Police misconduct

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Police misconduct refers to inappropriate or illegal actions taken by police officers in connection with their official duties. Police misconduct can lead to a miscarriage of justice and sometimes involves discrimination or obstruction of justice. In an effort to control police misconduct, there is an accelerating trend for civilian agencies to go beyond review to engage directly in investigations and to have much greater input into disciplinary decisions.[1] In addition, individuals and groups are now filming police in an effort to force police to become accountable for their actions and for their inactions. With the proliferation of mobile devices capable of recording alleged misconduct, police misconduct and abuse is now receiving publicity on social media and on websites including YouTube. In response, police often try to intimidate citizens to prevent them from using cameras. In other circumstances police will illegally seize or delete evidence recorded by citizens notwithstanding laws that make it a crime to destroy evidence of a crime being committed irrespective of whether the crime is committed by civilians or by the police.[2][3]

Types of misconduct include false confession, false arrest, false evidence, false imprisonment, intimidation, police brutality, police corruption, racial profiling, surveillance abuse, witness tampering, sexual misconduct,[4] and off-duty misconduct.[5] Others include:

  • Noble cause corruption, where the officer believes the good outcomes justify bad behavior[6]
  • Selective enforcement (knowledge and allowances of violations by friends, family and/or acquaintances unreported)
  • Abuses of power (using badge or other ID to gain entry into concerts, to get discounts, etc.)
  • Police perjury (blatant lying under oath and/or to other authorities to cover wrongdoing)
  • Influence of drugs and/or alcohol while on duty
  • Violations by officers of police procedural policies

Police officers share a 'code of silence' and do not turn each other in for misconduct. While some officers have called this code a myth,[7] a 2005 survey found evidence that it exists.[8]

Contributors and prediction

Misconduct has been shown to be related to personality and education, but it can also be significantly affected by the culture of the police agency.[9] Education can help predict misconduct, with better-educated officers receiving fewer complaints on average.[10]

Some analyses have found that changes in structural disadvantage, population mobility, and immigrant population have been associated with changes in police misconduct. Social disorganization may create a context for police misconduct because residents may not have in place the social networks necessary to organize against police malpractice.[11] The fact that most police officers enjoy broad discretion and minimal supervision has been cited as increasing opportunities for police misconduct.[12]

Video and audio recording

Many police cars are now equipped with recording systems, which can deter, document or rebut police misconduct during traffic stops. Usually, the recordings have rebutted claims of police misconduct according to a 2004 study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and Community Oriented Policing Service;[13] future innovations in recording equipment could allow an officer's entire workday to be recorded.[13] Some transparency advocates believe that such cameras should be installed in all police cruisers to ensure accountability.[14] Some police departments have experimented with Taser cameras that automatically begin recording when the Taser is deployed.[15] The Cato Institute recommends that police film all no-knock raids.[16]

Recording by witnesses have made a significant impact on the notability and handling of police incidence, such as the Rodney King beating.

Mobile devices

As digital recording technology usage has increased, especially using cell phones, there have been more cases of civilians capturing video of alleged police misconduct.[2][17] In response, U.S. law enforcement have begun using eavesdropping and wiretapping laws to charge civilians who record police without their knowledge. Some police organizations such as the Fraternal Order of Police support the prosecutions.[18] In Illinois, recording police without consent is a class 1 felony that can carry a prison term of 15 years.[19] In a May 2012 ruling, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the statute "likely violates the First Amendment’s free-speech and free-press guarantees."[20]

Most charges involving recording police are dropped or dismissed as courts have ruled on-duty cops in public have no reasonable expectation of privacy.[2] However, police "can use vaguer charges, such as interfering with a police officer, refusing to obey a lawful order, obstructing an arrest or police action, or disorderly conduct."[18] Arrests for these charges are more common, as are incidents of police illegally confiscating cameras, deleting evidence or misinforming citizens they cannot film. This evidence has played a key role in raising public awareness of police misconduct during and after an incident such as the BART Police shooting of Oscar Grant, Death of Ian Tomlinson, Robert Dziekański death and Death of Eric Garner.

Noted cases


In October 2007, there was an incident at Vancouver International Airport involving new Polish immigrant Robert Dziekański. Dziekański was tasered five times during the arrest, became unresponsive and died.[21] The incident was video recorded by a civilian who turned it over to police, then sued to get it back for release to news outlets.[3] The official inquiry found the RCMP were not justified deploying the taser and that the officers deliberately misrepresented their actions to investigators.[22] The incident affected taser use in Canada and relations with Poland.[23][24]

During the 2010 G-20 Toronto summit protests, police enacted regulations the Ombudsman found contributed to "massive violations of civil rights."[25] One regulation made the security zone public works and police interpreted this to permit them to arrest anyone not providing identification within five-metres of the temporary fence.[26] There were 1,118 arrests with 800 released without charge,[27][28] Police Chief Blair conceded later no five-metre rule existed in law[29] and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty was criticized for allowing this misinterpretion.[30] In September 2011, officers who removed their name tags during the G-20 protests were refused promotion.[31]

Security officers in Metrotown, Burnaby mall demanded pictures taken of an arrest be deleted from a teen's camera. This led to a verbal confrontation and the RCMP handcuffing the teen and cutting off his backpack to search it. While the mall supports its officers actions according to the teen's lawyer: "private mall security guards and police have no right to try to seize someone’s camera or demand that photos be deleted — even on private property."[32]


Wen Qiang a deputy police chief, along with family members, was arrested as part of a massive crackdown on corruption of the People's Armed Police and organized crime in Chongqing in late 2009. His crimes included bribes, rape and failing to account for assets; Wen was executed in July 2010.[33] The trials highlighted the continued use of torture by police to obtain confessions,[34] despite laws implemented in June 2010 excluding tortured confessions being used in trials.[35]


It is believed corruption among the Indian Police Service is pervasive and goes up to the top brass.[36] Reform has been made difficult with honest officers pressured by powerful local officials and suffer punitive transfers and threats while corrupt officers receive promotions.[37] A number of officers face charges in Central Bureau of Investigation cases.[38] Some of the past scandals include murder,[39] sexual harassment,[40] sex-on-tape scandal,[41] dowry harassment,[42] fraud[43] and fake killing encounter.[44]


Police misconduct has become an issue of high media attention in Norway. The death of Eugene Ejike Obiora, a naturalized Norwegian of Nigerian origin in September 2006 stirred an uproar that as of September 2007 has caused the authorities to announce significant changes to the way charges of police brutality and other forms of police misconduct, including corruption, involving the Norwegian police will be handled in the future. As a consequence of the Obiora case, training at the Norwegian Police Academy has undergone changes and national police director Ingelin Killengreen has instigated a thorough review of police methods in general.[45]

One officer employed in Oslo Police District was sentenced in 2006 to two years in prison for human trafficking, embezzlement of money and weapons, as well as theft of emergency passports.[46] Two cases were from Follo Police District.[47] One officer was accused of having felt up a number of women during interrogations. He was acquitted on almost all charges by the regional court. Another officer had been accused of abuse of power during an arrest. This case will be retried in the regional court by order of the Supreme Court after the acquittal was appealed. Another case involves a female officer from Telemark Police District who was issued a fine of 10.000 kroner and the loss of her employment for a period of five years for embezzlement and breach of confidentiality, among other issues.[48]

The most prominent case of intentional miscarriage of justice was against Fritz Moen,[49] several officers appear to have manipulated timelines, threatened the accused and witnesses and made false statements to close the case.

According to a 2012 official report, 18 police officers have lost their jobs as result of misconduct since 2005.[50]


The Ministry of Public Security (Poland) (MBP) was a Polish communist secret police service operating from 1945 to 1954 under Jakub Berman. The MBP carried out brutal pacification of civilians, mass arrests, makeshift executions such as the Mokotów Prison murder and 1946 public execution in Dębica, and secret assassinations.[51]

Individual law enforcement officers noted for torture and terror include Anatol Fejgin (1909–2002) and his deputy Józef Światło (1915–94), in charge of the MBP's notorious Special Bureau; Salomon Morel (1919–2007), commander of the Zgoda labour camp; Stanisław Radkiewicz (1903–87), head of the MBP's Department of Security (UB) 1944–54; and Józef Różański (1907–1981), colonel in the MBP.

After the fall of communism the instances of police brutality are still noted in relation to policing sports matches, mostly football; the 1998 Słupsk riots and 2015 Knurów riots were the result of the killing a fan by the police each time.


Police corruption and brutality is rampant in Russia as it is common for officers to be hired as private security on the side by businessman and Russian mafia.[52] This leads to conflicts of interest as business and political rivals are jailed with selective enforcement of laws and trumped-up charges, or kidnapped for ransom. These tactics are believed to have been used against billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky to "weaken an outspoken political opponent, to intimidate other wealthy individuals and to regain control of strategic economic assets."[53] Meanwhile, bureaucrats who are found guilty of significant crimes get away with light sentences.[52] Intimidation and violence against journalists and whistle blowers is high as Russia remains one of the worst countries at solving their murders.[54] It is widely believed the Federal Security Service (successor to the KGB) remain in control using the police as foot soldiers, and are unaccountable with connections to organized crime and the Russian leadership.[52]

South Africa

At least 18 killed as South African police open fire on 3000 striking miners, in Rustenburg, 100 km northwest of Johannesburg, on 16 August 2012. The police were armed with automatic rifles and pistols. Workers at a Lonmin PLC, a platinum mine, were asking better wages. A nationalization debate in the country has called into question future ownership of the biggest mines.[55][56][57][58]

United States

The Chicago Police Department in August 1968 initiated a "police riot" according to the Walker Report which gathered testimony on the violence surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention and Anti-Vietnam War protests.[59] Years later, the Chicago Police Department would deal with even more scandal involving the now infamous crooked cop Lt. Jon Burge and the torture cases that came out of his district. The New York Police Department (NYPD) had a prominent case of two detectives working for the mafia during the 1980s. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in the late 1990s had a large incident of misconduct with the Rampart scandal implicating 70 officers of an anti-gang unit called C.R.A.S.H.. This resulted $125-million in lawsuit settlement payouts, dissolving of the unit and the LAPD entering into a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice on comprehensive reforms.

During the 1990s the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) also came under the scrutiny of the Justice Department when a series of crimes, including murders, by officers prompted attempts at reform by then Police Chief Richard Pennington. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina there was a spike in allegations of misconduct and in March 2011 the Justice Department published a 158-page report that found "systemic violations of civil rights" by a NOPD that routinely failed to discipline officers involved.[60] Six cases stemming from Katrina have been investigated and followed closely by ProPublica,[61] one is the Danziger Bridge shootings that resulted in two civilian deaths and four wounded. In August 2011, four officers were convicted of unlawfully firing on citizens then trying to cover it up with the assistance of a fifth investigating officer.[62]

In 2006, two NYPD officers were convicted of protecting a brothel. In 2008, several cases of police misconduct in the U.S. were uncovered through surveillance tapes. These include one case where an officer's testimony contradicted the tape, and another tape where police officer Patrick Pogan charged a bicyclist with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest and the tape showed that an officer had knocked him off his bicycle. Two undercover cops were indicted on lying about a drug bust, and charges of assault were dropped against a truck driver when the video showed the police beating him; another case showed a man accused of resisting arrest being beaten.[63]

In a number of jurisdictions, police officers have been accused of ticket fixing.[64]

Police lying under oath, particularly in drug crimes, is allegedly commonplace in certain areas; some federal grant programs such as Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program are tied to numbers, and police officers may also feel pressured to prove their productivity.[65]

The New York State Police Troop C scandal involved the fabrication of evidence used to convict suspects in New York by the New York State Police.[66]

Police complaint process

United States

In the United States, a person can submit a written, or in some jurisdictions a verbal, complaint to the administration of a law enforcement agency against an employee. There are 4 outcomes that can result from the findings of the administration.


The misconduct allegation was proven to be true.

Unsubstantiated/Not Substantiated/Not Sustained

The misconduct allegation could not be proven nor disproven. This finding is in favor of the employee and usually no disciplinary action is taken.


The facts alleged in the complaint did in fact happen, but the employee was found to have acted lawfully and no law or policy was broken.


The facts as alleged were found to be false. A charge of filing a false police report or perjury may be filed and prosecuted if this was found to be knowing or intentional.


Metropolitan police

Hong Kong and New York City, which both have had issues with police misconduct and corruption, have approached the problem in different ways. For corruption, Hong Kong created an external agency which actually investigates corruption while New York reviews corruption through an internal department, although the information is reported to a monitoring commission. New York also uses "integrity checks" in which an officer's integrity is tested through an opportunity for corruption. For misconduct, Hong Kong reviews complaints internally with a monitoring commission while New York has created the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board (NYCCCRB) which investigates and makes a formal recommendation to the commissioner.[67]


The Special Unit for Police Affairs (SUPA) was established on 1 January 2005. In 2006 the unit received 904 complaints, of which 101 led to indictment. Of these 26 ended with the issuance of a fine, 8 cases criminal charges were brought, 64 went to trial, and 3 cases were given "påtaleunnlatelse" (no charges despite misconduct likely took place). Four police officers alone were responsible for 63 of the 101 cases. In September 2007, Jan Egil Presthus director of SUPA stated to the Oslo newspaper Dagsavisen that investigations of police conduct involving death are going to be posted on the Internet. He states that total openness will strengthen the publics confidence in the unit's integrity and impartially. This came following Dagsavisen in June 2007 publishing an overview of police cases with a deadly outcome. The article showed that in the ten most serious cases after the establishment of the SUPA all charges against the police were eventually dropped.

A buzzing media discourse focusing on deaths incurred during police arrests and transports continued in Norway throughout 2007, and Presthus counts this as one factor triggering the initiative to publish ongoing investigations on the Internet. The cases will be presented on the web pages of SUPA, and they will be presented in a way that preserves the anonymity of officers and other parties involved where deemed necessary.[68]

United States

The U.S. government does not regularly collect data on police misconduct. One attempt to track misconduct is the Cato Institute's National Police Misconduct Reporting Project, which estimates misconduct rates using newspaper reports.[69] The project's data suggest that police are more likely than the average person to commit a number of crimes including assault, sexual assault, and murder, but less likely to commit robbery.[70] The NPMSRP projects that roughly 1 in 4.7 officers will be implicated in an act of misconduct during the course of their career.[71] In the United States, the exclusionary rule means that evidence gathered through misconduct is sometimes inadmissible in court.

The Black Panther Party sought to oppose police brutality through neighborhood patrols. Police officers were often followed by armed Black Panthers, who at times came to aid African-Americans who were victims of brutality and racial prejudice. Groups like Copwatch continue to use the patrol method in communities, often using video cameras to document them.[72]

In a 2004 United States survey of the public's view on accountability in reforming police, most members of the public wanted an "early warning system" that flags officers who have received many complaints, video cameras on police cars, detailed records of police stops, and citizen review boards.[73] Citizen review of police has been an issue, with law enforcement concerned that citizens reviewing their actions do not understand the procedures they operate by and the citizen review board advocates arguing that the law enforcement "code of silence" requires that they have input into the disciplinary action. As of 2003, three-fourths of the United States' largest cities had citizen review boards.[74] Early warning systems are procedures designed to identify and address issues of problem officers, as around 10% of officers are theorized to cause 90% of the problems. Early warning systems were recommended by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 1981, and by 1999 an estimated 27% of police agencies serving populations of over 50,000 people had implemented these programs. The systems collect data such as complaints, which triggers an intervention at a certain point. After the intervention, the officer is monitored as a follow-up.[9]

It is sometimes argued that civil liability can create new deterrents to police misconduct.[75] Civilian police commissioners and citizen review boards have been cited as institutions that can help reduce police misconduct.[76] There is some variation as to how much access the civilian reviewers are given to internal police documents and personnel files.[77] Decertification of police has been cited as another possible remedy.[78] Surveys suggest that officers are aware of the detrimental impacts of police misconduct and hold strong opinions as to what strategies are preferable.[79] The exclusionary rule has been one classic deterrent to obtaining evidence through police misconduct, but it is proposed that it be replaced with restitution to victims of misconduct.[80]

See also



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Further reading

  • Balko, Radley (2006). Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America. Cato Institute. ISBN N/A.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Chevigny, Paul (1998). Edge of the Knife: Police Violence in the Americas. The New Press. ISBN 1-56584-183-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Cea, Robert (2005). The No Lights, No Sirens: The Corruption and Redemption of an Inner City Cop. Harper Collins. ISBN 0-06-058712-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Copperfield, David (2006). Wasting Police Time: The Crazy World of the War on Crime. Monday Books. ISBN 0-9552854-1-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Palmiotto, Michael J. (2001). Police Misconduct: A Reader for the 21st Century. Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-025604-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Krupanski, Marc (2012). Policing the Police: Civilian Video Monitoring of Police Activity. The Global Journal.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links