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Ethical formalism 

You are a rookie police officer on your first patrol. The older, experienced officer tells you that the restaurant on the corner likes to have you guys around, so it gives free meals. Your partner orders steak, potatoes, and all the trimmings. What are you going to do? What if it were just coffee at a convenience store? What if the owner refused to take your money at the cash register?

Example of Analysis:

Moral Judgment: Depends on the department’s rule book (often rule books specifically exclude coffee from prohibition).

The analysis will assume there is a policy prohibiting gratuities.

Moral Rules: Follow the law (and rules of one’s organization). Don’t use people or one’s profession for inappropriate personal gain. Don’t take something for nothing.

Ethical system: Ethical formalism would base the decision on duty. One’s duty is to follow the rules. Also, the second part of the categorical imperative states, treat each person as a means and not as an end. The moral rules are consistent with ethical formalism.

Utilitarianism would also condemn the practice of ignoring organizational rules. Even though it might result in a net utility for the officers and for the business owners, the department suffers from the hypocrisy and the community suffers from (perhaps) unequal patrol coverage and a lowered perception of police.

The situation is complex because it seems so innocuous and the officer who refuses to take gratuities looks like a jerk. Officers might deal with the situation in various ways—some leave a tip equal to the price of the meal; some send the money to the restaurant after the fact. Dealing with the partner is a different problem: some officers take their lunch with them to avoid the situation; some make it clear before the situation that they don’t accept free lunches and deal with the partner’s reaction. Classroom discussions are most interesting when there are police officers and restaurant workers in the same class. In this situation, each is able to hear the other’s perspective in the neutral setting. 


300 WORD 


Author: Joycelyn M. Pollock

Title: Ethical Dilemmas and Decisions in Criminal Justice, 10th Edition

Publisher: Cengage

Criminal Justice Tenth Edition

Chapter 7 Police Corruption

and Responses

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

Learning Objectives

1. Provide examples of two types of police misconduct:

economic corruption and abuse of authority.

2. Describe individual explanations of corruption and

potential solutions.

3. Explain organizational explanations of corruption and

potential solutions.

4. Describe societal explanations of corruption and

potential solutions.

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

Economic Corruption (1 of 2)

• Officers using their position to acquire unfair benefits

• 1973 Knapp Commission—New York City Police

Department corruption

• Includes:

– Gratuities

– Kickbacks

– Overtime schemes

– Misuse of dept. property

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

Economic Corruption (2 of 2)

– Payoffs

– Ticket “fixing”

– Bribery/extortion

– Theft

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.


• Items of value given because of role or position, rather

than personal relationship.

• A gift is personal and has no strings attached.

• Common police gratuities include:

– Free coffee

– Discounted or free meals

– Half-price dry cleaning

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.


• Graft refers to any exploitation of one’s role, such as

accepting bribes or protection money.

– Examples include taking bribes for changing testimony

or “forgetting,” looking the other way when discovering

an illegal act, or taking kickbacks from a lawyer or tow

truck company for sending them business.

• Officers in the United States rated bribery as the

second most serious offense. Only theft from a crime

scene was rated as more serious.

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

Abuse of Authority

• Physical abuse

• Psychological abuse

• Legal abuse

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

Professional Courtesy and Ticket-Fixing

• The practice of not ticketing an officer who is stopped

for speeding or for other driving violations

• Justifications for not ticketing other officers are diverse

and creative

• Professional courtesy tends to bleed over into other

forms of misconduct

• More serious than not ticketing, is “fixing” a ticket that

has already been written.

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

On-Duty Use of Drugs and Alcohol

• Police work factors that foster drug use:

– Exposure to a criminal element

– Relative freedom from supervision

– Uncontrolled availability of contraband

• Drinking on duty:

– Creates less vulnerability to corruption than drug use

– Creates an ethical dilemma for other officers

– May lead other officers to isolate themselves from or

avoid working with those who drink

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

Sexual Misconduct (1 of 2)

Kraska and Kappeler continuum:

• Viewing a victim’s photos/videos for prurient purposes

• Field or custodial strip searches

• Illegal detentions

• Deception to gain sex

• Services for sex

• Sexual assault

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

Sexual Misconduct (2 of 2)

• Sapp’s inventory of sexual misconduct:

• Nonsexual contacts that are sexually motivated

• Voyeurism

• Inappropriate contact with crime victims

• Sexual demands of suspects or offenders

• Prostitutes, homeless, and minority women are

extremely vulnerable to sexual extortion by police


© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

Criminal Cops

• “Miami River Rats”

• “Buddy boys” (NYC)

• Michael Dowd

• Rampart scandal

• Additional scandals in Indianapolis, New Orleands,

Boston, and Philadelphia

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

Costs of Corruption

• The costs to communities are considerable.

• Many cities and police departments have also faced

large judgments or agreed to large settlements.

• No evidence to indicate lawsuits are a deterrent to

errant police officers.

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

Individual Explanations (1 of 3)

• Individual:

– “Rotten-apple” argument (Officer was deviant before


– Development of a police personality (Officer became

deviant after hiring)

• Possible predictors: gender, age, education, race,

military experience, academy performance, and prior

history of wrongdoing

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

Individual Explanations (2 of 3)

• College-educated officers were less likely to be terminated.

• Women were more likely than male officers to be terminated

during their probation.

• Younger officers (those under 22 years of age when

appointed) were more likely to be terminated during


• Blacks (but not other minorities) were more likely to be


• Those who had prior negative employment histories,

dishonorable discharges, and/or did poorly in the academy

were more likely to be terminated for misconduct.

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

Individual Explanations (3 of 3)

• Factors involved in developing PTSD symptoms include:

– Witnessing the death of a friend or partner

– Accidentally killing or wounding a bystander

– Failing to stop a perpetrator

– Killing or wounding a child or teenager

– Viewing the body of a child victim

– Interacting with grieving family

– Feeling caught in a violent riot

– Viewing bloody or gruesome scenes

– Observing an event involving violence or murder

– Being undercover and constantly “on guard”

– Being threatened by suspects

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

Organizational Explanations

• Small work groups

• Perverse incentives

• Organizational culture

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

Societal Explanations

• If the public does not comply with the law, officers may

rationalize non-enforcement of the law.

• If the public engages in illegal activities, officers may

feel justified in doing the same.

• If the public believes crime control is more important

than due process, police will act on that message.

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

Reducing Police Corruption (1 of 2)

• Increase pay

• Eliminate unenforceable laws

• Establish civilian review boards

• Improve training

• Set realistic goals

• Provide ethical leadership

• Perform audits

• Have financial disclosure rules

• Provide written code of ethics

• Provide whistleblowing procedure

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

Reducing Police Corruption (2 of 2)

• Improve internal affairs

• Rotate staff in some positions

• Better evidence handling procedures

• Early warning systems

• Use video cameras in patrol cars

• Use covert high-tech surveillance

• Targeted/randomized integrity testing

• Conduct surveys of police and public

• Decriminalize vice crimes

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

“Rotten Apple” Responses (1 of 6)

Improving screening:

• Background checks, interviews, credit checks,

polygraphs, drug tests

• The most common pre-employment screening tool is

the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory

• The so-called “Big Five” (extroversion, neuroticism,

agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness)

• Conscientiousness seems to be the most relevant to

job performance.

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

“Rotten Apple” Responses (2 of 6)

Education and training:

• Higher formal education standards are not, themselves,

the key to ethical behavior.

• Academy and in-service ethics training are common and

recommended for all departments.

• Many courses use a moral reasoning approach.

• Some advocate an emphasis on character.

• Others recommend case studies.

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

“Rotten Apple” Responses (3 of 6)

Integrity testing

• Very controversial

• Not well-received by most officers

• Comparing integrity testing to undercover operations

reveals that:

– Most officers oppose integrity testing

– Most officers support undercover operations

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

“Rotten Apple” Responses (4 of 6)

Early Warning or Audit Systems

• Look at number of complaints, use-of-force reports,

use-of-weapon reports, reprimands, or other indicators

to identify officers.

• Intervention may include more supervision, additional

training, counseling, reassignment, transfer, referral to

an employee assistance program, fitness for duty

evaluation, and/or dismissal.

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

“Rotten Apple” Responses (5 of 6)

Body cameras

• Powerful tool to support citizens who allege brutality

• Officers can turn off the camera when they want

• Cost of the cameras and storing the unimaginable

amount of video make widespread use unfeasible

• Invasion of privacy with such cameras

• Rules regarding whether and when police officers

should turn off the cameras is being worked out

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

“Rotten Apple” Responses (6 of 6)

Public Databases of “Bad” Cops

• As a result of many people not trusting police

departments to root out individuals who should not

have the power and authority inherent in the position,

individuals and groups have constructed databases of

wrongful actions.

• Police argue instances of serious wrongdoing are rare

and problem officers who have a pattern of wrongdoing

are rarer still.

• Such efforts are designed to bring light to the subject of

police misconduct.

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

“Rotten Barrel” Responses

• Internal affairs model, civil service, and arbitration

• Civilian review/complaint boards

• Changing the culture

• Ethical leadership

• Societal Responses

• Consent Decrees

• Other Societal Responses

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

Consent Decrees (1 of 2)

• Civil rights cases against police officers are rare.

Prosecutors must be able to show that police officers

had a clear intent to violate constitutional rights.

• Consent decrees are mandated reforms, approved by

a federal judge, with a court-appointed monitor to

oversee progress.

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

Consent Decrees (2 of 2)

• The most common targets for change involve policies

concerning use of force, citizen complaint procedures,

in-car video use, racial profiling, data collection, early

warning systems, and expanded training.

• The major complaint that police and city officials have

against DOJ investigations that end in consent decrees

is that they are extremely expensive.

© 2019 Cengage. All rights reserved.

Discussion Questions

• Is it ever acceptable to take gratuities? What about

coffee at a gas station that is free to anyone who

purchases fuel? Would it be wrong for a law

enforcement officer to take the coffee if he or she

purchased fuel?

• Does this police officer deserve to have the charges

dropped in this case? Why or why not?



• If you were pulled over in your car and smelled alcohol

on the officer’s breath, what would you do?

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