The Issues of Police Misconduct

Police Misconduct Concept

The police are a powerful legal and social institute which consists of a complex system of responsibilities, duties, and goals for each worker in the field. It is based on such principles as openness, credibility, responsiveness, justice, and legality. However, these major pillars might be violated and entirely ignored by a police officer. Police misconduct refers to illegal actions conducted by a police officer in terms of their formal responsibilities. It is a broad definition which unites corruption, police brutality, abuse of power, off-duty illegal activity, sexual misconduct, use of excessive force, and other violations of national and international regulations. It is a serious issue as innocent people might be arrested, searched without any warrants, and even imprisoned or murdered due to illicit police activity.

As a matter of fact, police misconduct is nothing new, as it has existed since the implementation of law enforcement. However, over the last years, the rates of police misconduct have grown, especially, in terms of physical and mental abuse (Hales, May, Belur, & Hough, 2015). One of the primary reasons for police misconduct is a personality of the police officer. Not everyone can become an on-duty representative of law enforcement as there are strict requirements to each position. However, police misconduct typically correlates with the personal traits of the officer, in particular, one’s worldview, a set of values, and life experience (Holmes, 2016). Ideally, the police officer has to show confidence, high moral standards, social responsibility, and compassion. Nonetheless, the personality of a person behind the uniform can be completely different.

A lack of sympathy, greed, dishonesty, and selfishness are present among police officers who are responsible for police misconduct. It is not a secret that police officers possess a lot of legal power, compared to a status of an ordinary citizen in order to maintain law and order (Holmes, 2016). One of the examples is the use of deadly force and a powerful position which might result in deaths or arrests of innocent people in order to obtain a specific benefit. Behind police misconduct, there is always some goal and positive outcomes for the officer. The motives can be personal or professional. However, the position one is in gets misused, and the legal tools the police officers have can be turned against innocent people. Many police misconducts which are based on personal traits are connected to off-duty illegal behavior.

Reasons for Misconduct

Apart from personality traits, one of the reasons for misconduct can be a lack of proper education. As stated above, a role of the police officer requires a set of skills and knowledge because not everyone can or should be the officer. To become the officer, students have to graduate from a police academy, where they complete multiple complex courses, which educate the future professional (Holmes, 2016). Education also forms the main principles for the officer such as to serve and protect the public. However, in some instances, education or the student can fail. There might be mistakes or wrong values which are promoted in the academy. In their turn, incorrect information can damage the perception of the future officer and force one to use police tools in an illegal way.

The most destructive cause of police misconduct is an unhealthy environment in the workplace. In the case of big cities like New York or Los Angeles, it is difficult to cover the conspiracy or even a criminal organization in which officers are involved, as well as involvement in illegal activities (Obasogie & Newman, 2017). It is all because of public and media attention to the big cities. In small towns, the police departments can be involved in criminal activity entirely, as there are no services or institutions which can monitor their performance, activity, and rates closely. Therefore, an honest police officer who works in such departments has a high probability of becoming corrupt, especially when it comes to a newly graduated officer. In other words, it is tough for the officers to resist the atmosphere at work.

Some of the officers might be forced into police misconduct and other illegal activity as the only option to avoid firing. With a wide range of legal tools and possibilities, police officers can cover the evidence, their misconduct and abuse of power for years. Therefore, it creates a severe problem for new offices who are honest but encounter a dishonest team of the colleagues. It might actually force people to reconsider their values in life so that they can accept the horrific truth and police misconduct as a viable option. The environment for the officers is vital for a successful career; hence, it plays one of the major roles in the development of police misconduct and tolerance to illegal activity.

Furthermore, there might be certain issues regarding professional deformation and moral burnout among police officers. Professional deformation changes personal worldview and life significantly. For example, the police officers who have faced armed resistance or shootouts typically show more aggression in the similar encounters in the future because officers will try to avoid the same situation at any cost. The majority of time officers spend with criminals at work. Surely, there might be some atrocities and highly stressful factors which might alter moral values of the individual. As a result of such close connection to the criminal world, many officers get involved in the criminal activity themselves. Therefore, there are various reasons for police misconduct; however, there is a mechanism which prevents it.

To prevent police misconduct, there is police accountability. It is a method by which the police officer is legally obliged to deliver services aimed at crime prevention and control, conditions under which the legal tools are used, and main responsibilities of the officer (“Effectiveness of police accountability mechanisms,” 2016). The police accountability is a set of measures which prevent the officer from police misconduct; however, it is not a guarantee that the officer will not commit a crime. It exists to minimize the human factor and mistakes of the system which has to protect innocent people from abuse of power by the police officer (Farnall, 2014). Nonetheless, every western country utilizes more or less similar systems of legal regulations as the police accountability.

Methods for Solving the Problem

One of the common tools is a system of checks and balances, where the executive branch cannot be completely independent of legislative and judiciary ones. In other words, the police officer cannot fulfill their duties without a legal basis. For every action of the police officer, there is a specific law or other regulations which defines the extent of power and circumstances when it can or must be used. For example, the police officers cannot search an individual’s home without permission or a warrant. The police officers cannot use deadly force without a direct threat to the lives of officers or other citizens (Holmes, 2016). In other words, legislative and judiciary branches create frames within which the police can operate.

A relatively modern method to increase police accountability is modern technologies such as a body camera, an audio recorder, and a GPS tracker. Many countries across the world utilize these gadgets and devices to capture and record the activity of the police officer who is on duty (Holmes, 2016). It provides an objective perspective on the decisions and actions of the police officer. One cannot turn them off and is legally forced to use them during the entire shift. It helps to stop the illegal activity or evaluate the crime the officer committed. In addition, it is an effective way to determine who is a responsible professional. In recent years, the body cameras and cameras inside police vehicles have become a single source of important information about the incidents, involving police brutality.

In addition, citizens can file formal complains and lawsuits against police. Transparency, clarity, and justice are the core elements of any civilized government; hence, a democratic state guarantees protection of human rights (Desmond, Papachristos, & Kirk, 2016). Therefore, it is possible to file the complaint as a response to the actions of the police officers. In this case, typically internal investigation is conducted to determine all of the facts and events. The court provides the evaluation of whether there was police misconduct or not. In this case, the police officers actually consider the potential legal consequences for their illicit actions. There have been many loud and highly publicized cases of police brutality in the United States, involving murders of unarmed black teenagers (Kennedy & Hansford, 2016). It is a clear example that this tool works and the police officers who committed the crime will receive punishments equal to their actions.

There are also governmental officials such as an ombudsman or a specialized commission who monitor the state of human rights in the country and how law enforcement handles different situations (“Public awareness of police accountability,” 2015). In fact, some of the roots of police misconduct might be institutional and incorporated deeply within the police department. In order to find this issue, it is necessary to conduct complex analysis, reviews, and internal audits about the performance of the police officers, their statistics, social perception of the department, and its overall effectiveness as the police institution. However, this type of mechanism usually takes a lot of time and resources to reveal the issues since it is hard to find the truthful facts that are covered.

In order to increase the levels of integrity inside the police departments, there are several policies, one of which is accessibility to the department. The members of a community must have access to the police at any time despite their ethnical, religious, or gender background (“Improving police integrity,” 2014). Equal access guarantees equal rights among people. However, it does not mean only physical access to a building where the police department is located. It refers to overall access via a 911 call, email, or direct interaction with the police officer on the street. It also creates an agenda for the police department to be public about their actions, such as results of investigation, reports, press conferences, and other means of communication with the community.

The second policy refers to internal organizational strategy inside the law enforcement. To avoid negative environment, which provokes officers to commit crimes, it is necessary to treat all of the employees equally (Jannetta & Bieler, 2015). Every employee has to be valued; the organization has to show recognition and appreciation to the officer. Taking into account an extent of danger people encounter at work, it is essential to show gratitude in some way to every employee for one’s effort and dedication (“Police integrity,” 2016). In this case, the employee can value their status and position. Although it is a naïve policy, it has proven to be useful over the years.

However, it is also crucial for the department to address and consider both major and minor incidents, issues with discipline, and misconduct among police officers. The managers and supervisors can ignore minor incidents, especially when it relates to internal discipline (Ivković, Mraović, & Borovec, 2016). Nonetheless, it is a serious mistake to disregard such issues. The minor incidents can lead to bigger problems; hence, it is so important to stop the progression of a tendency toward criminal activity and punish the minor violations. At the same time, the punishment should be severe but equal to the damage done. It is a strong preventive and educational measure for all of the members of staff, as it serves as an example of an incorrect type of behavior and police misconduct.


In conclusion, police misconduct is a severe violation of the law and standards of law enforcement. The roots of the issue can be related to personal traits, lack of proper education, and a toxic environment which provokes officers to act. However, there are legal measures which limit the freedom of the officer and create specific rules for the use of force and power to maintain order. Even though it is a common issue for many western countries, it is possible to minimize it by using transparency, non-discriminatory environment.


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LawBirdie. (2023) 'The Issues of Police Misconduct'. 23 March.


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LawBirdie. "The Issues of Police Misconduct." March 23, 2023.