Following the theoretical model of reporting and disciplinary fairness developed by Kutnjak Ivković and Klockars (1998), the purpose of this paper is to use a survey of US police officers to explore empirically the contours of the code of silence and the potential relation between the code and perceptions of disciplinary fairness.
In 2013-2014, a police integrity survey was used to measure the contours of police integrity among 604 police officers from 11 police agencies located in the Midwest and on the East Coast of the USA. The questionnaire contains descriptions of 11 scenarios describing various forms of police misconduct, followed by seven questions measuring officer views of scenario seriousness, the appropriate and expected discipline, and willingness to report misconduct.
The results point out that the code of silence varies greatly across the scenarios, both for supervisors and line officers. While the supervisor code and the line officer code differ substantially, they are the most similar for the scenarios evaluated as the most serious. Compared to the respondents who evaluated expected discipline as fair, the respondents who evaluated it as too harsh were more likely to say that they would adhere to the code. On the other hand, compared to the respondents who evaluated discipline as fair, the respondents who evaluate the expected discipline as too lenient were as likely to adhere to the code.
The data were collected online, resulting in a lower response rates those typical of traditional paper surveys.
The results of the research allow police supervisors interested in the controlling the code of silence to assess where the code is the weakest and easiest to break. Furthermore, the findings suggest to the supervisors who want to curtail the code that the strategy of meting out discipline perceived by line officers as too harsh will potentially only strengthen the code.
Whereas the study of the code of silence has started several decades ago, empirical studies exploring the relation between the code of silence and perceptions of disciplinary fairness are rare.
Ivković, S., Peacock, R. and Haberfeld, M. (2016), "Does discipline fairness matter for the police code of silence? Answers from the US supervisors and line officers", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 39 No. 2, pp. 354-369. https://doi.org/10.1108/PIJPSM-10-2015-0120Download as .RIS
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