Friday, April 13, 2012

Can Future Officer Misconduct Be Predicted?: A 30 Study of the NYPD and Officers Released for Misconduct

The New York City Police Department (NYPD) is one of the biggest police departments in the world. It is also one of the most diversified departments in the world, which makes the department a perfect candidate for a study on misconduct. As with all departments, there is a certain level of misconduct that takes place from time to time. When an officer takes part in misconduct worthy of separation, they are removed from duty and forced to resign. This study attempts to prove there are several factors that emerge as significant predictors of misconduct, including: officer race, minimal education, records of prior criminality and prior poor employment, failure to advance in the NYPD, and histories of citizens complaints (Kane & White, 2009).

Early in the study, non-whites were far more likely to be released for misconduct than white officers. This may have been because non-whites were more closely supervised earlier in the time frame studied. This was described as “tokenism” or treating new groups with suspicion and high degrees of skepticism about their ability to perform (minor acts were seen as symptoms of more serious problems). Throughout the study period, the number of Hispanics and Asian officers released went down, while black officers’ rate also decreased, but remained much higher than the other groups. Black officer hiring rates seemed to grow more slowly than Asian and Hispanic hiring rates during this time frame. This trend suggests that as the NYPD becomes more diverse and more closely representative of the population it serves, it will become better behaved (Kane & White, 2009).
Kane and White (2009), Kappeler et al., (1994), and Seron et al., (2004) all agree that an important factor linked to police misconduct is education. The results of this study clearly indicate that, at least in the NYPD, officers with Associate or Bachelor degrees were less likely to be separated for misconduct as compared with less educated officers. Also, those who did well in the academy and in training are less likely to be separated than those who did poorly early on in police training.
23.3% of the officers dismissed had been arrested prior to employment with the NYPD. 15.3% had received negative feedback from a former employer in the past. These numbers indicate a significant correlation between prior criminality and prior poor employment performance to future misconduct as a police officer. Also significant in mentioning is the fact that only 3.2% of the officers separated for misconduct were at the rank of sergeant or above at the time of their reported behavior. This indicates that those that are promoted in the NYPD are far less likely to engage in separable misconduct. The last piece of evidence that there are predictors of misconduct in an officer’s background is a history of complaints. A staggering 59.8% of those separated had a history of citizen complaints against them at the time of their dismissal (Kane & White, 2009). Seron et al., (2004) state that officers’ negative attitudes when engaging with compliant civilians are the biggest factors in complaints being filed. Also, some complaints are filed just because a citizen did not like the fact that the officer was writing them a ticket.
The main flaw with this study is that it is precinct-specific and does not give an accurate portrayal of all police departments in the United States. The fact that all of the officers in the study are from the NYPD shows bias on the outcomes of the study, but does pave the way for a nationwide study on the correlation between officers’ backgrounds and separable misconduct. Another flaw in this study was brought up by Giannetti Jr. (2003), stating that in the case of misconduct, most officers will never be disciplined because the act either goes unreported or there is not enough evidence to support the claim of misconduct. He also states that most police officers would never testify of another officer’s wrongdoing because of a code of honor that they share. For this reason, not all of the officers who committed offenses worthy of separation were actually caught, so the data does not account for all police misconduct. 
In conclusion, the findings here confirm that officers that entered the police service with no post-secondary education, officers that had records of prior criminality and prior employment disciplinary action, officers that did not advance in their police organization, officers that worked in busy patrol assignments, or officers that accumulated histories of complaints were more likely than others to have ended their careers in involuntary separation. Relatively well-educated officers, officers with minimal or no criminal histories, and officers that advanced through departmental ranks were much less likely to engage in career-ending misconduct.

Giannetti Jr., W. J. (2003). Handling dirty laundry. Criminal Justice Ethics, 43-50.

Kane, R. J., & White, M. D. (2009). Bad cops. Criminology & Public Policy, 8(4), 737-769.

Kappeler, V. E., Sapp, A. D., & Carter, D. L. (1992). Police officer higher education, citizen complaints and departmental rule violations. American Journal of Police, 11(2), 37-54.

Seron, C., Pereira, J., & Kovath, J. (2004). Judging police misconduct: “Street-Level” versus professional policing. Law & Society Review, 38(4), 665-710.

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