Institutional Integrity: The Four Elements of Self-Policing

Article excerpt

Faced with allegations of systemic corruption, a law enforcement organization must undertake the daunting task of rebuilding its institutional integrity, not only within the ranks of its officers but also in the eyes of the citizens it serves. In such a situation, the organization will undoubtably perform a critical review of its self-policing process. What went wrong? What fixes are possible? How could it have been prevented in the first place? Maintaining a high level of institutional integrity represents the key to preventing corruption within any organization. Law enforcement officials must understand how institutional integrity interrelates with the concept of self-policing.

Citizens bestow great power and authority upon their law enforcement organizations. They expect and deserve accountability from their law enforcement public servants and demand that these organizations display a high degree of institutional integrity. Because of this, the law enforcement community remains particularly sensitive to acts of employee misconduct.

Traditionally, law enforcement organizations have addressed employee misconduct through the concept of self-policing and have encountered a myriad of legal, contractual, and social issues. Differences in local and state regulations and the existence of internal factors, such as collective bargaining contracts, hinder the development of a standard model for self-policing that would work for every department. Consequently, internal disciplinary programs vary greatly throughout the law enforcement community.

Although the self-policing process differs in every department, all internal disciplinary programs share four common elements: establishing a code of conduct; conducting internal investigations; adjudicating misconduct; and reporting on the disciplinary process. (1) Agencies should examine how these four elements interrelate and why they should manage them to help improve the institutional integrity of their departments. Conversely, the neglect or mismanagement of these elements can have serious consequences.


Every organization has an official, or formal, code of conduct that sets forth the responsibilities of its employees and the rules and regulations governing employee conduct. Likewise, every department has an informal code of conduct that influences employee behavior. The formal and informal codes of conduct combine to form the institutional integrity of the organization.

The Formal Code of Conduct

An organization's formal code of conduct consists of official policy, procedures, and applicable statutes and regulations. Employees learn about these official standards in training academies and continuing education courses.

In today's environment, most law enforcement personnel receive normal ethics training as part of their indoctrination into the formal code of conduct. For example, the FBI provides 16 classroom hours of ethics instruction as part of its 16-week training academy for new agents. (2) Similarly, new officer recruits in the Dallas, Texas, Police Department receive 8 hours of ethics instruction during their academy training. (3)

Indoctrination into the formal code of conduct, including ethics training, provides employees with a foundation of acceptable behavior. Additionally, it informs employees of what administrators expect in the conduct of their professional lives. Law enforcement agencies enforce compliance with the official code of conduct through a formal disciplinary process.

The Informal Code of Conduct

The informal code of conduct is an organization's unwritten, generally accepted, standard of conduct. This standard represents the level of acceptable conduct that employees demand of themselves and their fellow employees. Because of its strong impact on institutional integrity, every department should strive to keep the informal code of conduct in line with the official code of conduct. …