Integrity management: 5 keys to weeding out bad cops

If we tell ourselves an officer can falsify his location for a sexual liaison but would never lie in a report, we are lying to ourselves

Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz, within a short season, represented our best hopes and worst fears in the extreme. Lauded for a hero’s death, his memorial is now marred by disgust — and this time not by cop-hating protestors but by those who would love to have loved him.  

The ancient biblical prophet gave the warning: “When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand.” 

Are police leaders going to heed this warning or frantically wash their hands of responsibility? Here are some things to remember. 

1. Integrity is Not a Percentage
No one is perfect, but a practice of overlooking bad behavior because an officer has a lot of good behavior is not a measure of integrity, but a risk analysis.  If you’ve asked yourself how much crap you’re going to put up with to keep this popular or productive officer, then you’ve already compromised your agency’s integrity. 

Supervisors may isolate misconduct into categories and fail see the pattern. For example, a use-of-force complaint, taking excessive leave, and low productivity might be treated as individual concerns rather than a constellation of warning signs. Just as criminals are not linear in their criminal behavior (burglars are traffic offenders and/or wildlife offenders) an officer’s lack of integrity will show up in multiple areas. If we tell ourselves an officer can falsify his location for a sexual liaison but would never lie in a report, we are lying to ourselves.

2. If it Didn’t Get Written Down, it Still Happened 
Always take notes. As much as I hate the all-too-common practice of documenting the heck out of everything so we can always have enough ammunition to fire any officer at any given time, the practice of undocumented verbal counseling is dangerous. A pattern of behavior may not show up if every issue is “handled” as a single lapse, and not recorded in some database where the dots can be connected during ongoing evaluations. When you suffer the final straw you don’t want to have a personnel file with only that one straw on record. 

The old saying that “if it didn’t get written down, it didn’t happen” may be true during a criminal investigation and subsequent trial, but when scandal goes public, the assumption will be that leadership was either incompetent or complicit. 

3. Integrity Can be Monitored
Leaders should consider a regularly scheduled ethics review and compliance pledge for the entire agency with enhanced accountability for assignment specialties where risk is higher. Read risk as anything where opportunity for money or sex is present. It is common practice for narcotics officers to undergo periodic drug testing. 

Organized crime, vice, and anti-corruption cops are audited and polygraphed. While the testing may differ, the same principle should be applied to school resource officers and those who work with Explorer or other youth programs. These officers should be regularly required to sign an acknowledgement that they know and are complying with your agency policy on youth protection. This Scouting guide is a helpful template

Any officer managing donations must do so in accordance with sound, auditable practices and never be solely responsible for collection, deposit, or disbursement of funds. 

4. Integrity Risk and Community Policing
One of the rarely spoken caveats of community policing is that relationships always increase risk. A forgotten piece of the rise of the professionalization movement that is credited with eroding community policing was the fear that friendships, partnerships, and closeness with community members increases the risk of favoritism and differential enforcement. The practice of rotating assignments to avoid over familiarity was once common, but is at odds with some community policing practices. Integrity management is key. 

5. Integrity Must be Institutional as Well as Individual
Leaders must make it easy to be ethical. Rather than just taking the pulse of integrity for your department, leaders must be the very heartbeat of it. 

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