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Social-Psychological Model of Unethical and Unprofessional Police Behaviour

NCJ Number
D. F. Sunahara
Date Published
December 2002
20 pages
This document provides a model of unethical and unprofessional police behavior.
The emphasis of this model is on the processes that translate external conditions into attitudes, emotions, beliefs, and values that in turn cause some officers to act unethically and unprofessionally. Most discussions of police ethics focus on the relationship between the police and the public. This discussion adopts a broader perspective that unethical actions, whether directed against the public or against colleagues and the organization, can be understood best by treating them as instances of the same phenomenon. Unethical and unprofessional behavior is not a homogeneous set of acts sharing a common etiology. It begins with the premise that there are six different classes of unethical behavior: affective acts, discriminatory acts, noble cause corruption, self-interested corruption, failure to be diligent, and lacking technical skills. The five exogenous variables for the proposed model of unethical and unprofessional behavior are corrosive street experiences, corrosive experiences inside the organization, motivated workforce, occupational subculture, and poor human resources development. The effects of corrosive street experiences and corrosive experiences inside the organization are the police subculture, emotion, stereotyping, a sense of entitlement, and alienation. Looking at the day to day experiences of police officers, the two most dominant influences on behavior are the treatment accorded them as police officers and as employees. Research suggests that both sides of an officer’s life may be corrosive. Operational police work brings negative emotions, such as frustration, anger, and fear, to the forefront. The elitism that comes with being a member of a special group that has been set apart to perform onerous duties contributes to misplaced pride and a sense of entitlement. Alienation remains a pivotal issue. It is central in that it links the environment to much of unethical or unprofessional police behavior. It is part of a world view that helps to both trigger and rationalize unethical and unprofessional behavior. 22 references