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Police Integrity and How to Improve It

Date Published
June 26, 2016

A police force with integrity is one with little or no misconduct or corruption. In the past, most studies viewed the problem of misconduct as one of individual problem officers, the so-called bad apples on the force. More recent studies show that whites generally see misconduct as episodic and confined to individual officers, while blacks tend to see misconduct as a more entrenched aspect of policing.[1]

Management and Culture Affect Integrity

Current research finds that the management and culture of a department are the most important factors influencing police behavior.[2] How the department is managed will dramatically affect how officers behave toward citizens. And how officers behave toward citizens will affect whether citizens view law enforcement as an institution with integrity.

Organizations that place priorities in the following areas will do better at maintaining integrity [3]:

  • Accountability of managers and supervisors
  • Equal treatment for all members of the organization
  • Citizen accessibility to the department
  • Inspections and audits
  • Quality education for employees

Defining values and principles and incorporating them into every facet of operations may be more important than hiring decisions. Diligence in detecting and addressing misconduct will show officers that managers practice what they preach.

How to Improve Integrity

Findings from a study of 3,235 officers from 30 mostly municipal law enforcement agencies reveal the following recommendations for police managers[4]:

  • Address and discipline minor offenses so officers learn that major offenses will be disciplined too.
  • Open the disciplinary process to public scrutiny.
  • Rotate officer assignments to discourage the formation of bonds that lead officers to cover up the misconduct of others.

Many departments are improving integrity and raising the standards for officers by taking the following steps:

  • Improving the way they hire and train officers in ethics and cultural awareness.
  • Collecting data to track traffic stops and other encounters with citizens.
  • Soliciting community input through citizen review boards, ombudsmen or community problem-solving initiatives.

Learn more from Enhancing Police Integrity (pdf, 16 pages) by Carl B. Klockers et al. 2005.

Learn more from Principles for Promoting Police Integrity (pdf, 45 pages) a report from the U.S. Department of Justice, 2001.

Date Published: June 26, 2016