Typologies of Misconduct

    It is human nature to think wisely and act foolishly.
    - Anatole France
    Public confidence in the integrity of the Government is indispensable to faith in democracy;
    and when we lose faith in the system, we have lost faith in everything we fight and spend for.
    - Adlai E. Stevenson Jr.
    Mine honour is my life; both grow in one; Take honour from me, and my life is done.
    - William Shakespeare, from King Richard II

    Dr. Frank Kardasz, June 18, 2011

    What causes public employees to commit misdeeds? In "Splitting the Difference: Compromise and Integrity
    in Ethics and Politics", author Martin Benjamin (1990) identifies several typologies that attempt to explain the
    personality types of individuals who compromise their ethics. (1)


    The chameleon personality type is described as anxious to accommodate and to avoid moral
    controversy. This individual is quick to modify or abandon previous principles and bows to social

    The opportunist personality type has values that are always changing. This type is similar to the
    chameleon except the primary value is self-interest. The opportunist's motto is: "Above all - get

    The hypocrite is another personality type described by Benjamin. The hypocrite lacks integrity. The
    hypocrite has one set of values in public and another in private.

    Benjamin also describes the weak willed personality type. This person has a coherent set of values
    but lacks the courage to act on them.

    The self-deceiver has contradiction at the base core. Self-deceivers think  of themselves as acting
    on a set of core principles, but in fact, they do not. To resolve conflict they deceive themselves into
    thinking their actions are correct.

    Authors Gilmartin and Harris, (1998) describe several problematic personality types specific to law
    enforcement officers. (2)


    Gilmartin describes the cynical officer who is distrustful of human nature and motives.

    Another personality type is the over-invested officer who spends all the time thinking about the job.
    The over-invested type is a cop all the time, on-duty and off. Because of over-investment in the job,
    the officer under-invests in family, hobbies, and leisure activities.

    Gilmartin describes another problem personality type as the officer who rationalizes misconduct as
    entitlement. This type rationalizes acts of omission or commission as a debt owed, or something to
    which one is entitled based on a perception of increased personal sacrifice. This officer fails to hold
    himself to the higher standards of law enforcement by rationalizing bad behavior. Bad behavior is
    rationalized by comparing it to private sector employment where such behavior, "happens all the
    time" and goes unpunished.

    (1) Benjamin, M. (1990). Splitting the Difference: Compromise and Integrity in Ethics and Politics.  
    Lawrence, KS:  University Press of Kansas.
    (2) Gilmartin, K. M., & Harris, J. (1998, January). Law Enforcement Ethics...The Continuum of Compromise.  
    The Police Chief. Retrieved May 6, 2003 from http://www.rcmp-learning.org/docs/ecdd1222.htm


    In The Managing of Police Organizations, Whisenand and Ferguson (1996) suggest the following four
    factors that "tend to defeat ethical instincts", (1)

              WHISENAND & FERGUSON


    (1) Whisenand, P. M., & Ferguson, R. F. (1996). The Managing of Police Organizations (4th ed.). Upper
    Saddle, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. 52.



    In "Doing Bad Things for Good Reasons," Ken Adcox (2000), describes an "ends over means" attitude that
    some law enforcement officers use to justify unethical behavior. (1)
    Adcox says;

    Unlawful police behavior can come in many forms, including the use of
    unacceptable or illegal means to accomplish desired ends. Officers who
    engage in this type of deviant conduct view it as acceptable police
    practices when such actions are resorted to in the name of justice. Over
    time, this behavior may become habitual and once this deviant behavior
    has become the norm, it is no longer recognized as deviant. (ibid.)

    The indoctrination of police officers, from their initial decision to join law enforcement, through academy
    training, and on to their in-service experiences, contribute to what Adcox describes as the systematic
    socialization that can weaken an individuals ethics. (ibid.)

    (1) Adcox, K. (2000, January). Doing bad things for good reasons. The Police Chief. 16-28.



    In 1924, New York City's first female police officer, Mary E. Hamilton, briefly alluded to the insidious typology
    of police corruption of the era in her book, The Policewoman, Her Service and Ideals (1924), when she

    A woman entering any police department for the first time, must necessarily
    comply with the rules and regulations: they are sensible and fair. She does not,
    however, have to adhere to any customs that revolt against her ideals. The
    old time policeman uses the phrase "covering himself." In it is expressed all
    the fear of being brought up on charges. The minute the policewoman begins
    "to cover herself" she is enveloping her ideals in the meshes of the System.
    A woman must blaze her own trail, and while considering her colleagues of the
    old school, work independently of them when it comes to the point of doing
    the work of a woman in the police field as a woman would do it. (1)

    Hamilton's thoughts are interesting reflections on the policing subculture of her era and beyond. Her
    suggestion that a woman officer must work independently from the "old school" colleagues who might be
    covering misdeeds is noteworthy. This systemic attitude, to ignore misconduct and work independently from
    wrongdoers, rather than to report them, was not particular to woman officers of Hamilton's era.  Many male
    officers likely held the same beliefs.

    Many years after Mary Hamilton, in 1971, New York City police detective Frank Serpico reflected upon the
    police subculture of his era when he testified about police corruption before the Knapp Commission. He

    The problem is that the atmosphere does not yet exist in which an honest
    police officer can act without fear or ridicule or reprisal from fellow officers.
    We must create an atmosphere in which the dishonest officer fears the honest
    one and not the other way around. I hope that this investigation and any future
    ones will deal with corruption at all levels within the department and not limit
    themselves to cases involving individual patrolmen. Police corruption cannot
    exist unless it is at least tolerated at higher levels in the department. Therefor,
    the most important result that can come from these hearings is a conviction
    by police officers, even more than the public, that the department will change.(2)

    Years later, in this era, law enforcement professionals continue to work towards the kinds of changes
    Serpico envisioned.

    (1) Hamilton, M. E. (1924). The Policewoman, Her Service and Ideals. New York: Frederick A. Stone Co.   
    (2) Serpico, F. (1971). Testimony before the Knapp Commission on Police Corruption. New York., Retrieved  
    May 17, 2003 from http://www.hellskitchen.net/develop/olympics/kriegel/nyt711215b.pdf



    In his book, Fundamentals of Law Enforcement: Problems and Issues (1980), V.A. Leonard described the
    loyalty and cohesiveness that officers have in their relationships with one another. He describes how
    misguided loyalty leads to misconduct:

    A negative aspect of such unification and loyalty is the reluctance of one police officer to
    report the misconduct of another. The loyalty to the group tends to become so important
    that  even serious misbehavior by an officer may go unreported. Despite common
    knowledge of an officer’s misconduct, many police officer’s are often unwilling to break the
    bond of loyalty and report the offender. To do so would result in the reporting officer being
    labeled as a “fink” and ostracized by other officers (p. 67).

    According to Leonard, the loyalty also prevents officers from complaining within their own agencies:

    Intense loyalty among the police can be observed at another level. Although many officers
    within a department may have misgivings and complaints about the department, that
    information is seldom carried beyond the department itself. Although police officers
    frequently gripe and complain about the agency to their peers, any external complaint
    against the department tends to act as a unifying force. Public complaints against the
    department or adverse publicity often result in an increased sense of solidarity among all
    members of the department. Loyalty and solidarity afford protection against outside attacks
    on the agency. Frequently, any external threat results in the department and its members
    taking an “us against them” stance (p. 67).

    Leonard describes six personality characteristics common to police. These include: authoritarianism,
    suspicion of others, aggression, cynicism, masculinity, and alienated from other members of society (pp.
    68-72). Leonard describes the psychological consequences of the police culture on officers. These
    consequences can include frustration, willingness to use force, police delinquency, anomie
    (normlessness), and alcoholism. (pp. 77-79)

    In his discussion of police delinquency Leonard states:

    The potential for the police recruit to be socialized into delinquent behavior can be partially
    related to the method of training new police officers. Cynicism tends to reduce the police
    officer’s commitment to the larger social system and aids the development of a replacement
    commitment to an alternate set of values, beliefs, and practices. The replacement
    commitment is to an occupational subculture consisting of other police officers who engage
    in delinquent or corrupt practices. (p. 78)

    Policing and the Community - Police-Community Relations – A Dialogue - Why Police-Community Relations

    A basic fact of life for police agencies is that the public is the source of their operational
    resources. From an organizational health perspective, the fact that the public is willing to
    bear the financial support for police operations is a critical inducement to the police to be
    responsive and attentive to community relations (p. 119)

    The dedication of the police recruit is too often soured by the nightly street encounters. The
    persecution complex underlying the often heard statements, “The courts don’t back us up,”
    or “We’re a minority group,” is partly responsible for the isolation of the police from other
    segments of the community. This in turn leads to intense misunderstanding and distrust.
    The issue of mental health becomes extremely critical in those rare instances when the
    police selection process has failed to screen the police candidate who’s motivated by a
    desire to use the power of his or her office as an outlet for sadism or revenge. The array of
    mental aberrations held by the fictional officers known as the Choirboys in Joseph
    Wambaugh’s novel give some clues as to why police-community relations is an important
    issue. Viewed from the perspectives of departmental, physical, and mental health,
    community relations has the potential of acting as preventative medicine (p. 119).

    Leonard discusses the importance of ethics:

    In our society, the study of ethics and the use of ethical codes in administration has not         
    been well developed. However, some guidance in ethics is essential if officers are to
    meet the wide variety of conditions which may be presented to them on any one day d still
    act properly an din a way that allows them to have the respect of themselves and of others
    (p. 339).

    We have mentioned the importance of administrative control and direction, of a
    standardized code of ethics, and of developing the necessary standards so that the work of
    the agency can be carried on with efficiency and rectitude. It should be recognized that all
    of these forces constitute a constant training activity to which each member of the force is
    exposed and which is most effective when it’s consistent and comprehensive in its
    relationship to all of the areas which pose temptation or strain (pp. 340-341).

    Beyond the generalized training impact, it’s also possible to develop what have been called
    integrity training programs, and a number of agencies have worked effectively in this area.
    Sometimes these offerings are called ethical awareness programs. They all involve
    attempts to present to the police officers, usually in a relatively informal setting, structured
    training which clarifies some of the ethical dilemmas involved in policing and to suggest
    answers to them. It’s important in all such activities that the officers actively participate in the
    training exercise. There is no value if the officers are just talked to or preached at. The        
    officers must contribute their own experiences and apply the study material presented to
    their personal experiences. Then they must come to accept the value of the observations.
    Real ethical development only comes through the officer-student’s effort in trying to develop
    an awareness as to how he or she and other officers whom he or she can recognize as
    being in similar situations can meet the ethical problems which they have in common. Such
    workshops have often been extremely useful (p. 341).

    Leonard, V.A. (1980). Fundamentals of law enforcement: Problems and issues. West Publishing Co. St
    Paul, MN.

    Purchase the book:
    Kardasz, F. (2008). Ethics training for law enforcement: Practices and trends.
    Saarbrücken, Germany: VDM Verlag.
    ISBN: 3639001567. ISBN-13: 9783639001563.
    Available from http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/3639001567/

Revised 061811

Ethics Training for Law Enforcement