Officer Accountability Research Paper

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Officer Accountability

A police officer's proven dishonesty is not a minor matter. Ignoring or covering up that dishonesty, if discovered, could be devastating to the police department's credibility. Furthermore, due to Due Process laws in the United States, his/her dishonesty could affect the outcome of past cases in which he/she testified and future cases in which he/she may testify. Finally, the prosecution is required to hand that information to defendants' attorneys. Simultaneously, the officer has served the department for 15 years with only 2 "bad" incidents. Handling this officer's proven dishonesty will require swift action that is fair to the department, the Prosecutor's office and this officer.

Decision: Remove The Officer From Active Duty And Offer Him An Alternate Departmental Job That Would Never Entail His Testimony In Court


You are the Chief of Police of a municipality. Your Deputy Chief of Police advises you that one of your officers was investigated for inappropriate use of one of the computers in the patrol division. As a result of this internal investigation, it was determined that the officer used this computer to search pornographic web sites. When confronted with this allegation, the officer denied any knowledge of this incident. Upon further investigation, the computer crimes analyst determined that the officer's log on password was used to enter the unauthorized web sites. The officer then admitted to his wrongdoing and stated it would never happen again. This officer has been with your organization for 15 years, and the only other disciplinary action taken against him was for being involved in an at fault traffic accident 10 years ago. As the Chief of Police, how would you handle this situation?


Ignoring/Covering Up the Officer's Misconduct is Out of the Question

American jurisprudence is full of instances in which common people, police officers, departments, institutions and even U.S. presidents were "caught" ignoring or covering up misconduct/dishonesty. From the People of the State of California v. Orenthal James Simpson, in which Officer Mark Fuhrman denied being a racist and was caught on tape using racist language, thereby shedding doubt on his entire testimony (Nelson, 2008, p. 1711), to the Watergate Scandal and connected criminal cases, in which even the powers of the Presidency could not hide dishonesty (Bernstein & Woodward, 2012), dishonesty and cover-ups keep being exposed. The result is devastating to credibility, not only of the initially dishonest person, but also of the superior and police department that ignores or covers up the dishonesty. Consequently, this officer's dishonesty cannot be ignored or covered-up, lest it destroys the credibility of the entire department, both in and out of court.

The Officer Jeopardizes Every Criminal Case in Which He Has Testified or Will Testify

Since there will be no disregard or cover-up of the officer's dishonesty, he cannot continue in his position as a police officer "in the field" who may testify in criminal cases because his testimony for the prosecution is potentially fatal to the State's criminal cases. As one criminal defense attorney stated about one officer caught lying, "One would have to question this officer's credibility in every case" (Pawloski, 2012). Consequently, this officer's dishonesty could conceivably affect the outcome of every single criminal case in which he has testified in the past or will testify in the future. Since one of the duties of a police officer "in the field" is to testify in court, his testimony would sometimes be unavoidable in a criminal case, and allowing this officer to testify would jeopardize one of the police department's main functions -- providing credible testimony in court.

If this officer continued in his current job, not only would he be a witness with questionable credibility, but the prosecution would literally have to tell the defense about this officer's questionable credibility. As we have seen from the assigned cases, the prosecution will have a duty to disclose this officer's dishonesty to defendants' attorneys. In Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), the defendant and a co-defendant were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. At trial, defendant admitted his involvement in the crime but denied that he personally killed the victim and stated that the codefendant did the killing. Before trial, the defendant's attorney asked the prosecutor to examine the codefendant's out-of-court statements but the prosecutor withheld the codefendant's confession that he killed the victim. The defendant's attorney did not find out about the confession until after trial. The Maryland Court of Appeals found "that suppression of the evidence by the prosecutor denied petitioner due process of law" and the case was remanded to retry the issue of punishment (Justia, n.d.). In addition, in Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150 (1972), a defendant moved for a new trial due to the newly discovered evidence that the Assistant U.S. Attorney promised leniency to a key witness if the witness would testify against the Defendant and also discovered that the prosecutor's office did not disclose it. Even though the prosecutor did not know about the offer and even though the assistant did not have the authority to make the offer, the court found that the prosecution still had a duty to present all material evidence to the jury, that the prosecution had not done so and that the failure to do so "constitutes a violation of due process, requiring a new trial" (Justia, n.d.). Furthermore, United States v. Bagley, 473 U.S. 667, explains the meaning of "material evidence" discussed in Brady and Giglio, finding that "favorable evidence is material, and constitutional error results from its suppression by the government, if there is a 'reasonable probability' that, had the evidence been disclosed to the defense, the result of the proceeding would have been different" (Justia, n.d.).

The Officer's 15 Years of Service and Otherwise Relatively Clean Record Should be Considered

As the facts show, this officer has worked for the Department for 15 years and has two incidents of misconduct: one involving an at-fault accident 10 years ago; the current incident involving outright dishonesty and essentially destroying his role as a credible witness in criminal trials. In light of these facts, completely destroying his career seems unduly harsh and also a waste of valuable manpower. There are several administrative roles within a police department that do not require an officer to be "in the field" or to testify in court; therefore, this officer could still ably serve in the Department in a curtailed role.

The officer should be advised that he is removed from work "in the field" and that there will be no negotiation on that point. That removal constitutes his "punishment" for his recently discovered dishonesty. However, the officer will also be offered the opportunity to continue in the Department in an administrative role that never requires his testimony in court. If the officer accepts the alternate position, he may continue to work for the department and will be trained for that alternate position, if necessary. If the officer rejects the offer of an administrative position, then he cannot continue working for the department. In this way, the department minimizes any damage that has been or may be caused by the officer's dishonesty but does not cavalierly throw away 15 years of experience. After reviewing the facts and authorities, this appears to be a swift, effective and fair way of handling the situation for both the department and the officer.


This officer's proven dishonesty creates a significant problem for the police department.

First, ignoring/covering up the officer's misconduct is out of the question, not because the police department is a bunch of Boy Scouts, but because the possible discovery of ignoring/covering up that dishonesty would be devastating to credibility, not only of the initially dishonest person, but also of the superior or department that ignores or covers up the dishonesty. Secondly, this dishonest police officer jeopardizes every criminal case in which he has testified or will testify. Once a police officer has been officially found to have committed a dishonest act, his/her credibility would be questioned in every case, including past cases in which he/she has testified. In addition, the prosecution will have the duty to disclose that dishonesty to every criminal defendants' attorneys involved in any future case that may require this officer's testimony. Consequently, this officer's dishonesty could conceivably affect the outcome of every single criminal case in which he has testified in the past or will testify in the future. The head of the police department must minimize the damage by removing this officer from the field. Third, this officer has served the department for 15 years and has two "infractions" on his employment record. Under those circumstances, his experience and possible usefulness to the police department should still be taken into account. There are several administrative roles within a police department that do not require an officer to be "in the field" or to testify in court; therefore, this officer could still ably serve in the Department in a curtailed role. Consequently, the officer should be advised…[continue]

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