Deviant behavior denotes actions that violate the socially acceptable norms in a particular society. It is from this foundation, indeed, that society and organization’s policies, laws and practices hinge on. Policies and laws are formulated to codify various acts of deviant behavior. Among the law enforcement agencies such as the police, deviant behavior will include acts that fall short of the policies set or those which go against the set norms. The police force, being a criminal justice agency, has laid down code of ethics and standards that must be followed by its members. Any act done outside these standards amounts to deviance. The police force has experienced deviant acts by some of its members which include alcohol and drug abuse, sexual misconduct, corruption, discrimination, intimidation, brutality, use of restricted weapons, illegal surveillance, insubordination and neglect of duty. I shall discuss some of the deviant acts that are most prevalent in the law enforcement agency and explore their impact.
Alcohol and drug abuse
Alcohol abuse and dependency on drugs has been a problem that has pervaded and persisted in the profession for far too long. This phenomenon is mainly attributable to the repeated exposure to stressful tasks caused by frustration, depression and anger and as such it comes as a suppressing mechanism. In fact, this problem appears to have been accepted as a way of life. The experiences of police officers where they are frequently exposed to suicide, domestic violence, trauma and mental health enervate even the most emotionally stable individuals causing them to resort to alcohol. Alcohol abuse has been particularly abused since it is legalized and it in most cases acts as a route of venting out the stress. However, overindulgence in alcohol frequently occurs and this has negative effects on their work and personal life. Some of the problems that this abuse causes on the job include suspension, absenteeism and indiscipline. Similarly, alcohol abuse leads to relationship issues, substance abuse and brawl among the police officers. Alcohol consumption over a long time begins as alcohol abuse and consequently progresses to alcohol dependency. Alcohol dependency manifests itself in hangovers, absenteeism, relationship discord, domestic violence and suicide. This situation usually happens because most of the police officers are reluctant to seek help for fear of appearing weak or vulnerable amongst peers. Alcohol dependency can also be identified when there arises need to increase the amount of alcohol consumption to achieve intoxication or a diminishing effect as a person continues to indulge in alcohol uptake. This could also be marked by the need for more or less alcohol to withdraw symptoms of the same abuse. A person who has reached this level of dependency may try unsuccessfully to control their alcohol use, may spend most of their time obtaining alcohol and forego a number of social, occupational and recreational activities as a result. Law enforcement officers benefit from training on the inherent dangers of excessive alcohol and drug abuse. This problem amongst the police officers can be reduced through awareness programs that aim at enabling the officers to acknowledge the problem and consequently commit to tackle it.
Corruption, also known as graft embodies intentional violation of accepted norms by public officers for personal material gain. Corruption subsumes a number of practices such as theft, embezzlement, smuggling contraband and misuse of authority. Police corruption involves all criminal acts committed in one’s job with the aim of benefiting the officer in question nor another third party. In most of the cases, confusion usually arises between corruption proper, and solicitation and taking of gratuities. A gratuity is something, usually of little value, offered to a police officer as a token of appreciation for non-enforcement of sanctions of the law against the offeror. It is worth noting that the practice of soliciting and acceptance of gratuities is prevalent in many police departments and is in most instances ignored. Gratuities pose both positive and negative effects in the conduct of public affairs and more so, that of the police. On a positive note, business owners who offer such gratuities feel satisfied that they will be protected whenever they notice police presence.
They deem such offers as appreciation of the police officers and refusal by the officers of the same could be taken as an insult by the entrepreneurs. Nonetheless, the same has negative impact in that, gratutities may have the effect of compromising the ability of a police officer to act impartially in a democracy and in a balanced way. In addition, it may lead to the flawed assumption in the minds of the officers that they are special and as such entitled to such gratuities. There also lies the danger that this practice could lead to more serious forms of corruption. It may so happen that this practice is deemed as normative in some department and yet deviant in another department. This relativity, also experienced in the use of vulgar language and doing personal business while on duty, though, does not invalidate the negative effects wrought by this practice.
As mentioned above, corruption normally involves an overt criminal activity committed by police officers. Such activity could consist of taking money or any other valuable from persons so as to extend favor by way of failing to enforce the law against crimes such as drug trafficking, prostutition or gambling. The impact of this is the continued proliferation of the crimes which the state works hard to counter. In the end, the government fights a losing war. Corruption must also be distinguished from bribery. Bribery encompasses the acceptance or solicitation of bribes and gratuities in exchange for a past, present or future action of benefit to the giver. On the other hand, corruption is of a broader nature and more varied and ranges from kickbacks, protection of criminals to internal payoffs so as to conceal crime. This deviant act can be further divided into two types: - those of lower level and the high level. Low-level corruption that involves small monetary value and minor crimes are in most cases countenanced by police department. On the other hand, high level corruption involves regular engagement in high end crimes by police officers such as drug trafficking and burglary. These officers who take a proactive role in perpetrating crime are mostly ostracized by other officers who regard such proceeds as “dirty money”.
This pervading problem of corruption could be as a result of a combination of factors. A popular concept advanced by police authorities as an explanation for the deviant practices among police officers is the existence of some typical bad characters that slipped through the screening process that precedes recruitment. They cite them as weak characters who fall to the temptation afforded by the work of police and continue their practices in the ample environment provided by the profession. This proposition can be discounted as it suggests that despite the stringent screening process, some crook officers are hired. The generalization by some observers that the whole service is deviant is also unjust. Fast forward to more substantive conceptions of the causes of corruption and there arises the issue of irresistible opportunity presented to the police. Due to the policing design, police officers find themselves in situations where they hold the key to an individual’s freedom. These individuals, in most cases the citizenry, may try to influence the officers by offering irresistible offers so as to secure their freedom. Owing to the absence of direct supervision of the police in their duties and the number of persons the officers deal with on a daily basis, multiple opportunities of corruption abound.
Another cause could be the perception among police officers that they are not remunerated enough to an extent commensurate to the risks they take in their job. As a result, they may feel entitled to more than the fair share of benefits they get in form of salaries and resort o engage in corruption practices. Interlinked to this, is the cynicism with which the police officers view the promotion scheme. Structural elements in the promotion process could frustrate officers who feel that they should get a promotion and as such act as an inhibitor to their career advancement. This model could lead to officers devising means of acquiring more benefits that they would have acquired if they had their wish, by way of engaging in corrupt practices.
The socialization process by members into the police profession may also have an influence on their propensity to practice corruption. This happens as the officers interact with their peers and learn of each other’s history and identity. This brings to their minds that they face similar issues such as fear and boredom thus forming deep emotional bonds which then give way to transmission of similar norms and values. This process of socialization has a powerful influence on individual officers who form a sort of solidarity and start having a view of them (as police officers) against civilians. This ultimately leads to cynicism on their part and they thus tend to gravitate towards unethical practices.
It must be borne in mind also that the extent of corruption in the society, as evident in other sectors such as the judiciary and in the business world, could impact on whether a police officer will engage in corruption. More so, tolerance of corrupt practices by citizens and the police department will make the officers rationalize that the practices are not as bad and consequently engage in them.
Incompetent leadership can also cause officers to engage in corruption. This is so in the event that the leaders are also engaged in such practices or countenance such practices within the profession. This has the effect of demotivating honest police officers and causing them to lose respect of their superiors. Alcohol and drug abuse cause by the high demands may also impair the judgment of officers. If these leaders do not appreciate the contribution of the officers, as is often the case, the same officers may make up in their minds that corrupt practices are acceptable.
The overall impact of police corruption include erosion of public trust in the profession, the lessening of police moral and control and the danger of the spread of corruption to other sectors of government. A raft of both proactive and reactive measures is necessary to stem the vice. The increased scrutiny of the police by use of cell phones with photographic capabilities and vehicles with internet based technology have all aided in the improved check on corrupt practices by recording conversations which are then used as evidence in legal proceedings. There is also need for improved pay packages for police officers and ethics education to police officers. The routine transfers of officers engaged in corrupt practices could also offer a solution by cutting networks that could have formed for perpetration of the vice. Further, continuous accreditation of police officers by an independent agency could also ensure that regular drug tests are done on the officers as well as keeping track of their education and training. The hiring of administrators of a department from outside the particular department is also useful in enabling drastic changes and dismissal of corrupt officers as the new administrator is not beholden to any of them.
Sexual misconduct connotes various forms of acts that intrude into the integrity of a human being. The police officers are mandated b law and obligated by their oath of duty to uphold and protect the rights and freedoms of individuals including but not limited to the right to dignity. It is usually a blatant violation of these very ideals whenever a law enforcement officer is caught while extorting sexual favors or for any sexual misconduct. Though it cannot be said that this is prevalent as other deviant practices such as corruption, it is worth noting that such egregious acts cannot be condoned by any self-respecting law enforcement agency. It therefore calls for urgent measures and policy decisions to curtail any traces of such deviance. By virtue of victimizing those whose rights they have sworn to protect, sexual offences committed by police officers against the citizenry give rise to not only criminal liability but also civil liability. It therefore follows that the impact of such abhorrent acts by police officers in their line of duty is felt by all taxpayers as the government is bound to pay compensation if it is indeed proved that the violation took place. The following statistics are illustrative: in 2010, a sheriff from an agency found guilty of sexually abusing female inmates and sentenced to 79 year jail term cost the municipality a sum of $ 10 million in damages. Similarly, a major city police department was forced to settle a lawsuit filed against it by a woman who alleged sexual harassment by a uniformed off-duty police officer at a night club. There are several other reported cases of sexual misconduct among police officers, and some of which go unreported for fear of reprisals and humiliation.
Sexual misconduct by police officers has been targeted towards colleagues, citizens, detainees, juveniles and crime witnesses. More so, these acts have been in varied forms some of which include sexual assault,rape,inappropriate searches, sexual harassment,sexting,and officer initiated sexual contacts while on duty.
The recognition of sexual misconduct among police officers is crucial to taking of appropriate criminal sanctions to deter future incidents, promote community trust and promote healthy environment. Anything else may have the effect of encouraging similar occurrences by the same or other persons. Training in ethics and integrity for police officers throughout their subsistence in the service is key to enforcing accountability and averting such deviant practices.
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