Policing the Police: Personnel Management and Police Misconduct

Abstract

Police misconduct is at the top of the public policy agenda, but there is surprisingly little understanding of how police personnel management policies affect police misconduct. Police-civilian interactions in large jurisdictions are, in principle at least, highly regulated. However, these regulations are at least partially counteracted by union contracts and civil service regulations that constrain discipline and other personnel decisions, thereby limiting a city’s ability to manage its police force. This article analyzes police personnel management by bringing forth evidence from a variety of data sources on police personnel practices as well as integrating an existing, but relatively siloed, literature on police misconduct. The empirical findings that emerge are as follows: (1) policing is a surprisingly secure, well-paid job with little turnover prior to retirement age; (2) inexperienced police officers are, all else equal, more likely to commit misconduct and at the same time more likely to receive high-risk assignments; and (3) bad cops are a serious problem, are identifiable, and are rarely removed or disciplined. Taken together, these facts suggest that attempts to regulate police conduct directly or through civil rights litigation are impeded by the inability of those who supervise police to control individual officers through assignments, discipline, and removal. The nexus of compensation, seniority, promotion, discipline, and pension policies that characterize much police personnel management cannot be rationalized under traditional labor and employment contract analysis. However, existing compensation and pension policies could be rationalized if supervisors were empowered to manage police through assignments, penalties, and promotion.

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