Police misconduct

Police misconduct refers to inappropriate conduct and/or illegal actions taken by police officers in connection with their official duties.


Types of misconduct include: coerced false confession, intimidation, false arrest, false imprisonment, falsification of evidence, spoliation of evidence, police perjury, witness tampering, police brutality, police corruption, racial profiling, unwarranted surveillance, unwarranted searches, and unwarranted seizure of property. Other types of misconduct includes:

  • Bribing or lobbying legislators to pass or maintain laws that give police excessive power or status
  • Similarly, bribing or lobbying city council members to pass or maintain municipal laws that make victimless acts ticket-able (e.g. bicycling on the sidewalk), so as to get more money
  • Selective enforcement ("throwing the book at" people who one dislikes; this is often related to racial discrimination)
  • Sexual misconduct[1]
  • Off-duty misconduct[2]
  • Killing of dogs unjustly[3]
  • Noble cause corruption, where the officer believes the good outcomes justify bad behavior[4]
  • Using badge or other ID to gain entry into concerts, to get discounts, etc.
  • Influence of drugs or alcohol while on duty
  • Violations by officers of police procedural policies

Police officers often share a "blue code of silence", which means that they do not turn each other in for misconduct. While some officers have called this code a myth,[5] a 2005 survey found evidence that it exists.[6] A 2019 study in the journal Nature found that misconduct by one police officer substantially increased the likelihood that peer officers would also engage in misconduct.[7][8] In addition to the blue code of silence, police misconduct also can lead to a miscarriage of justice and sometimes the obstruction of justice.

In an effort to control police misconduct, there is an accelerating trend for civilian agencies to engage directly in investigations and to have greater inputs into disciplinary decisions. Additionally, individuals and groups are now filming police activities in an effort to make them accountable for their actions. With the proliferation of smart devices capable of high-quality video recording, instances of police misconduct and abuse are gaining attention on social media platforms and video-hosting sites such as YouTube. To protect their interests, some officers have resorted to verbal intimidation as well as physical violence against citizens attempting to record their misdeeds. In other circumstances, police will illegally seize or delete evidence recorded by citizens, in spite of laws that make it a crime to destroy evidence of a crime being committed, whether the crime is committed by civilians or by the police.[9][10]

Contributors and prediction

Police misconduct is sometimes associated with conscious or unconscious discrimination. Misconduct has been shown to be related to personality and correlated to education, but it can also be significantly affected by the culture of the police agency.[11] Education is negatively correlated to misconduct, with better-educated officers receiving fewer complaints on average.[12]

Some analyses have found that changes in structural disadvantage, population mobility, and immigrant population have been associated with changes in police misconduct. Social disorganization may create a context for police misconduct because residents may not have in place the social networks necessary to organize against police malpractice.[13] The fact that most police officers enjoy broad discretion and minimal supervision has been cited as increasing opportunities for police misconduct.[14]

Video and audio recording

Many police cars are now equipped with recording systems, which can deter, document or rebut police misconduct during traffic stops. Usually, the recordings have rebutted claims of police misconduct according to a 2004 study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and Community Oriented Policing Service;[15] future innovations in recording equipment could allow an officer's entire workday to be recorded.[15] Some transparency advocates believe that such cameras should be installed in all police cruisers to ensure accountability.[16] Some police departments have experimented with Taser cameras that automatically begin recording when the Taser is deployed.[17] The Cato Institute recommends that police film all no-knock raids.[18] In recent times, police departments have been trying to implement the body camera as a step to fixing misconduct. The police departments in Pittsburgh have been trying body cameras on their officers to see both the positive and negative aspects of using body cameras.[19]

Recording by witnesses have made a significant impact on the notability and handling of police incidence, such as the Rodney King beating.

Mobile devices

As digital recording technology usage has increased, especially using cell phones, there have been more cases of civilians capturing video of alleged police misconduct.[9][20] In response, members of law enforcement have begun using eavesdropping and wiretapping laws to charge civilians who record police without their knowledge. Some police organizations such as the Fraternal Order of Police support the prosecutions.[21] In Illinois, from 1994-2014, recording police without consent was a class 1 felony that could carry a prison term of 15 years.[22] In a May 2012 ruling, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the statute "likely violates the First Amendment’s free-speech and free-press guarantees."[23] On December 30, 2014, then-Governor Pat Quinn signed into law an amendment to the Statute, PA 98-1142, which decriminalized the recording of law enforcement officers in the performance of their duties in public places or in circumstances in which the officers have no reasonable expectation of privacy.[24]

Most charges involving recording police are dropped or dismissed as courts have ruled on-duty cops in public have no reasonable expectation of privacy.[9] However, police "can use vaguer charges, such as interfering with a police officer, refusing to obey a lawful order, obstructing an arrest or police action, or disorderly conduct."[21] Arrests for these charges are more common, as are incidents of police illegally confiscating cameras, deleting evidence or misinforming citizens they cannot film. This evidence has played a key role in raising public awareness of police misconduct during and after an incident such as the BART Police shooting of Oscar Grant, Death of Ian Tomlinson, Robert Dziekański death and Death of Eric Garner.

Noted cases


Some 6,160 people were killed by the Brazilian police in 2018.[25]


In October 2007, there was an incident at Vancouver International Airport involving new Polish immigrant Robert Dziekański. Dziekański was tasered five times during the arrest, became unresponsive and died.[26] The incident was video recorded by a civilian who turned it over to police, then sued to get it back for release to news outlets.[10] The official inquiry found the RCMP were not justified deploying the taser and that the officers deliberately misrepresented their actions to investigators.[27] The incident affected taser use in Canada and relations with Poland.[28][29]

During the 2010 G-20 Toronto summit protests, police enacted regulations the Ombudsman found contributed to "massive violations of civil rights."[30] One regulation made the security zone public works and police interpreted this to permit them to arrest anyone not providing identification within five-metres of the temporary fence.[31] There were 1,118 arrests with 800 released without charge,[32][33] Police Chief Blair conceded later no five-metre rule existed in law[34] and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty was criticized for allowing this misinterpretion.[35] In September 2011, officers who removed their name tags during the G-20 protests were refused promotion.[36]

Security officers in Metrotown, Burnaby mall demanded pictures taken of an arrest be deleted from a teen's camera. This led to a verbal confrontation and the RCMP handcuffing the teen and cutting off his backpack to search it. While the mall supports its officers actions according to the teen's lawyer: "private mall security guards and police have no right to try to seize someone’s camera or demand that photos be deleted — even on private property."[37]


The collusion between local gangs and police officers is a serious problem in many Chinese cities.[38] Local gang bosses make use of personal networks to bribe police officers, and police officers seek corrupt benefits by safeguarding their illegal businesses.[39][40] A widely publicized case is the Wen Qiang Case.[41] Wen Qiang a deputy police chief, along with family members, were arrested as part of a massive crackdown on corruption of the People's Armed Police and organized crime in Chongqing in late 2009. His crimes included bribes, rape and failing to account for assets. Wen was executed in July 2010.[42] The trials highlighted the continued use of torture by police to obtain confessions,[43] despite laws implemented in June 2010 excluding tortured confessions from being used in trials.[44]


It is believed that corruption among the Indian Police Service is pervasive and goes up to the top brass.[45] Reform has been made difficult with honest officers pressured by powerful local officials and suffer punitive transfers and threats while corrupt officers receive promotions. An example is the transfer of Kiran Bedi for giving a parking ticket to the Prime Ministers car.[46] A number of officers face charges in Central Bureau of Investigation cases and disciplinary proceedings but it is alleged that no notable action under the penal provisions is taken.

One instance involves the disposal of a petition in the Calcutta High Court (WP-3145w) and two police officers, Mahesh Singh and Gautam Maulik, after lawyer Avrojyoti Das and businessman Rahul Agarwal—who had influence on the police—made a false diary and a false report alleging a local incident at a certain time, whereas the accused was miles away in another city. An innocent person was detained for ten days until an upper court released them on bail. Subsequently, upon the wrath of the High Court summon, the High Court was informed that the culprits have been punished, but they were released with minimal punishment.[47] Some of the past scandals include murder,[48] sexual harassment,[49] sex-on-tape scandal,[50] dowry harassment,[51] fraud[52] and fake killing encounter.[53]


Police misconduct has become an issue of high media attention in Norway. The death of Eugene Ejike Obiora, a naturalized Norwegian of Nigerian origin in September 2006 stirred an uproar that as of September 2007 has caused the authorities to announce significant changes to the way charges of police brutality and other forms of police misconduct, including corruption, involving the Norwegian police will be handled in the future. As a consequence of the Obiora case, training at the Norwegian Police Academy has undergone changes and national police director Ingelin Killengreen has instigated a thorough review of police methods in general.[54]

One officer employed in Oslo Police District was sentenced in 2006 to two years in prison for human trafficking, embezzlement of money and weapons, as well as theft of emergency passports.[55] Two cases were from Follo Police District.[56] One officer was accused of having felt up a number of women during interrogations. He was acquitted on almost all charges by the regional court. Another officer had been accused of abuse of power during an arrest. The Supreme Court of Norway ordered the case to be retried in the regional court after the acquittal was appealed. Another case involves a female officer from Telemark Police District who was issued a fine of 10.000 kroner and the loss of her employment for a period of five years for embezzlement and breach of confidentiality, among other issues.[57]

A prominent case of intentional miscarriage of justice was against Fritz Moen.[58] In the case, several officers appear to have manipulated timelines, threatened the accused and witnesses, and made false statements to close the case.

According to a 2012 official report, 18 police officers have lost their jobs as result of misconduct since 2005.[59]


The Ministry of Public Security (Poland) (MBP) was a Polish communist secret police service operating from 1945 to 1954 under Jakub Berman. The MBP carried out brutal pacification of civilians, mass arrests, makeshift executions such as the Mokotów Prison murder and 1946 public execution in Dębica, and secret assassinations.[60]

Individual law enforcement officers noted for torture and terror include Anatol Fejgin (1909–2002) and his deputy Józef Światło (1915–94), in charge of the MBP's notorious Special Bureau; Salomon Morel (1919–2007), commander of the Zgoda labour camp; Stanisław Radkiewicz (1903–87), head of the MBP's Department of Security (UB) 1944–54; and Józef Różański (1907–1981), colonel in the MBP.

After the fall of communism the instances of police brutality are still noted in relation to policing sports matches, mostly football; the 1998 Słupsk riots and 2015 Knurów riots were the result of the killing a fan by the police each time.


Police corruption and brutality is rampant in Russia as it is common for officers to be hired as private security on the side by businessman and Russian mafia.[61] This leads to conflicts of interest as business and political rivals are jailed with selective enforcement of laws and trumped-up charges, or kidnapped for ransom. These tactics are believed to have been used against billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky to "weaken an outspoken political opponent, to intimidate other wealthy individuals and to regain control of strategic economic assets."[62] Meanwhile, bureaucrats who are found guilty of significant crimes get away with light sentences.[61] Intimidation and violence against journalists and whistle blowers is high as Russia remains one of the worst countries at solving their murders.[63] It is widely believed the Federal Security Service (successor to the KGB) remain in control using the police as foot soldiers, and are unaccountable with connections to organized crime and the Russian leadership.[61]

South Africa

At least 25 people were killed after South African police opened fire on a crowd of about 3,000 striking miners, in Rustenburg, 100 km northwest of Johannesburg, on 16 August 2012. The police were armed with automatic rifles and pistols. Workers at a Lonmin PLC, a platinum mine, were asking for better wages.[64][65]

United States

The Chicago Police Department in August 1968 initiated a "police riot" according to the Walker Report which gathered testimony on the violence surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention and Anti-Vietnam War protests.[66] Years later, the Chicago Police Department would deal with even more scandal involving the now infamous crooked cop Lt. Jon Burge and the torture cases that came out of his district. The New York Police Department (NYPD) had a prominent case of two detectives working for the Mafia during the 1980s. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in the late 1990s had a large incident of misconduct with the Rampart scandal implicating 70 officers of an anti-gang unit called C.R.A.S.H.. This resulted $125-million in lawsuit settlement payouts, dissolving of the unit and the LAPD entering into a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice on comprehensive reforms.

During the 1990s the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) also came under the scrutiny of the Justice Department when a series of crimes, including murders, by officers prompted attempts at reform by then Police Chief Richard Pennington. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina there was a spike in allegations of misconduct and in March 2011 the Justice Department published a 158-page report that found "systemic violations of civil rights" by a NOPD that routinely failed to discipline officers involved.[67] Six cases stemming from Katrina have been investigated and followed closely by ProPublica,[68] one is the Danziger Bridge shootings that resulted in two civilian deaths and four wounded. In August 2011, four officers were convicted of unlawfully firing on citizens then trying to cover it up with the assistance of a fifth investigating officer.[69]

In a number of jurisdictions, police officers have been accused of ticket fixing.[70]

Police lying under oath, particularly in drug crimes, is allegedly commonplace in certain areas; some federal grant programs such as Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program are tied to numbers, and police officers may also feel pressured to prove their productivity.[71]

The New York State Police Troop C scandal involved the fabrication of evidence used to convict suspects in New York by the New York State Police.[72]

Police complaint process

United States

In the United States, a person can submit a written, or in some jurisdictions a verbal, complaint to the administration of a law enforcement agency against an employee. There are four outcomes that can result from the findings of the administration:

  • Substantiated/Sustained: the misconduct allegation was proven to be true.
  • Unsubstantiated/Not Substantiated/Not Sustained: the misconduct allegation could not be proven nor disproven. This finding is in favor of the employee and usually no disciplinary action is taken.
  • Exonerated: the facts alleged in the complaint did in fact happen, but the employee was found to have acted lawfully and no law or policy was broken.
  • Unfounded: the facts as alleged were found to be false. A charge of filing a false police report or perjury may be filed and prosecuted if this was found to be knowing or intentional.

Cost of Police Misconduct

United States

The United States has lost millions to police misconduct:

City Years of Cost Total Cost
Baltimore 2010-2014 $12 Million[73]
Boston 2005-2015 $36 million[74]
Chicago 2004-2014 $521 million[75]
Cleveland 2004-2014 $8.2 million[76]
Dallas 2011-2014 $6.5 million[77]
Minneapolis 2011-2014 $9.3 million[78]
New York City 2006-2011 $348 million[79]
Phoenix 2010-2014 $5.6 million[74]
Philadelphia 2010-2014 $54.3 million[74]
Los Angeles 2002-2011 $101 million[80]
Oakland 1990-2014 $74 million[81]
Washington D.C. 2010-2014 $30.5 million[74]

In 2015, The Wall Street Journal reported that during a five year period the 10 United States cities with the largest police departments had spent over $1.4 Billion on police misconduct settlements[82]. In between the years of 2010 and 2014 the total annual cost of police misconduct settlements increased, declining only in 2012, and then followed by the highest total in 2014 of $248.7 Million[83].

Largest Police Misconduct Settlements

With the rise of body worn cameras by police departments, settlements have also increased in both the size of the settlement and frequency of settlements. In 2015, Eric Garner's family settled with New York City, and was awarded $5.9 Million in a wrongful death suit at the hands of a New York Police Department (NYPD) Officer[84]. While Garner's case is more recent, and perhaps more known to the general public it is not New York City's most expensive individual settlement due to police misconduct. In 2001, Abner Louima was abused by members of NYPD while in custody and settled with the city of New York for $8.75 Million[85].

Perhaps the most costly individual settlement ever due to police misconduct occurred in Chicago when Christina Eilman suffered from a bipolar episode at Midway Airport and was arrested. Eilman then released in high crime neighborhood at night in Chicago without any assistance or follow up on her wellbeing. Eilman fell from a 7th story window after being raped and suffered permeant brain damage. Eilman was received $22.5 Million in a settlement with the city of Chicago[86].

The most expensive group police misconduct settlement case in New York, and possibly the most expensive group police misconduct settlement case ever was awarded to the Central Park Five. These five men were victims to police torture that eventually resulted in false confessions and convictions. These men settled for $41 Million[87].

Other Notable Police Misconduct Settlements

Jon Burge, a former Chicago Police Department Commander is estimated to have cost Chicago, the state of Illinois, and the county of Cook $132 Million in over 20 different cases[88]. Burge was known to torture, beat, electrically shock, suffocate, and play games of Russian Roulette in order to force confessions[89]. As part of a reparations package to victim of Burge and his team, Chicago opened the Chicago Torture Justice Center in Englewood with hopes of providing services such as counseling to those who have been victim of police misconduct[90].

In 2000, Prince Jones, a student at Howard University, was followed by an unmarked police car, fearing for his safety he exited the car to confront the man following him who proceeded to flash a gun. Jones entered his car, and put his truck into reverse hitting the officer twice. The officer opened fired 16 shots into Jones' car, killing him[91]. This incident received national news coverage and was featured in Ta-Nehisi Coates' book Between The World and Me[92]. Jones' family received a settlement from Prince Georges county of $3.7 Million[93].

Settling for Misconduct

The Chicago Reporter created a database entitled Settling for Misconduct to track civil suits against the Chicago Police Department (CPD) with the intent of bringing awareness to the fact that a lawsuit against CPD is settled, on average, every other day[94]. The website lists cases such as the murder of Laquan McDonald by Jason Van Dyke which gained national attention and resulted in a $5 Million settlement for McDonald's family[95]. The database also shows less known cases such as an older settlement for $100,000 in which Jason Van Dyke was named for excessive force[96]. The database even includes a false arrest settlement for $1.00 against CPD officer Luis Luarenzana[97].


Canada has also lost millions of dollars to police misconduct settlements. Toronto, in particular, has paid $27 million in settlements for actions of police dogs, use of force, false arrests, and car chases[98]. The biggest settlement was for $2 Million when a taxi driver by the name of Ali Adaba Ghomi was hit by a car fleeing from police, and was taken to the hospital in critical condition[99]. In October 2007, members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) tased Robert Dziekanski, the impact from tasers ultimately killed him[100]. The settlement in Dziekanski's case was confidential, although it was revealed that the RCMP in addition to the cost of the settlement also donated $20,000 for a scholarship[101].

South Africa

In 2011, Nathi Mthethwa, the South African Police Minister disclosed that across the country more than R106m ($7,153,276) was paid in police misconduct settlements due to actions of the South African Police Service (SAPS) in the 2010-2011 fiscal year[102]. According to financial statements of SAPS, the financial balance of civil claims against the South African Police at the conclusion of the 2012 fiscal year totaled R14.8 Billion ($998,651,608)[103]. In one of the more notable cases, Mido Macia was dragged by a police van, and assaulted by police in 2013 in Daveyton, South Africa, the event was caught on camera, and Macia later died while in the custody of police. On November 21st, 2018, his family received R6.5m ($439,110.75) in a lawsuit settlement[104].


The cost of police misconduct in Russia comes in the form of bribery. In 2015, Russia Police reported the average amount per bribe had reached 654,000 rubles (USD $9,105.18)[105]. Russia has attempted to crack down on the situation, in 2015, between January and September, Russian President Vladimir Putin reported that 8,800 people were convicted of corruption[106]. On a 5,000 kilometer route, truck divers can expect to pay anywhere from 50,000 ($786) to 70,000 rubles ($1,101.45) on bribes to police officers[107].


Metropolitan police

The Hong Kong and New York City police departments, both of which have had issues with police misconduct and corruption, have approached the problem in different ways. For corruption, Hong Kong created an external agency which actually investigates corruption, while New York reviews corruption through an internal department, although the information is reported to a monitoring commission. New York also uses "integrity checks" in which an officer's integrity is tested through an opportunity for corruption. For misconduct, Hong Kong reviews complaints internally with a monitoring commission while New York has created the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board (NYCCCRB) which investigates and makes a formal recommendation to the commissioner.[108]


The Special Unit for Police Affairs (SUPA) was established on 1 January 2005. In 2006 the unit received 904 complaints, of which 101 led to indictment. Of these 26 ended with the issuance of a fine, 8 cases criminal charges were brought, 64 went to trial, and 3 cases were given "påtaleunnlatelse" (no charges despite misconduct likely took place). Four police officers alone were responsible for 63 of the 101 cases. In September 2007, Jan Egil Presthus, Director of SUPA, stated to the Oslo newspaper Dagsavisen that investigations of police conduct involving death are going to be posted on the Internet. He states that total openness will strengthen the publics confidence in the unit's integrity and impartiality. This came following Dagsavisen in June 2007 publishing an overview of police cases with a deadly outcome. The article showed that in the ten most serious cases after the establishment of the SUPA all charges against the police were eventually dropped.

A media discourse focusing on deaths incurred during police arrests and transports continued in Norway throughout 2007, and Presthus counts this as one factor triggering the initiative to publish ongoing investigations on the Internet. The cases will be presented on the web pages of SUPA, in a way that preserves the anonymity of officers and other parties involved where deemed necessary.[109]

United States

The U.S. government does not regularly collect data on police misconduct. One attempt to track misconduct is the Cato Institute's National Police Misconduct Reporting Project, which estimates misconduct rates using newspaper reports.[110] The project's data suggest that police are more likely than the average person to commit a number of crimes including assault, sexual assault, and murder, but less likely to commit robbery.[111] The NPMSRP projects that roughly 1 in 4.7 officers will be implicated in an act of misconduct during the course of their career.[112] In the United States, the exclusionary rule means that evidence gathered through misconduct is sometimes inadmissible in court.

The Black Panther Party sought to oppose police brutality through neighborhood patrols. Police officers were often followed by armed Black Panthers, who at times came to aid African-Americans who were victims of brutality and racial prejudice. Groups like Copwatch continue to use the patrol method in communities, often using video cameras to document them.[113]

In a 2004 United States survey of the public's opinions on accountability in reforming police, most members of the public wanted an "early warning system" that flags officers who have received many complaints, video cameras on police cars, detailed records of police stops, and citizen review boards.[114] Citizen review of police has been an issue, with law enforcement concerned that citizens reviewing their actions do not understand the procedures they operate by and the citizen review board advocates arguing that the law enforcement "code of silence" requires that they have input into the disciplinary action. As of 2003, three-fourths of the United States' largest cities had citizen review boards.[115] Early warning systems are procedures designed to identify and address issues of problem officers, as around 10% of officers are theorized to cause 90% of the problems. Early warning systems were recommended by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 1981, and by 1999 an estimated 27% of police agencies serving populations of over 50,000 people had implemented these programs. The systems collect data such as complaints, which triggers an intervention at a certain point. After the intervention, the officer is monitored as a follow-up.[11]

It is sometimes argued that civil liability can create new deterrents to police misconduct.[116] Police commissioners and citizen review boards have been cited as institutions that can help reduce police misconduct.[117] There is some variation as to how much access the civilian reviewers are given to internal police documents and personnel files.[118] Decertification of police has been cited as another possible remedy.[119] Surveys suggest that officers are aware of the detrimental impacts of police misconduct and hold strong opinions as to what strategies are preferable.[120] The exclusionary rule has been one classic deterrent to obtaining evidence through police misconduct, but it is proposed that it be replaced with restitution to victims of misconduct.[121]

See also



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Further reading

  • Balko, Radley (2006). Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America. Cato Institute.
  • Chevigny, Paul (1998). Edge of the Knife: Police Violence in the Americas. The New Press. ISBN 978-1-56584-183-3.
  • Cea, Robert (2005). The No Lights, No Sirens: The Corruption and Redemption of an Inner City Cop. Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0-06-058712-3.
  • Copperfield, David (2006). Wasting Police Time: The Crazy World of the War on Crime. Monday Books. ISBN 978-0-9552854-1-7.
  • Palmiotto, Michael J. (2001). Police Misconduct: A Reader for the 21st Century. Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0-13-025604-1.
  • Krupanski, Marc (2012). Policing the Police: Civilian Video Monitoring of Police Activity. The Global Journal.
  • Wang, Peng (2017). The Chinese Mafia: Organized Crime, Corruption, and Extra-Legal Protection. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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