17 Jan 2013

Police integrity report sheds light on police whistleblower attitudes

Research which demonstrates fluctuating attitudes within the police towards whistleblowing on breaches of official policing policy has been released by The Open University.

Senior Lecturer in Criminology Dr Louise Westmarland, who led the study, said that the results “show that the ‘blue wall of silence’ still exists”.

The study asked officers whether or not they would whistleblow on a colleague based on a series of hypothetical offences. For example, the study found that over half of police officers (54%) would “definitely” report another officer who punched a suspect who resisted arrest, compared to a very small percentage (4.2%) that “definitely wouldn’t”.

Louise added: “Some positive aspects of the research show that police officers have a strong and unfailing ‘moral compass’ when it comes to actions and beliefs; that many officers would report colleagues’ misdemeanours.”

In another proposed example, when asked whether they would report a
colleague who stole a watch from the crime scene of a burgled jewellery store, 95% of officers responded with “definitely yes”.
Overall, the report found that although officers were aware that actions in the report were breaches in policy, the decision to report for many officers was based on a subjective view of the particular offence committed.

Based on the data, researchers were able to ascertain a rough picture of the policeman’s moral compass. For instance, respondents considered running a private security business on the side (10% considered this very serious) or accepting Christmas gifts (also 10%) much less serious than taking a full day’s pay from a lost wallet (99%).

The report also challenged a pre-conception that younger officers (less than 5 years’ experience) were more likely to be whistleblowers than a veteran officer. Instead, the report found that older officers (15 years or more) were more likely to report an offence than their younger peers.

In the example of excessive force already given, 65% of those with less than 5 years’ experience responded “definitely yes” or “maybe yes”. However, 81% of those with 15 years or more experience responded positively.

The study also found significant differences between those in supervisory and non-supervisory roles, with the former stating that they would be more likely to report offences.

A full copy of the Police Integrity Feedback Report, produced by the International Centre for Comparative Criminological Research (ICCCR) at The Open University, can be found here:

About The Open University
The Open University (OU) is the largest academic institution in the UK and a world leader in flexible distance learning. Since it began in 1969, the OU has taught almost 1.7 million students and has more than 250,000 current students, including over 15,000 overseas.

The OU came top for student satisfaction in the National Student Survey this year, and has been in the top three universities every year since the survey began in 2005. In 2011/12 it had a 93 per cent satisfaction rating. Over 70% of students are in full-time or part-time employment, and four out of five FTSE 100 companies have sponsored staff to take OU courses.

In the UK’s latest Research Assessment Exercise (RAE 2008) the Open University was ranked in the top third of UK higher education institutions. More than 50% of OU research was assessed in the RAE as internationally excellent, with 14% as world leading.

Regarded as Britain’s major e-learning institution, the OU is a world leader in developing technology to increase access to education on a global scale. Its vast ‘open content portfolio’ includes free study units on OpenLearn, which has had more than 25 million visits, and materials on iTunes U, which has recorded over 56 million downloads. The OU has a 41 year partnership with the BBC which has moved from late-night lectures in the 1970s to prime-time programmes such as Frozen Planet, Bang Goes the Theory, James May’s Big Ideas and The Money Programme.

About the ICCCR
The Centre's research is aimed at academic, policy and practitioner audiences. Valuable links have been established with 'external' institutions at home and abroad. ICCCR is formally partnered with the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, based in London. International networks have been established with the EPSRC funded International Centre for Advanced Research in Identification Science.

Between 2006 and 2009 the ICCCR was part of the CRIMPREV consortium of 31 universities and research institutes across the EU working on a three-year project aimed at producing comparative knowledge about perceptions of crime and deviance and crime prevention strategies. The project was funded by the EU under FP 6. The Open University hosted the conference that concluded the project in the summer of 2009.

The Centre hosts the academic journal Youth Justice: An International Journal (in partnership with University of Liverpool), Members sit on the editorial boards of the British Journal of Criminology, and Criminal Justice Matters.

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