Police, Gratuities, and Professionalism: A Response to Kania

Article excerpt

In beginning this brief response, it is important to note the many similarities my position has with Richard Kania's. Kania believes that police should accept some gratuities, that the mere acceptance of gratuities does not make a police officer corrupt, and that we need to set realistic ethical standards for police. These are points on which we are agreed. It was not my intention to argue that police should refuse all gifts and gratuities. There are occasions on which it is not only appropriate for police officers to accept gifts from members of the public, but actually good police practice. My aim was not to claim that gratuities ought to be refused in all circumstances, but to outline particular circumstances in which gratuities should always be refused.

I presented the paper in the manner I did because it is far simpler to outline conditions under which gratuities ought to be refused than to outline conditions under which they ought to be accepted. It is relatively easy to create rules for when gratuities ought to be refused; appropriate occasions for their acceptance, however, will always be a matter of judgement, not strict rule following.

Although I agree in part with Kania's general position, one problem with that position and in particular with his paper, is that he over-concentrates on one dimension of the issue and fails to give sufficient weight to other relevant factors. More precisely, he focuses too much on the issue of corruption, and fails to recognize that there may be other reasons why police sometimes ought to refuse gratuities. Most important among these other considerations is the public perception of their acceptance of them. (1) By ignoring this aspect of the problem, some of Kania's objections completely miss the target.

The following example illustrates the problem. In discussing the short-order cook's authority to offer gratuities, Kania suggests that since the cook was doubling as the manager on duty, it could be assumed that he had been delegated authority to make such offers. Although I am troubled by that assumption, I am far more concerned about the impression that acceptance of the meal would have created, the possible conflict of interest created by its acceptance, the sense of obligation that may have been nurtured, and so on. Even if the acceptance of this meal was legal, and thus not corrupt, there are other reasons why it might have been appropriate to refuse it. Kania fails to deal with these other issues.

Another situation in which Kania focuses on one aspect of the issue to the exclusion of others is his discussion of the unequal distribution of police services. This argument, that gratuities lead to their unequal distribution, applies only to on-duty police, yet many of Kania's examples refer to the behavior and movements of off-duty officers. (2) Although he provides an effective solution to this problem, by suggesting that police avoid falling into predictable patterns, the implication that frequenting different eating establishments each day and varying the time of meals will solve all the problems caused by police acceptance of gratuities, is to ignore every other argument against the practice.

Some of Kania's arguments are based on flawed analogies. In suggesting that we should not prevent all police from accepting gratuities because some police inappropriately accept them, Kania observes: "We do not deny police the authority to use force, even deadly force, because some officers will use flawed judgements in exercising their discretion, and we do not deny all police arrest powers because the occasional officer abuses his or her arrest discretion." (3) There is a clear disanalogy between police authority to use force or to arrest and their acceptance of gratuities. Unlike the acceptance of gratuities, the use of force and power to arrest are integral to the police role--the police could not fulfill their role in society without such authority. …