Ethics: Problem Employees in Smaller Agencies

By Green, Don | Law & Order, October 2002 | Go to article overview

Ethics: Problem Employees in Smaller Agencies


Green, Don, Law & Order


So many times within a police agency, a poison can creep in and disrupt the effectiveness and community support that has taken years to build. This poison appears in the form of employees who, through their actions, bring discredit to the agency and contaminate other employees.

How do agencies prevent such contamination? When large police agencies have the capability to utilize their Internal Affairs Units or Office of Professional Standards to implement early warning systems, what is available to smaller agencies? In such cases, staffing and resources are limited, and the task of supervision and discipline may fall on the shoulders of the chief of police or a few supervisors.

The importance of acknowledging the potential for harm is essential to all involved in the responsibility of protecting the organization. Even the officers must understand to condone poor performance or misconduct is a reflection on each individual officer and the agency as a whole. The task of promoting such importance falls squarely on the shoulders of the chief and his supervisors. If they shirk such responsibility or fail to provide a role model that reflects positive performance then their subordinates will mirror those acts.

Training does not have to come in an expensive form. Many consultants will be glad to advocate training programs instilling proper attitude or to address marginal performance. As an alternative, a neighboring larger agency may also have personnel who may provide training on supervision, management, discipline and motivation. Rather than have every member attend, consider sending those agency members who have the ability to instruct and are well thought of by both management and subordinates.

Recognizing the onset of mediocre performance is equally important. Day-to-day contact and supervision of employees is essential to identifying problems. Everyone may have a bad day, but if lack of performance continues it can become habitual and worsen. Not only does it affect a single employee but also others who are observant, may copy or reinforce the inappropriate actions.

Equally, peers must recognize improper activities and confront the participant. If they allow such behavior to continue, they not only condone it, but also may be linked and associated with such performance.

In the case of peers, many agencies instill a rationale (sometimes unspoken) that it is wrong to speak against another officer. It may begin as sworn v. non-sworn members, who may be perceived to not understand the police culture and are thought to be out to get them. Such thoughts are reinforced by the poor performer or officer engaged in improper activities. They use silence as a protective shield to continue their actions.

To recognize the danger of such an unwritten code, take a few moments to do an informal survey of the agency. Start at the low end and progress to the more serious infractions that may affect officers.

Would an officer notify a supervisor if a fellow officer were late to work, left early, took small items, failed to document an offense, struck a prisoner, damaged a police vehicle, committed a crime (either misdemeanor or felony), utilized alcohol or drugs, or other acts of misconduct? Such ethical considerations and the rationalization that may accompany them are both ingrained by the organization and the community that officers are drawn from. The results may reflect on the attitudes of officers.

Supervisors can set up their own early warning systems just by being observant of their employees and creating a working file to review. Careful notes on their observations can help link together seemingly minor occurrences and identify potential problems, such as officer involved collisions, use of force, officer injuries, sick leave abuse, tardiness, poor appearance, complaints, productivity or anything that is felt to be important.

Employee misconduct doesn't begin with major corruption, it just seems to reach that level before the problem is recognized. …

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