The acceptance of gifts and benefits – or ‘gratuities’ – has been described as ‘a police image problem that doesn’t seem to go away’ . This assertion was borne out recently in the ‘phone hacking scandal’ in the United Kingdom, when the Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police resigned following allegations that officers were compromised in their investigations by improper associations with newspaper executives and reporters; including acceptance of lunches, other hospitality and gifts. The scandal prompted a review of standards related to police relationships by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, which concluded, amongst other things, that policies on gifts and benefits were under-developed and under-enforced, and that a nationally consistent approach was needed. On a smaller scale, a recent corruption inquiry in Queensland – ‘Operation Tesco’ – revealed improper associations between police and criminals, facilitated in part through officers frequenting licensed premises while off duty, enjoying free entry and free drinks.
These cases highlight how wider scandals or controversies over police conduct often bring lower level integrity issues to light, such as acceptance of gifts and benefits. For many people, the most prominent examples are likely to be half-price meals offered by fast food outlets. However, the practice can include free entry to nightclubs and sporting venues, free or subsidised travel for police on public transport, and gifts to procurement officers by companies tendering for police business.
With these issues in mind, this CEPS Briefing Paper reviews the available research on the topic. The conclusions are that police acceptance of gifts and hospitality (however worthy or innocent the intention of the donors) can adversely affect the fair and impartial delivery of police services. The practice also has a strongly negative effect on public perceptions of police integrity and public confidence in police. A strict policy regime is required that prohibits anything other than the most minor gratuities offered on an incidental basis in circumstances where no obligation or expectation can be implied or perceived. Standards need to be clarified and communicated, and backed up by strict and consistent enforcement. A ‘disciplinary matrix’ is recommended as the most likely means of ensuring compliance through a graduated response to incidents of non-compliance.