Police misconduct is a serious issue. It has been in the news more and more lately, with police officers being charged with various crimes. The definition of police misconduct varies depending on who you ask, but it can be generally defined as police officials acting outside their lawful authority to commit unlawful acts.
There are many examples of police misconduct; one popular example is framing someone else or planting evidence to convict them of a crime they didn’t commit. This article will go over what police misconduct actually means, give some examples and provide tips on how you can curb police misconduct from happening in your jurisdiction.
Police Misconduct: What Is It?
Police Misconduct Definition – According to Wikipedia, “police misconduct refers to inappropriate actions taken by police officers in connection with their official duties.”
Examples Of Police Misconduct
Police misconduct can include a whole host of behaviors, including corruption and excessive use of force. A few examples are as follows:
– False Arrests: police making an arrest without probable cause or arresting someone for fabricated reasons
– Excessive Force: using more force than is necessary to subdue a suspect who poses no threat to police and others around them (i.e., shooting unarmed civilians)
– Abuse Of Authority/ Discriminatory Profiling: targeting certain groups based on race, gender, or sexual orientation while stopping people at random just because they “look suspicious.”
– Falsifying Evidence: misrepresenting during criminal proceedings; planting drugs on someone without their knowledge or planting evidence to help police in a case where they have no proof
– Police Brutality: police officials using excessive force against suspects, often leading to serious physical injuries and even death.
Tips For Curbing Police Misconduct
So how can you prevent police misconduct from happening? The first step is reporting any acts of police misbehavior that you see. Many people might be afraid to report wrongful actions by police because they fear retaliation if the complaint isn’t taken seriously. There are phone numbers listed on most law enforcement websites for citizens who want to file complaints about police behavior; Google it!
You should also pay attention during roll call at your precinct every day. If something is going on in your city/ town (i.e., police brutality at a protest against police misconduct) that you think is wrong, it’s your responsibility to let people know about it! Protesting police behavior is one way of expressing discontent with how police perform their duties in society today. You should also call up your local representatives and tell them what’s happening in the community/city. Often, they don’t even realize there might be an issue until someone tells them, so make sure you’re not just letting all this happen without saying anything – no matter where you live or who represents you as a citizen!
Police behavior has again come under scrutiny from community activists and the general public. The extent of police misconduct ranges from the deadly use of excessive force to less serious types of “blissful” ignorance where officers neglect their responsibilities, such as failing to witness illegal acts or record critical evidence in their reports. Although the issue is not new, a confluence of events over the last decade intensified concern among minority communities that there are different standards for white and nonwhite citizens regarding how police officers treat them. Many Afro-American citizens are convinced that white police officers do not treat them with the same degree of courtesy and respect accorded white citizens.
The debate over what to do about this has generated some highly contentious proposals. Some advocate curbing police discretion by hiring more minority or female officers, requiring citizen review boards, or establishing regulations prohibiting racial profiling. Others view such measures as wholly ineffective in light of the nation’s long history of judicial tolerance for “technical” violations of individual rights committed by law enforcement professionals.
Rather than focusing on the remedies, I submit a better way to identify the problem and address it: The use of behavioral science methods can change behavior more effectively than legislation or litigation ever could (London 1994). This approach requires only one thing from the individual citizen: An increased awareness of why police officers act as they do and a willingness to tell both sides when discussing controversial issues.
THE MOTIVATION TO CONFORM
Let’s explore how we might go about restoring fairness in law enforcement without infringing on anyone’s civil rights. We will focus on two widely accepted discoveries from behavior science research that address just this concern: the importance of understanding what causes us to behave in certain ways; and the value of applying principles of social exchange (our equivalent term for “reciprocity”) to conflict resolution.
The first section describes how these principles have been applied successfully in other settings, using them as models for dealing with police misconduct.
The second part recommends specific changes in policy and procedures that local administrators can institute at a minimal cost. These changes can reduce both citizen-police conflict and police misconduct. At the same time, they affirm the right of every citizen to be treated with dignity and respect by law enforcement professionals.
In his book The Lucifer Effect, Philip Zimbardo (2007) describes how situational factors such as group pressure, anonymity, and role-playing can dramatically alter someone’s behavior. He tells how college students assigned to play prisoners or guards in a simulated prison experiment quickly became absorbed in their roles.
Some of these young men who were acting as “guards” began harassing other participants they thought were not behaving appropriately for their assigned roles and even subjected them to physical abuse, including psychological torture and confinement in a makeshift “solitary confinement” box constructed by one of the “guards.” Although these students were not acting while they were in their assigned roles, they had temporarily lost their perspective that they were playing a role or doing something only for the sake of research.
Similarly, most people do not appreciate how casual everyday interactions with others affect their own behavior and attitudes. For instance, studies have shown that merely giving people feedback about what others might think of them can cause them to make dramatic changes in their personality traits (Bond & Smith 1996). In another well-known experiment conducted several decades ago, Stanley Milgram demonstrated how quickly we conform to group norms when placed under certain types of social pressure.
Milgram’s method involved telling participants that they were in a study of learning and memory. In actuality, the primary purpose was to determine how far people would go in complying with instructions from an authority figure to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience. Participants were told they would be helping the experimenter learn about the effects of punishment on learning by administering increasingly severe electric shocks each time a “learner” made a mistake memorizing lists of word pairs.
In reality, there were no electric shocks; Milgram’s associates had pre-arranged for another participant to act as the “learner,” who was actually a confederate working with them. After participants administered several so-called “shocks” (actually prerecorded sounds), they were told that there would now be a hazardous, life-threatening 450-volt shock administered to the “learner” as punishment for his mistakes. If they wanted to stop before reaching the highest level of shock (which was labeled “450 volts – Danger: Severe Shock”), all they had to do was say so.
Nearly two-thirds of Milgram’s participants decided at some point during the experiment that they could not go on any further. They insisted that they be allowed to stop administering shocks. When asked why they were willing to continue with these obviously painful and frightening experiments after explicitly expressing their desire to withdraw from them, many of these participants indicated that they felt obligated to persist in avoiding looking like quitters or troublemakers in front of the experimenter who was urging them on.
Milgram’s seminal study shows the power of social situations to influence our behavior, even when these situational factors cause us to violate our own personal standards and sense of right or wrong. This research is often cited as a classic demonstration of how ordinary people can be induced to engage in evil actions under certain circumstances. So what kinds of factors will normally lead law-abiding citizens to commit acts such as torture or murder?
One key factor that plays an important role in this process is conformity — the adoption of attitudes and behaviors that match those endorsed by significant others such as family members, teachers, friends, co-workers, elected officials, religious leaders, celebrities, media personalities, authors and other authorities (Reicher & Hopkins 2012). Although conformity is generally thought of as a change in attitudes, it can also include changes in behaviors.
The Milgram study and many research findings like it have revealed the remarkable degree to which people are willing to harm others when obeying authority figures who issue commands that appear to be sanctioned by legitimate institutions (such as universities or governmental agencies). As shown in, these sorts of studies have typically found that about two-thirds of the study participants will go along with such instructions, even though they usually disagree with what their superiors want them to do.
Notes, “The greater the number of people present, the less likely were those tested to object.”
Another central factor leading individuals into evil behavior is group norms. In his book Social, Yale University’s Irving Janis (1982) defines a group norm as “a standard for accepted and expected behavior that is shared by the members of a cohesive in-group” (p. 27). Group norms are established when members believe that something should or shouldn’t be done because other group members think it is right, proper, or normal. In this way, group norms serve to guide both individual attitudes and behaviors within groups. Over time, these shared expectations can become powerful social forces that encourage people to conform even when they know that their behavior is wrong and may lead to harmful consequences for others (Brown 2002; Reicher 2006).
Group membership also serves an important function in providing individuals with a sense of belongingness. Many studies now indicate that the experience of group membership (such as being a member of one’s family, country, or religion) tends to give people a very positive sense of closeness and connectedness.
This shared identity is strongly linked with cooperative behavior toward other members and obedience to group authorities — regardless of whether these authorities are legitimate or not.
Group norms and group membership play an important role in determining what behaviors we think are appropriate when dealing with others. They also influence how much empathy, sympathy, or compassion we feel for our fellow human beings. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that many have been committed by groups who shared a cultural background that led them to see their enemies as being less than human (Browning 1992; Goldhagen 1996; Reicher & Haslam 2006).
It is not just views about the enemy that are affected by group norms and social identity processes. They have been found to play an important role in shaping people’s reactions during war-time atrocities and everyday state crime, terrorism, and genocide. When nations go to war, they often demonize the out-group — dehumanizing, vilifying, and pathologizing their opponents to justify abhorrent acts of violence against them. This has been clearly documented by historians studying both World Wars (e.g., Fritzsche 2010), Cold War propaganda (e.g., Kruglanski & Stessman 1986), and the propaganda of the Nazis (e.g., Staub 1989).
The most notorious example of this process can be seen in Nazi Germany, where Adolf Hitler’s psychological warfare team developed techniques for spreading anti-Semitic propaganda aimed at inflaming popular sentiment against Jews.