Chief officer misconduct in policing: an exploratory study

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Hales, Gavin ; May, Tiggey ; Belur, J. ; Hough, Mike (2015)
  • Publisher: College of Policing
  • Subject: law

Key findings\ud This study has examined cases of alleged misconduct involving chief police officers and staff.\ud The aim was to describe the nature of cases that have come to light, examine the perceived\ud pathways that led to misconduct, and suggest ways of mitigating the risks of misconduct. The\ud study is based on interviews with key stakeholders and with investigating officers in chief\ud officer misconduct cases since April 2008. These cases involved only a small minority of chief\ud officers over the time-period in question.\ud What sorts of cases have come to light since 2008?\ud  Cases involving chief officer misconduct fell into two broad categories: those associated\ud with professional decision-making, and those related to interpersonal conduct.\ud  Cases involving professional decision-making included: abuses of due process and other\ud forms of misrepresentation; suppression of information and dishonesty; abuses of force\ud procedures relating to recruitment and procurement; material/financial misconduct; and\ud other forms of professional misjudgement.\ud  Cases involving interpersonal conduct included: bullying; expressions of racist or sexist\ud prejudice; and sexual misconduct.\ud  In around a third of cases, no misconduct was found, reflecting levels of chief officer\ud exposure to scrutiny, vexatious or unfounded allegations, and the collective responsibility\ud they carry for their police force.\ud What are the routes into misconduct?\ud  The ‘ethical climate’ of a police force is a key determinant of chief officer misconduct.\ud Ethical climate is shaped by leadership styles, the organisational ethos, training and\ud selection procedures, styles of performance management, and wider social norms.\ud  Behaviour is shaped by individual vulnerabilities, including absence of ethical or emotional\ud support, lack of challenge, exposure to corrupting influences, and cognitive failures in\ud decision-making.\ud  In a number of cases those involved in misconduct believed that their role as leaders\ud excepted themselves from organisational rules and regulations; this cognitive failure\ud explains why, in several cases, those involved refused to accept that they had done\ud anything wrong.\ud How can the risks of chief officer misconduct be mitigated?\ud  Ethical standards will improve with greater openness of debate on police ethics. Publication\ud of the Code of Ethics (College of Policing 2014a) may help achieve this.\ud  There are differences between forces, and regulatory and oversight bodies about ethical\ud standards and the thresholds between acceptable conduct, misconduct and gross\ud misconduct, and how they are investigated. A key task is in creating a greater consensus\ud on these issues, which requires open debate.\ud  Police organisational responses should be commensurate with proportionality and public\ud interest; both of which have implications for the costs involved.\ud  Chief officers need to recognise the specific risks of cognitive failure that organisational\ud leaders face, and the temptations of excepting themselves from rules and norms.\ud  It is important to encourage an organisational ethos in which leaders can be challenged,\ud and in which leaders are given the right sort of support when faced with ethical challenges.\ud  There needs to be more recognition of the impact of selection and training processes, and\ud of performance management systems, on the ethical climate of police organisations.\ud  It was clear that across chief officer ranks as a whole the appetite is very much for\ud change. Indeed, it was clear that the very change interviewees spoke of had already\ud started to embed itself among many chief officer teams around the country.
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