worth.


Citizen Review Boards

•       These boards actually serve to address only surface problems, and are counterproductive to true reform.

•       While these boards may seem innocuous at first glance, they serve to increase police isolationism. They also reduce supervisory accountability, thereby serving to cause additional damage to an already broken system.


Civilian Review Boards

•      The power and composition of citizen review boards vary greatly.

•      The current trend is to reduce involvement of police leaders in the decision process.

•      Four general classifications are utilized in describing citizen review boards (most boards are a hybrid).

Class One Review Boards

•       Class One Citizen Review Boards have been established in the majority of the larger cities.

•       This type of board is dominated by civilians with little (if any) involvement of police leadership in the process. Citizens conduct their own investigations of cases and decide upon the appropriate discipline. The size, subpoena power, appeal processes and funding vary from city to city.




Class Two Review Boards

•      The second classification (Class Two) has both commissioned officers and civilians involved in the process. This allows for citizen participation  without excluding the expertise of law enforcement.


Class Three Review Boards

•       Class Three is designed to serve as an appeal process for citizens who are not satisfied with the resolution of their complaint.

•       These deal with incidents only after the police department have completed their investigations. The citizen can request the case be reconsidered, however the department may refuse.

•       This is the weakest form of citizen review board.

Class Four Review Boards

•      Class Four Boards are in place in the cities of San Jose and Seattle.

•      These boards serve as an audit process for the police department. They also conduct surveys to ensure citizens are being treated fairly.

•      They make recommendations to the chief on how to improve the complaint process.



Review Boards: The Differences

•       The differences between Class One Boards and the other three classes needs to be emphasized. While Classes Two, Three and Four Boards serve as review bodies concerning the complaint process, only Class One Boards remove this responsibility from the police.

•       Civilian review of disciplinary decisions is healthy, however taking this function away from police leaders is dangerous for the organizational culture.


Review Boards

•       Class One Citizen Review Boards are ineffective at addressing police misconduct. They fail to address underlying systemic problems.

•       These boards remove accountability from police management, shifting it to a citizen  panel.

•       These citizens lack the time and expertise required to adequately investigate and adjudicate the number of complaints received.

Review Boards

•       Police misconduct is best handled through the internal processes within police agencies. Addressing police misconduct requires police supervisors accountable.

•       Police departments have the resources, expertise and personnel to investigate and adjudicate misconduct complaints.

•       Class Two, Three or Four Citizen Review Boards serve to enhance internal investigative processes, not weaken them. Only by confronting misconduct at an institutional level will strides be made.

Class One Boards

•      Nationally, the number of Class One Citizen Review Boards has skyrocketed.  In 1980, only 13 review boards existed in our country. By 1995, the number of review boards grew to 66 (400% increase). This growth is due mainly to high profile incidents


Recent History

•       The concept was first proposed in 1935. It was implemented in a few cities in 1940.s and 1950.s. 

•       Contributing to the growth of citizen review has been the increase in African-American political clout, resulting in the election of mayors and city counsels who consider police misconduct a major issue. Many small cities with very small minority populations have also adopted citizen review. Opposition from police chiefs has declined significantly, as they increasingly recognize the importance of responding effectively.


Class One Review Boards

•       Given the environment in which most Class One Review Boards are created, it is not surprising the majority of  these boards have not succeeded.

•       They lack solid foundations needed for this difficult task. These boards are empaneled without proper attention given to their mission.

•        Conducting misconduct investigations requires a high level of expertise.


•       The intent of civilian oversight is to improve on internal investigation and control, a system some feel is biased against complainants, this is not what occurs once a citizen review board is formed.

•       Studies have found that civilian boards do not investigate complaints against officers as zealously as do many internal affair units.

•       Many boards cannot compel testimony, cannot punish, and take too lightly the withholding or distortion of evidence and testimony.

Class One Review Boards

•      The biggest problem is that civilians don’t have the time to do in-depth investigations.

•      Boards that conduct their own investigations, is the lack of training, experience, and insight of the investigators.

•      A police department is much better equipped at being able to identify the signs of a bad officer.



Justice Delayed

•       Investigating police misconduct is an extremely difficult process, requiring many skills. A few of the basics needed includes knowledge of contracts, applicable laws, and the ability to assess weight of evidence.

•       Swiftness is an essential element in maintaining proper discipline. In Washington, D.C., the Citizen Complaint Review Board has 950 cases pending. Some of  these cases are more than four years old and still have not been heard. The majority  of  internal affairs bureaus complete the entire investigation within 30 days.

Class One Boards

•       Most boards are not only fair and impartial, but actually tend to be easier on accused officers than internal department processes are.

•       Civilian systems find the police innocent of wrong doing most of the time . . .  civilian systems have historically given the accused officer more procedural safeguards than have internal systems Civilian review mechanisms are in fact easier on the beat cop than are internal systems.


•       If alleged wrongdoing is verified, police tend to defend the reputation of their

•       agency by characterizing the wrongdoing as an isolated phenomenon not

•       representative of their operations. This traditional response has contributed, perhaps

•       unwittingly, to a prevalent attitude within police departments that wrongdoing is

•       exclusively the responsibility of the wrongdoers; that the agency itself is exempt

•       from any responsibility for the misconduct. It follows that, while sergeants,

•       lieutenants, captains and higher ranking officers are held to strict account for

•       investigating wrongdoing, they are rarely held to account for having failed to

•       prevent the misconduct in the first place or for having failed to uncover it on their

•       own. Thus, preoccupied with defending themselves in the community, police

•       administrators in many jurisdictions have forfeited one of the oldest and potentially

•       most effective means for achieving conformity with legislative and administrative

•       promulgations - the simple process of creating through traditional administrative

•       devices an agency-wide sense of  responsibility for the prevention of misconduct.

•       Accepting the responsibility for achieving conformity requires, specifically, that

•       an administrator inoculate an administrative philosophy that holds supervisory

•       officers responsible for the actions of their subordinates. Enough pressure should be

•       exerted on a precinct commander, for example, to result in his viewing an overly

•       aggressive police officer who is constantly  offending citizens as a major

•       administrative problem, rather than - as is often the case - an extremely  valuable

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•       employee who frequently gets in trouble. Each captain, each lieutenant, and each

•       sergeant should be made to feel as responsible for an officer.s conduct in relating to

•       citizens as they do for assuring that an officer reports to work on time. This would

•       make the task of controlling police conduct far more manageable than it is today.

•       (Barker 46)



•       The problem of police misconduct cannot be effectively  handled on a case by

•       case basis. Class One Citizen Review Boards treat only the symptoms, not the disease.

•       Police misconduct needs to be confronted from a normative frame and institutionally.

•       64

•       Police in the cities of New York, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Los Angeles, serve as

•       proof that police misconduct is an institutional problem as opposed to a series of isolated

•       incidents. (In all of these cities, citizen review boards have been formed and reformed.)

•       After every  major misconduct incident new boards are formed until the next scandal

•       surfaces.

•       Police reform must be aimed at examining the entire agency, not just individual

•       episodes  of misconduct. Class One Citizen Review Boards are designed to look at

•       individual cases. By  doing this, underlying problems do not surface.


Class One Review Boards

•       The City of New York has had a Class One Citizen Review Boards since 1993 (after Mollen Commission).

•       It appears to be on its way to being dismantled. Only a small percentage of cases are sustained by this board. In the first half of 1996, 159 substantiated cases were referred to the department, and charges were filed in one case.

•       In 1991, before the CCRB, the department process substantiated 113 of 3,379 complaints and 50 officers were found guilty.

Steps for an Ethical Agency

•       Step One: Ensures officers receive ethics training throughout their careers.

•       Step Two: Requires leaders to be pro-active in preventing misconduct. Certain situations result in  police misconduct. Covert assignments (Vice and Narcotic Bureaus) have been breeding grounds for police scandals. In the majority of scandals, suspect officer(s) had a history of complaints never properly adjudicated. Low income areas are the locations where the majority of incidents occur. These should be closely monitored.

Creating an Ethical Agency

•       Step Three: Requires organizations to formally acknowledge virtuous conduct. Since officers should be disciplined for unethical behavior, the converse must also be the case. A process rewarding virtuous conduct needs to be established within the organization. This needs to be incorporated into the promotional process, thereby ensuring that people with a reputation for virtuous conduct are promoted into supervisory positions. This change would send a message to all officers that virtuous conduct is an important attribute of a leader.

Creating Virtue in Policing

•       Step Four: Calls for a zero tolerance policy toward untruthfulness.

•       Demanding honesty from all officers will increase public trust.

•       Step Five: empower Internal Affairs Bureaus (IAB). This Bureau needs to be pro-active in dealing with police misconduct. Need to have the support of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). IAB should report directly to the CEO.


Disciplinary Matrix

•       Step Six: Suggests the use of a disciplinary matrix. when deciding corrective actions. This will ensure equity and improve consistency in decisions throughout the department.

•       When officers know the consequences of their actions beforehand, they will be more careful to abstain from the conduct to avoid punishment.

•       The Minneapolis Police Department began utilizing a disciplinary matrix in 1996. People need to know ethical conduct will be rewarded and the converse is also true.

Building an Ethical Agency

•       Background checks are conducted on candidates.

•       Background investigators need to be trained and carry manageable caseloads.

•       When background checks are not properly done, misconduct is inevitable.(Miami River Cops)

•       An appeal process provides a mechanism to have their case before an objective party.

•       This process should not turn into let’s make a deal, if officers view this process as a method to reduce discipline, as opposed to an unbiased hearing, frivolous appeals will be filed.

Building an Ethical Agency

•       Drug testing should be mandatory throughout the department. This testing should include pre-employment, random and reasonable suspicion. Pre-employment should take place before a position is offered to a candidate. The test must be given without prior notice to the candidate.

•       Random testing should occur on at least a monthly basis. Names can be randomly selected and the employee is notified they have to submit to a test. The employee should report to the testing facility within 24 hours of notification.


•       Reasonable suspicion testing- these tests should be given when the facts would lead a prudent person to believe the employee is under the influence.

•       Ensure safeguards will exist in covert assignments (Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence). Working undercover requires an officer to act like a criminal in the furtherance of a criminal investigation. This role has a major impact on the officer, whether or not the officer is aware of  it.  These assignments should ensure officers are rotated at least every two years.


•       10. Supervisory accountability is the main factor influencing police misconduct. Holding  supervisors accountable for the actions of their subordinates is essential in reducing police misconduct.

•       Records can be maintained on the number and type of all complaints filed. These can be tracked under division, bureau, shift and squad. When a squad receives a high number of complaints, the supervisor needs to be held accountable.

Prior Offenses

•       History has shown officers who engage in severe misconduct typically have a lengthy record of complaints. In the majority of these cases, past complaints were not adjudicated properly.

•       All complaints must be adjudicated thoroughly. In cases where investigations were .swept under the carpet,. the Investigator needs to be held accountable for his/he actions.

Early Warning System

•       12. An early warning system  needs to be developed alerting supervisors of officers having performance problems. This system needs to track all complaints filed against an officer and inform their chain of command after a certain number of complaints are logged. Ideally, this system will monitor entire squads,  measuring the quality of supervision. This system can be used to improve the performance of the identified officer. This system should be non-punitive, serving only to put the officer on notice.


•      An Employees Assistance Program needs to be available. This program is designed to have peer and professional counseling  available to all officers. Since police work is a stressful profession, it is imperative that these resources are available. Employees utilizing this resource need to remain confidential, unless they are a threat to themselves or others.

Integrity Tests

•       Integrity tests should be conducted on a routine basis, particularly in low income areas. All these tests are conducted under a controlled environment. These tests can be as simple as having an officer respond to a found wallet call. The wallet contains a few hundred dollars in cash. After the wallet is impounded all the cash  must be included. If the money is not impounded, the officer is a thief.

Category A

•      Category .A. violations will result in either an oral or written reprimand.

l   1. The incident resulted in minor injury or damage to property.

l   2. The incident was the result of a lack of training, as opposed to an intentional disregard of policy or law.

l   3. The incident happened so quickly, the employee had no time to seek advice.

Category B

•       Category .B. violations will result in discipline stronger than a written, not to exceed a suspension of more than 40 hours.

l    1.  The incident resulted in moderate injury or damage to property.

l    2. The employee had time to seek advice before acting (time was not a factor).

l    3. The act was not the result of a lack of training.

l    4. The act was an intentional disregard of policy or law.

Category C

•       Category .C. violations will result in a suspension over 40 hours, but not to exceed 120 hours.

l    1. The incident resulted in serious injury or damage to property.

l    2. The employee.s actions violated the code of ethics, oath of office or department values.

l    3. The employee.s actions jeopardized the status of a criminal investigation.

l    4. The act was a deliberate violation of policy or law.

Category D

•       Category D violations: suspensions over 120 hours, demotion, termination or criminal charges.

l    1. The employee committed a criminal act.

l    2. The conduct was so outrageous that attempts to correct performance would be fruitless.

l    3. The employee.s actions violated the code of ethics, oath of office or department values.

l    4. The act was a deliberate violation of policy or law.

l    5. The employee.s actions jeopardized the status of a criminal investigation.

l    6. The conduct demonstrated a lack of integrity.


Using the Matrix

•       Consistency and wisdom in the commander’s decision as to which category to use 

•       Communicating with the investigator and thoroughly reviewing the case file is crucial. The employee.s personnel file must be researched. In cases where the employee had a previous sustained complaint for the same violation, the category may be moved up.

•       The reason for not reviewing the file until after a decision has been made is to increase objectivity..

Supervisor’s Role

•       When a supervisor receives a complaint package, he or she must review the matrix for range.

•       Based upon which classification the violation is assigned, the supervisor now has a range of actions.

•       Weighing factors are additional points that need to be considered when determining  equitable discipline, excluding the violation itself.

•       Where the bureau commander based his or her decision on the act itself, the supervisor focuses primarily on the actor (employee).

Negative Weighting Factors

•       1. Employee has a poor work history, substantiated by negative evaluations and critical incidents.

•       2. Employee is not remorseful about the incident.

•       3. Employee refuses to take responsibility, instead  makes excuses.

•       4. Employee is not receptive toward training.

Positive Weighting Factors

•      1. Employee has good work history. Substantiated  by positive evaluations and commendable actions.

•      2. Employee takes responsibility and is remorseful.

•      3. Employee is receptive toward training.


•       1. Utilize matrix to determine range of action

•       2. Review Investigative Report

•       3. Reviewed employee.s personnel file

•       4. Interview employee concerning incident

•       5. List all positive and negative weighing factors

•       6. Make a determination for appropriate discipline

•       7. Attain approval from intermediate level of supervision and inform employee


•      8. Completes all reports, ensuring weighing factors are given to justify discipline

•      9. Serves discipline on employee, ensuring a copy of complaint package is given to employee

•      10. Advises employee of appeal process


Disciplinary Action

•       When the supervisor determines the weighing factors, it is essential that he or she documents their decision in a report which will be included in the complaint package. This report, coupled with the bureau commander.s, will serve to justify why a certain corrective action was taken.

•       The employee can review the decision  making process and will better understand why the action was taken.