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Risk indicators for misconduct
By Tracy E. Barnhart
Published: 12/21/2008

Tracy Barnhart is a Marine combat veteran of Desert Storm / Desert Shield. In 2000, he joined the Ohio Department of Youth Services at the Marion Juvenile Corrections Facility, a maximum security male correctional facility housing more than 320 offenders. Barnhart works with 16 to 21-year-old, male offenders with violent criminal convictions and aggressive natures. In his monthly column, he discusses everyday issues affecting corrections professionals.

Even though obtaining a position in law enforcement is a difficult process at best, we must consider the individuals who slip through the cracks. The goal is to identify officers who pose a liability to the department and themselves.

These are the officers who get the most complaints and consider themselves the mavericks of the agency. They are the “superheroes” of the shift whose arrests are sometimes questionable and overly aggressive. The following is a profile of high-risk officers with a propensity toward misconduct. The are usually younger than 30-years-old, have less than five years on the job, have only a high school education, and are assigned a two-person unit.

The following are problematic risk indicators of officers who may be involved in misconduct, or overstressed from job related incidents during their careers:
    Complaints disproportionately high
    Use of force disproportionately high
    Domestic violence incidents
    Sick time usage
    Shooting incidents
    Resisting arrest incidents
    Assault on an officer cases
    Arrested subjects injuries
    Officer injury incidents
    Preventable vehicle accidents
    Civil litigation
    Head strikes
    Loss of equipment
    Involvement in major incidents
    Below satisfactory performance evaluations
    Excessive overtime
Informal indicators of officer misconduct or corruption include evidence of large sums of money, personality changes, lifestyle changes, circle of associates, and rumors.

Law enforcement administrators throughout the country have long recognized that a small percentage of officers are responsible for a disproportionate share of complaints, which can tarnish the reputation of the entire agency. The benefits of identifying officer misconduct early include:
    Salvaging an officers career
    Defending the agency in a “Custom and Practice” lawsuit
    Forcing supervisory involvement in the officer's development
    Controlling complaints and use-of-force incidents and restoring public confidence
    Supporting termination
    Providing information to develop training, policy and tactics
The fact that police officers experience high levels of job stress is well established, as is the reality that high stress is unhealthy and often has a negative affect on an officer's performance. These experiences often change an officer's conduct toward the public; conduct characterized by discourtesy, anger and occasionally inappropriate use of force.

Below are examples of brutality from a department that should have been indicators of misconduct and corruption but was never flagged.

  • An officer shot and wounded a suspect when the suspect was running down an apartment hallway. The officer and his partner then planted a gun on the suspect as he lay bleeding. When their supervisor arrived he delayed calling an ambulance until the officers concocted a cover story. The suspect bled to death before arriving at the hospital.

  • Officers handcuffed a 19-year-old gang member and then shot him in the chest and head, paralyzing him. The officers then planted a gun on him. The gang member received a 23-year prison sentence based on the officers' testimony.

  • Investigators were told of an occasion when officers broke up a party and ordered several dozen gang members to their knees with their hands behind their backs. Meanwhile, an officer walked down the line, randomly assigning a fictitious charge to each youth.

  • For another suspected gang member, officers drew a target on a wall, and used the youth's body as a battering ram. The young man told investigators his head smashed through the plaster and was pierced by splinters from the wooden studs inside the wall. The officers were attempting to obtain information from the youth about a missing gun.

  • One of the fundamental causes of these incidents, which were part of a larger scandal, was a breakdown in managerial oversight. While the department's mission statement clearly emphasizes “respect” and “character,” the officers in the unit were not held accountable for upholding these principles.

    This unit created an autonomous culture that was distant from the influences of upper management. The heralded officers of the department were cutting corners and breaking laws, which made it easier for others to follow suit.

    It is not our job to punish people even though we see a visible need for the corrective change. It is our job to report violations of the law.

    Individuals above our pay grade are responsible for the issuance of punishment to our citizens. When we cross this delicate line of reporting and punishment then we go too far and get caught up in misconduct and corruption.


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