Lifting the lid on police misconduct | WISE Workplace

Co-workers were the primary source of allegations of misconduct against off duty police officers in NSW, a Police Integrity Commission (PIC) report has found. Evidence contained in the report released recently rebuts the call for more stringent whistleblower legislation. But the report supports the idea that a healthy corporate culture includes the ability of co-workers to report on misconduct of fellow workers. And developing a confidential helpline where workers can get advice and make complaints is a first step in ensuring the misconduct does not become the accepted norm. Ensuring that complaints are investigated and appropriate action is taken and "seen to be taken" are also integral to supporting healthy productive workforce.

The aim of the study was to provide information about the characteristics of complaints regarding misconduct that occurs when police officers are off duty. Complaints made about police officers regarding alleged incidents of misconduct that occurred between May-July 2009 were considered in the study. In total, 973 complaints were considered and 125, or one in eight (and possibly up to 169, or one in six), described an incident that occurred when a police officer was off duty.

The most common types of alleged misconduct were related to secondary employment, offences punishable by conviction, improper associations and harassment. More than a third of all issues about alleged misconduct within the complaints led to disciplinary action (referred to as management action by the NSW Police Force). In total, 136 police officers of varying ages and ranks were alleged to have engaged in misconduct while off duty during the period in review. Of those, probationary constables aged between 21 and 25 attracted a larger percentage of complaints. And 76.5 per cent were male and 23.5 per cent were female – similar to the distribution of male and female officers in the NSW Police Force.

The NSW Police Force Code of Conduct clearly states that police officers must be mindful of their conduct, whether on or off duty. Inappropriate or unlawful behaviour will not be tolerated. Failure to comply with the Code of Conduct and Ethics, along with other NSW Police Force policies and documents, may result in management action.

Significantly, the report found complaints about off duty police officers were most commonly made by other police officers (58.4%). This was followed by members of the public (26.4%) and anonymous informants (12.8%). About 2.4% of complaints were referred to the NSW Police Force by the PIC (2.4%) when off duty misconduct was discovered during other investigations.

The most common types of misconduct included allegations of drunken or inappropriate behaviour, unprofessional or unreasonable conduct, unauthorised secondary employment and loss, inadequate security of, or damage to NSW Police property. They also included allegations of rorting leave, posting inappropriate comments on social networking sites, being in possession of counterfeit DVD's and releasing confidential information.

More serious (criminal) allegations included allegations of entering premises without permission, fraud, assault, indecent assault, sexual assault, bribery, improper associations, protection of persons involved in drugs, giving favours to persons who are suspected to be involved in criminal activity, conflicts of interest, unauthorised secondary employment, failure to comply with statutory obligations and police officers being the subjects of apprehended violence orders.

The report notes that off duty misconduct can have consequences for the officers involved and it can tarnish the reputation of the NSW Police Force, which can lead to a decline in public confidence in the force. Preventing off duty misconduct is a "sensible way" of reducing the risk to the reputations of individual officers as well as to the NSW Police Force as a whole, the report suggested.

Such prevention is, however, a challenging task. It is particularly difficult because even though NSW Police Force employees are bound by the Code of Conduct and Ethics and other policies while off duty, they are not at their workplace – a controlled operational environment. They are not necessarily accountable for all of their actions while off duty and they have no supervision or peer support. Also, while employees are off duty they are faced with different problems, scenarios and issues than they face at work.

The report noted the NSW Police Force had various measures in place designed to prevent misconduct by off duty officers. This included organisational-wide training, policies and procedures to manage the risk and raise awareness of the issue. Police officers are encouraged to report any incident of misconduct involving other off duty officers – without fear of recrimination. The results suggest that additional awareness and training programs should be targeted to young officers and probationary constables who may be at a higher risk of engaging in off duty misconduct than other police officers.