Same Circus, Different Clowns: More on Internal Intentional Misconduct in Public Safety

by | September 13, 2019

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series. Click here for the previous article.

Gordon Graham here. Thanks again for tuning in to this series on how to incorporate “real” risk management into your operations. In my last effort in this quest, I promised you some more thoughts on internal intentional misconduct in public safety.

If you’re like most public safety leaders, you want to know what control measures you can put into place to better ensure that nothing in the category of internal intentional misconduct ever happens in your agency. This is a tall order, because if you have bad people working in your department, sooner or later they are going to behave badly. But we can start by trying to understand what types of behavior fall into this category.

If you followed the advice in my “timely takeaway” in the last piece, you read Charles Campisi’s great book Blue on Blue. In it, Campisi gives you an overview of “intentional” misconduct within the NYPD.

Please don’t think I am telling you that NYPD is the only public safety agency in trouble in America. If you do an online search for “Police (or fire, or corrections) scandals in (insert the name of any city),” you will get a lot of hits. You can type in Chicago (do not try to print the search results—there are not enough trees in the world to provide that amount of paper). Or you can type in Milwaukee or Miami or Boston or Baltimore or San Francisco or Seattle or Houston or Denver or Trenton or any other major city in America and you will get a ton of hits.

Also, this is not just an issue in the U.S. I was doing some work in Wales a number of years ago when one of the executives from Welsh Police Services approached me after the program. The conversation went like this:

Him: “I think you have lied to us for the past two days.”
Me: “What have I lied about?”
Him: “You are not an American, you are a Welshman.”
Me: “But I am indeed an American!”
Him: “Then how the %#$@ do you know so much about what is going on in my department?”

As I told this executive, it is the same in Wales as it is in Ireland as it is in England as it is in Germany as it is in Japan as it is in New Zealand as it is in Australia as it is in Canada—as it is in all places in between these locations. Same circus with different clowns!

As many of you know, I spent the first 20 years of my career in Southern California and I could spend an entire day telling you stories that developed during my early years involving Los Angeles Police Department and Sheriff’s Department personnel. Those stories include murder-for-hire, murdering co-workers, on-duty burglar rings, on-duty prostitution rings, on-duty gang violence, providing confidential information to organized crime, etc., etc., etc.

I have been looking at these behaviors for 30+ years and frankly, there is nothing new.

Some of you might note that I have delayed talking about the department that was so good to me for 33 years, the California Highway Patrol. But that is not to imply that the CHP is free of these issues. My gosh, the Patrol has had some terrible, terrible things happen in their operations, including all the things that I mentioned above. If you want to read one that was going on when I was active, do an online search for “Horace Mac McKenna” and read all about “Big Mac” and his business partner Michael Woods. You cannot make this up!

I have been looking at these behaviors for 30+ years and frankly, there is nothing new. Oh, to be fair, there are variations on a theme, but it is the same stuff over and over again.

Here is my “top 10 list” for internal intentional misconduct in public safety (I am sure you have your own). Actually, I will give you two top 10 lists—one for on-duty and one for off-duty behaviors that will cause you, as the chief, a lot of grief.

On-Duty Behaviors

  1. Reckless vehicle operations
  2. Inappropriate use of force
  3. False arrest and/or imprisonment
  4. Falsification of documentation/perjury
  5. Theft and embezzlement issues
  6. Job-based harassment
  7. Misuse of authority
  8. Integrity concerns, particularly lying
  9. Inappropriate sexual behavior
  10. Inappropriate release of confidential information

Off-Duty Behaviors

  1. Alcohol
  2. Sex
  3. Drugs
  4. Sex
  5. Speeding
  6. Sex
  7. Theft
  8. Sex
  9. Guns
  10. Sex

OK, OK, OK—with respect to the off-duty stuff, I will admit I have simplified the categories, but you get my drift. Sex with minors, sex in public, sex with informants, sex with inmates, sex with married co-workers, sex with mentally impaired people, sex with animals, sex with fixed objects—in 35 years of having cops and firefighters sitting across the table in my law office, I have heard all these. And all too often, ALCOHOL is involved. Perhaps there is a link!

But let’s focus on the on-duty stuff. What control measures do you have in place to prevent these issues from happening in your agency? Here is a hint for you: Regardless of what control measures you have in place, if someone on your department is bent on behaving badly, they will behave badly.

There are, however, steps you can take to minimize the chances of internal intentional misconduct and reduce the damage when it does occur. But as I’m approaching my maximum word count, that’s a topic for the next article.

TIMELY TAKEAWAY—Is your agency performing comprehensive background checks on your applicants for employment? Yes, I know they are expensive, but, as we lawyers like to say, “You can pay me now or you can pay me later.”

GORDON GRAHAM is a 33-year veteran of law enforcement and the co-founder of Lexipol, where he serves on the current board of directors. Graham is a risk management expert and a practicing attorney who has presented a commonsense risk management approach to hundreds of thousands of public safety professionals around the world. Graham holds a master’s degree in Safety and Systems Management from University of Southern California and a Juris Doctorate from Western State University.

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