Novak, Police & Society 8e Student Resources

Behavior and Misconduct

Chapter Nine takes a look at police behavior. Police behavior may be described from a universalistic perspective or a particularistic perspective. The universalistic perspective examines the ways that the police are similar. The particularistic perspective examines the way the police differ from each other.

The universalistic perspective approaches police behavior from three perspectives. The sociological perspective emphasizes the social context in which the police are hired and trained. The psychological perspective examines the nature of the police personality. The organizational perspective is concerned with the formal and informal factors of the department.

The particularistic perspectives examine the different policing styles discovered through research. Worden (1989) suggests that there are five ways that the police are different from one another. The police are different in their view of human nature, role orientation, and attitudes toward legal and departmental restrictions. Worden also found that the beliefs and behavior of the police are influenced by their clientele. Last is the relationship between management and peer group support.

Socialization theory maintains that it is the work experience and the peers that determine police behavior. The formal socialization takes place during training the new officer. The informal socialization takes places as the new officer interacts with experienced fellow officers.

Predispositional theory states that the values and characteristics the officer had before employment are brought with him or her to the job. Research indicates that the police have different values from the rest of society. Racial and ethnic differences, education, and police socialization does little to changes the predispositional values.

There have been numerous studies conducted looking at police behavior. This chapter recalls several earlier studies citing the fact that these studies are just as important today as they were decades ago. Westley’s Violence and the Police (1970) discussed in-group solidarity among the police and the code of silence found to exist in policing. Skolnick’s Justice without Trial (1966) examined the danger in police work. Skolnick termed the person the police officer thinks is potentially dangerous as the symbolic assailant.

Wilson’s Variety of Police Behavior (1968) may be seen as the most important study of police behavior. Wilson identified three styles of policing. In the watchman style, the police utilize a great deal of discretion. In the service style, the police see themselves as providing a wanted service for the community. The police handle situations informally and arrest is not always necessary. In the legalistic style, the police see themselves as law enforcers, making arrests if possible.

Rubenstein conducted a study in 1973 known as City Police. His study supports the socialization theory of police behavior. Officers learn on the job. Van Maanen’s study, Observations on the Making of Policemen, conducted in 1973, found four stages in which the police officer is initiated into policing. The first is the preentry stage. The individual chooses to make policing a career. The second stage, admittance, involves the police academy experience. Stage three, change, occurs as the new officer is out of the academy and into the field. Continuance is the final stage and involves the officer adjusting to the reality of police work.

Brown suggested four styles of police behavior in Working the Street: Police Discretion (1981). Old-style crime fighters are very aggressive and interesting only in felonies. Clean-beat crime fighters are interested in all violations and are concerned with legal procedure. Service-style officers just do enough to get by. Professional-style officers, the most desirable type of officers, knows when to be tough and when to be service minded. Crank’s Understanding Police Culture (1998) saw four central principles in the elements of police culture. Coercive territorial control is the most central principle. The other principles include the unknown, solidarity, and loose coupling.

In the police officer’s use of discretion, there are a number of variables. Organizational variables include the bureaucratic nature and work periods and areas. Situational variables include mobility, demeanor, race, gender, age, victim-offender relationship, seriousness of the offense, mental state of the citizen, location, and presence of others. Officer factors would include education, age, experience, race, gender, and career orientation. Lastly, the neighborhood may impact the officer’s use of discretion.

This chapter ends by taking a look at police deviance. Several types of deviance are identified. Police crime, occupational deviance, police corruption, and abuse of authority are included in the types of deviance. Gratuities are included in this discussion.

The Knapp Commission investigated police corruption in the New York City Police Department in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They identified police officers who do not actively solicit graft but will accept it when it comes along as grass eaters. Meat eaters are officers who actively solicit opportunities for financial gain. The code of silence exists among police officers making the investigation of corruption difficult.

Is police corruption part of the nature of policing or is it the result of a few bad officers bringing down all of policing? The systemic theory of corruption suggests the former. The rotten-apple theory of corruption suggests the latter. The rotten-apple theory would support the predispositional theory of police behavior. The systemic theory of corruption supports the sociological theory of behavior.

Kappeler, Sluder, and Alpert identified four types of corruption in officers’ dealings with drugs. Use corruption involves the police officers using drugs. Economic corruption involves the police attempting to seek personal gain. Police violence is the use of force to obtain confessions. The subjugation of a defendant’s rights may involve planting drugs on a suspect. Noble-cause corruption occurs when the police use questionable means to achieve a good end.