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Police gratuities: what the public think.

This paper reports an Australian study of public attitudes to police gratuities. Police ethics have become a major public concern in Australia following corruption scandals in the 1970s and 1980s. Elsewhere, studies of police ethics have associated serious corruption, such as protection rackets, with the apparently less serious issue of the acceptance of gratuities. Much of the writing on police gratuities involves philosophical analysis with some speculation about public views - usually favoring the author's opinion. in response to the absence of empirical data on public attitudes to the issue, a survey was conducted covering a range of questions about perceptions of the ethical standing of gifts to police.(1) The results of the survey support the claim of many theorists that acceptance of gratuities undermines public confidence in the impartiality of the police and is incompatible with the concept of democratic policing. The literature indicates that although official police guidelines reflect public opinion, police attitudes and practices frequently do not. Police administrators need to find more effective means of fulfilling community expectations in this area.

Police Attitudes to the Acceptance of Gratuities

Most police departments now explicitly prohibit gratuities in statements of ethics. The peak body, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, has completely rejected gratuities in its Law Enforcement Code of Ethics. The Code states, in part, that, "I will enforce the law courteously and appropriately without fear or favor, malice or ill will, never employing unnecessary force or violence and never accepting gratuities."(2) The main rationale for this position is that gratuities threaten the impartiality of police operations. This is elaborated in the Canon of Ethics for Police Officers. Article 9, "Gifts and Favors," states that

The law enforcement officer, representing government, bears the heavy responsibility of maintaining, in his own conduct, the honour and integrity of all governmental institutions. He shall, therefore, guard against placing himself in a position which any person can reasonably assume that special consideration is being given. Thus, he should be firm in refusing gifts, favors, or gratuities, large or small, which can, in the public mind, be interpreted as capable of influencing his judgment in the discharge of his duties.(3)

In opposition to the official view, the feeling on the part of many police is that gratuities are an acceptable part of the job. An advocate of police discretion in the area of gratuities, former police officer Kania, illustrates the situation from his experience:

Like most police officers who have completed a modern, progressive police academy program I knew the conventional ethical standard obliged me to forgo taking any gratuities. When I arrived on the street, paired with a veteran officer, I was quickly shown that the supposed unethical behavior was the social norm for the police and the merchants alike.(4)

In a recent study by Barker, a majority of police expressed willingness to report serious misconduct by fellow officers, but very few were willing to report the receipt of gratuities, even though it involved violation of department regulations.(5) A similar result was found by Miller and Braswell, who classified recruit views on accepting free coffee and meals at restaurants as "less ethical" on an ethical continuum, with a slight deterioration in standards on the part of serving officers.(6) Felkenes' study of police ethics produced a different result. Only 17% of police agreed that "it is not wrong for an officer to accept small gifts from the public." Twenty-one percent were neutral and 62% disagreed.(7) Hyams found that 45% of officers believed gratuities were acceptable compared to 21% of recruits.(8) This is in accord with the commonly observed reduction in the initially high public service ideals of recruits, a change which begins in training and continues into service.(9) In both Felkenes' and Hyams' studies, most police expressed opposition to gratuities. Nonetheless a substantial minority were neutral or supportive. Certainly, it can be said that no studies show high levels of disapproval amongst police. These attitudes appear to have been reflected in practice. American studies suggest that police gratuities have been widespread and often part of an entrenched, fiercely defended, tradition of informal rewards for police.(10) The Knapp Commission in New York City found that "the most widespread form of misconduct was the acceptance by police officers of gratuities in the form of free meals, free goods, and cash payments. Almost all policemen either solicited or accepted such favors in one form or another."(11) Some see police acceptance of gratuities from fast food outlets as a significant image problem. Benson and Skinner, for example, draw attention to examples of disparaging views of police gratuities in popular culture.(12) In 1979 the Melbourne Age carried a story on an attempt by police management to stop police gratuities. Senior police made a strong public commitment to take action against officers accepting gratuities.(13) In a subsequent article in 1983 the Age noted that "seldom has such a furore erupted in the ranks of the Victoria Police as when, several years ago, a senior officer ordered police not to accept half-price burgers. The outrage did not last. The order was overruled from above."(14) If the incidents are true, then the response to the attempted ban on gratuities in this case indicates that they are highly valued by operational police. An editorial in the Canberra Times commented that "`freebies' for the police seem to have become standard in Australia, and it is time it was stopped."(15) Such observations are indicators of a degree of public awareness of police gratuities, which may in part be the result of a fairly high level of practice.

Theoretical Perspective on Gratuities

A variety of arguments have been made for and against police acceptance of gratuities. The following evaluation weighs the competing arguments to determine a policy of best practice that has both utility and a sound ethical rationale located in the police role. The contention is that, despite some strong arguments in favor of police gratuities, the weight of countervailing arguments should make for a "no gratuities" policy - excepting some small incidental gifts. While some critics are quick to equate gratuities with corruption, the majority are reluctant to make such absolute judgements. References to "soft corruption" and "corruption-related" practices indicate that gratuities belong in an ethical gray area.(16) Legal opinions are also often unclear on what is acceptable behavior and what is corrupt behavior. For example, the Fitzgerald Report on corruption in Queensland does not explicitly condemn gratuities but states that "the acceptance of gifts or discounts can be rationalised on bases which, in theory, create obligations upon the recipient police."(17) However, the report does not judge all gifts as corrupt influence peddling and leaves the issue somewhat unresolved. Opposing views on gratuities and corruption have been advocated by two leading academic writers on the topic. Based on his experience interacting with police, Feldberg argues that "the great majority of gratuities come from basically honest merchants who attach no strings or expectations to the offering."(18) In contrast, based on the same grounds of experience with police, Cohen states that "many officers attest to having written tickets on such merchants and to having received a shocked reaction" - implying that favorable treatment was expected in return.(19) The question of whether or not gratuities contribute to corruption would appear to hinge on qualifiers about intent and effect. From Feldberg's perspective, "if a gift, reward, discount, or other perquisite is freely offered by the giver; if it is offered with no intent to deflect or prejudice an officer in the course of his or her performance of duty; and if in fact the gratuity has no significant impact on the willingness of an officer fully to perform his duty, then the gratuity would appear harmless; that is, it has no corrupting influence on the officer."(20) In those terms, the act of offering or accepting a gratuity should not automatically be considered "corrupt." Nonetheless, Feldberg's formulation is somewhat simplistic in ignoring the larger context of possible unintended effects and of public perceptions.

The "Slippery Slope"

Some writers are reluctant to define gratuities as corrupt practice but argue that they act as a stepping stone to corruption. Niederhoffer's seminal work on policing includes the argument that corruption can stem from a gradual deterioration in behavior, beginning with small, seemingly innocuous, actions such as accepting gifts.(21) This was also the view of Australian Royal Commissioner justice Stewart, who claimed that, "with the acceptance of his first gift, a police officer crosses the threshold and a pattern is established."(22) The following statement by a London Met constable supports Niederhoffer's theory that gratuities can open the way for more serious forms of corruption in a context of pessimism and hostility.

You get an attitude about life that's so cynical your values begin to slip. That's where you get the start of corruption. The bottle of Scotch from the happy victim who got a result - I would take that. The next stage on is where the policing is actually influenced by the gifts given - being in on an observation on a shop which is going to be broken into because you know you're going to get a jumper out of it if you nick the guy. That's the next stage. After that it's tampering with evidence. The sky's the limit really.(23)

Other researchers ridicule the slippery slope theory, arguing that it is not proven by research and is based on "quasi-theological" speculation about the development of illicit desire.(24) Feldberg claims that "police officers are rather sophisticated in the arts of inducement and deception. They each have a clear idea of where to `draw the line' between petty gratuities and open bribery. As one officer told me, any cop knows the difference between free coffee at the Dunkin' Donuts and a week in the Bahamas compliments of your friendly neighborhood bookie."(25)

The question of where to draw the line points to the utility, if not the actual practice, of the slippery slope model. Corruption can be modelled in the form of a continuum. Whether or not gratuities are the first point, they belong near one end of a continuum of giving and receiving benefits. At the other end is big money in graft, theft and protection. Every officer, when faced with offers of benefits, must make a decision about where corruption begins. If individual officers are left to make that decision, a police department will be operating on varying standards, with the danger that some officers, left without guidance, are free to draw a line inside the area of corruption. The pragmatic solution would be to remove the dilemma and eliminate inconsistency with a "no gratuities" code.(26)

Inappropriate Favoritism

The main argument against gratuities is the potential for police to find themselves in a situation where they may feel obliged towards a gift-giver and be tempted to give them special treatment. Kania claims that, in his experience, fellow officers "took minor gratuities without much hesitation" and "provided no inappropriate or illegal favors in return."(27) By the same token, it is doubtful that regular gratuities, especially by food chains, are offered to police retrospectively in gratitude for the general provision of services. A common perception is that gratuities are offered as an incentive to attract police, in order to obtain the presumed deterrent effect of police presence. In justice Stewart's words, "no matter how subtle the approach and regardless of the fact that no conditions are expressly attached, most people proffering gifts expect something in return."(28) From this perspective the argument against gratuities turns on the interaction of police powers and police discretion. Police are able to exercise broad discretion which can have significant detrimental or beneficial effects on citizens' lives - despite the host of regulations governing police action and a trend towards greater liability and oversight of police.(29) Gratuities offered to police, however innocent in intent, occur in a context where offering and receiving gifts might be more than usually suspect and open to abuse. Increased surveillance and deterrence are the commonly imputed payoffs. Alleged payoffs have also included ignoring parking violations by customers, ignoring parking or traffic violations by owners and employees, and ignoring violations of liquor licence or operating licence requirements.(30) In a democratic society police have an obligation to enforce the law and prevent crime without fear or favor in relation to all citizens regardless of social class or position. Gratuities, if not actually creating distortions in the provision of service, may create the appearance of bias and reduce public trust and the public's sense of security. Gratuities raise the specter of a society run on "baksheesh" in which citizens are unable to access public services or due process without proffering illicit payments to public servants. From a social contract perspective of democratic policing, because the police are a social resource, maintained through public funds as servants of the entire community, their presence should be allocated on the basis of need.(31)

Clear cut cases of discrimination in favor of gift givers are difficult to verify, but the issues of context and appearances are major elements bearing on the case. Giving and receiving gifts sets up a special relationship where compromise may or may not be real but where the appearance of compromise may affect public confidence in the impartiality of police. Benson and Skinner cite the example of a citizen complaining at a neighborhood crime watch meeting that local police spend too much time at local discount food outlets.(32) The problem with claims of this nature is that they are based on the perception of a concentration of police and consequent unfair service. This may be merely a product of the visibility of police and may not relate to duration of time spent. Police are entitled to breaks and their regular appearance at certain locations does not prove they are lingering at taxpayers' expense. Nonetheless, such imputations are natural, and police have a responsibility to vary their routines as much as possible to allay suspicion.

Community Relations

It has been argued that gifts given to police in genuine appreciation for services "already rendered" contribute to productive relations between police and the public. In such cases, Kania argues, police should be encouraged to accept gifts in order to build a closer working relationship with their community. "Broader utilitarian reasoning," concerned with crime prevention and public security, is said to justify genuine gratuities as building blocks of more effective community policing. Kania claims that police therefore have an obligation to accept gratuities to prevent alienating well-meaning members of the community.(33)

This argument is vulnerable to several rejoinders. The first involves the problem of ambiguity. If gifts are offered purely out of appreciation, this may not always be evident to other members of the public or the officers involved. Intentions may be misinterpreted and confusion result. Second, alternatives need to be considered that sidestep the problem of imputed motives by making gift-giving explicit and not directed at individual officers. For example, gifts could be offered to police-sponsored community services. Kania claims that this approach lacks the interpersonal quality of direct gift giving, and that rejecting gratuities in the situation where they are immediately offered can be misunderstood and insulting.(34) However, causing offence by rejecting offers of gratuities may be less of a problem when other channels are available. Donations of money, goods or services may be offered to the police service as a whole and be vetted to eliminate expectations of a return favor. Strict procedures can be developed for screening offers of sponsorships to exclude product endorsement, individual police benefits or influence on police operations. This is not necessarily clear cut, however. For example, Queensland Police Service regulations do not allow sponsorship if endorsement of sponsors' products or services is required. However, a sponsor's "plaque or sign" can be displayed on equipment provided, and this could easily be read by the public as police endorsement of the product.(35) At one remove are donations to allied police organizations involved in crime prevention by community development, such as police youth clubs.

The third counterargument is that police can be trained in ways of politely refusing gratuities.(36) These alternatives are not foolproof solutions to the problem of the appearance of compromise but may make gift-giving less subject to doubt. In general, good relations between the police and the community may be sponsored by more formal cooperative arrangements, such as consultative councils, and by a cleaner image and better communication skills.

The Case for Individual Discretion

It may be that some police or members of the public find gratuities personally unacceptable but feel that a general prohibition is too draconian. In this view, individual officers would be allowed to make their own decisions about where to draw the line. Kania, for one, argues that police are in the best position to judge their own motives and the motives of the giver, and that where both donor and recipient see the gift purely in terms of an expression of gratitude, then there is no unethical conduct.(37) Even where a person offering a gratuity appears to expect a favor in return, police have the capacity to clearly communicate that this is not a condition of receipt. It is the police who "should be responsible for determining and asserting the character and the ethical quality of any such exchange."(38)

Kania's support for police discretion is based in large part on his own experience of widespread acceptance of gratuities, allegedly without corruption. At the same time, Kania acknowledges that in some jurisdictions gratuities merge into corrupt practices and that the seemingly innocuous idea of "a gift" serves as a convenient justification for corrupt relationships.(39) As noted above, leaving the ethics of the decision with the individual leaves the door open for the less restrained officers Kania had the good fortune not to work alongside. Leaving gratuities open to individual discretion creates problems of unevenness and possible confusion on the part of both officers and the public. An explicit, publicized, universal policy against gratuities has the advantage of removing doubt and creating clear expectations.

Kania's support for officer discretion does have utility, but only at the bottom of the scale where occasional small gifts or customary hospitality are concerned. Police officers involved in protracted interviews in a complainant's or witness's home should be free to accept non-alcoholic drinks and a bite to eat. Police working on emergency searches, flood relief, or remote investigations should be free to receive meals and accommodation on an occasional basis. Police attending Neighborhood Watch meetings should be free to enjoy supper if it is provided. Anything less would be uncharitable in the extreme. These situations demonstrate the wisdom behind the wording of the Code of Conduct of the Queensland Police Service regarding tolerance of "incidental gifts, customary hospitality or other benefits of nominal value,"(40) and show the need for a slight qualification of a "no gratuities" policy. Regular gratuities that may produce an unfair police presence, and large gratuities that may be unfair or potentially compromising, are automatically excluded. This would cover gratuities offered as company policy, even if not taken on a regular basis. The bottom line then is relatively small gratuities, normally offered only very occasionally in a noncommercial context, where common standards of hospitality or an emergency remove most doubts about bribes.

A Survey of Public Attitudes to Police Gratuities

The existing literature on police gratuities invokes public opinion but from a limited empirical base. As previously noted, many writers claim high levels of public opposition to gratuities. Benson and Skinner, for example, state that: "all too often, we see evidence that citizens, at least as part of their perception, view uniformed officers as spending too much time `hangin' out' at doughnut shops and restaurants, drinking free coffee, eating free or half-priced food,"(41) The authors go on to claim that

it is not uncommon for citizens to believe that police who abuse their positions of trust for something as minor as a free cup of coffee will also be willing to take payoffs in other ways. And even if people do not believe the officer is taking a payoff, they do wonder why the police are getting something they themselves do not get - something that seems based solely on the officer's position.(42)

Following its investigations, the Knapp Commission came to the opposite conclusion: "The fact is that the public by and large does not regard gratuities as a serious matter."(43) Clearly, these different views are largely impressionistic, and what is needed is a more systematic survey of public opinion. This approach, in turn, begs the question of the value of public opinion as a determinant of what is ethical or permisable. In a democracy, public opinion should presumably be an important guide to policy. At the same time, ethical reasoning of the type developed above should also be part of the process of dialogue between policy makers and democratic constituencies. It could be argued that policy makers also have a responsibility to attempt to change public opinion in situations in which the policy makers see compelling arguments for less popular positions. Nonetheless, public opinion is clearly a vital, if not imperative, element in decision making and needs to be identified and understood as part of the process of policy development.

Research Method

Funding restrictions limited the researchers' capacity to follow a random sampling procedure in accessing survey respondents. Sporting and cultural clubs from across a range of socio-economic areas in Brisbane, Queensland, were approached to distribute self-administered questionnaires, and a small incentive fee was paid for those returned. Three hundred and ninety-eight useable questionnaires were obtained. Difficulties were experienced in obtaining responses from lower socio-economic areas. Consequently, the responses were biased somewhat toward white collar occupations, although this is complicated by the fact that 16% of respondents did not identify their occupation. The following occupational groups were represented: management/professions (23%), sales/service (25%), office work (12%), public service (9%), trade (8%), students (7%). This distribution approximates the distribution of management/professions and white collar workers in Australia. However, workers in trades make up 15% of the workforce and laborers (not identified by respondents) make up a further 15%.(44) The survey is therefore more representative of middle and upper-middle class opinion. Women made up 54% of respondents and men 44% (2% did not identify sex). Forty percent of respondents were aged 35 or less, 35% were 36-45, and 24% were 46 or above.

The two-page questionnaire was piloted with five clerical and administrative officers, one police officer and one university student. It asked respondents a variety of questions related to gratuities. The first question sought a broad response for, or against, the principle of gifts for police. A second question asked for opinions about what a police officer should do if the offer of a gratuity involved the expectation of a return favor. A series of questions was posed regarding particular types of gratuities. On the basis of the slippery slope theory, these were arranged in a loose scale ranked in presumed dollar value and seriousness. Respondents were also asked to specify why they approved or disapproved of gratuities. Further questions concerned views on official prohibitions, willingness to report and views on large donations to a police department. In an effort to contribute to knowledge about the scale of practice, respondents were asked whether they had seen police being offered or accepting gratuities. They were also asked what the gratuities were, why they were offered or accepted, and whether the respondent approved.


Overall, the results from the survey show strong community support for the main arguments put forward by theorists opposed to police gratuities. Only 4% of respondents gave unqualified affirmation to the principle that police should accept gifts from the public; 55% gave an unqualified "no" and a substantial minority of 35% said "yes (under certain circumstances)." A chi square test was used to identify variance by occupation and age for key questions concerning the principle of gifts to police, types of gratuities, official prohibitions and scale of practice. There was very little variance between categories of respondents in answers to all questions. The only significant difference was based on age and occurred for the first question. Respondents 35 or under were more likely to give qualified approval to police accepting gratuities (45%) than an outright "no" (42%). This contrasted with the 36 and above age bracket which was less likely to give a qualified "yes" (p = 0.00026). In the age group 36-45, 26% of respondents said "yes (under certain circumstances)" and 64% said "no." Amongst those 46 and older, 30% gave qualified approval and 63% responded in the negative. This result indicates that younger people are more tolerant of police acceptance of gratuities. However, this may result from a different understanding of what constitutes gratuities, given that the age differences disappeared when respondents were asked about particular types of gratuities.

What is of interest then is the way in which the initial "no" response of 55% was modified when respondents were presented with a scale of types of gratuities (Table 1). Only one-third expressed absolute disapproval of the occasional cup of coffee. The fact that two-thirds approved tends to confirm the claim that the gratuities issue does not lend itself to absolute positions. It would appear that the reaction of a majority of people is categorically against the general idea of police taking gifts. However, many of these are willing to accommodate acceptance of small incidental gratuities when presented with examples.


While three-quarters of respondents were opposed to regular small gratuities, one-quarter approved of gifts at Christmas. It is both regular small gratuities and larger gratuities which a significant majority opposed. More than 95% of respondents were opposed to gratuities such as free car repairs, merchandise up to the value of $200, and gifts from SP bookmakers (Table 1).(45) Respondents were therefore inclined to draw the line on acceptable gratuities very low on a scale. One-third would not even tolerate the bottom level of an occasional drink or discounted meal. This might be considered a miserly attitude, given the arguments previously outlined favoring police discretion in the matter of small and incidental gratuities. However, it may be that considerations such as "customary hospitality" and tolerance of an occasional "freebie" are overriden by public concern over inappropriate influences on police.

That the public is concerned about police impartiality is borne out in the reasons given for opposing gratuities. In reply to the question, "Would you expect a police officer to turn down the offer of a gift or favor if he thought a favor or service would be expected in return?," 87% said "yes." This response is closely related to the highest rated reason given as to why respondents opposed gratuities (Table 2). Almost 60% opposed police accepting gratuities because it "creates the expectation that a favor or service will follow." The perception is not that gratuities inevitably produce a biased police service, but that they generate the possibility of bias. There was also a closely related perception that acceptance of gratuities is compromising in the eyes of other people. The second highest rated reason for opposing gratuities was that "it makes the police officer look like he or she is corruptible" (48%).
Table 2 Reasons for Non-Approval of Police Acceptance of More Than
Occasional Small Gratuities

Reasons %

Creates the expectation that a favor or service will follow 59
Makes the police officer look like he or she is corruptible 48
Leads to other, more serious, forms of corruption 47
Harms the police image 45
Undignified for police 26
Results in those offering gratuities getting better services 24
Diverts police away from more important duties 22
N = 398

Similarly, there is a perception that gratuities act as an introduction to corruption. Forty-seven percent of respondents agreed with the proposition that gratuities lead to other, more serious, forms of corruption. Appearances were important for 45% of respondents who thought that gratuities harm the police image and also for the one-quarter who thought that gratuities are undignified for police. Actual bias was assumed by a further quarter who thought that persons offering gratuities receive better police service and a quarter who thought that accepting gratuities diverts police from more important duties. Reasons proffered in defence of regular but small gratuities received low levels of support. Kania's idea that gratuities help relations between police and the public received the highest level of support, but this was only 15%. Very few people considered that police were justified in accepting gratuities because it prevented the appearance of rudeness, and very few respondents thought that gratuities were justified if they helped business receive deserved police protection. Only 6% of respondents were impressed by the idea that police have a right to gratuities because "every occupation has its perks." Arguments that gratuities do not lead to corruption or that they compensate police for poor pay and working conditions also received minimum levels of support.

Fourteen percent of respondents said they had observed a police officer being offered a gratuity and 12% said they had observed an officer accepting a gratuity. The majority of respondents in the first category thought that the gratuities offered were free or discounted food or drink. Given the relatively wide variety of occupations and age groups in the survey sample, the table indicates that police gratuities are not a rare phenomenon in the Brisbane area. The fact that 37% of those who saw gratuities being accepted approved (as opposed to 54% who disapproved) would suggest that at least a large minority of gratuities might be considered innocuous or receive approval for some other reason.

The level of observation would appear to confirm suggestions made in the preliminary discussion that police acceptance of gratuities is not uncommon and that at least some police - perhaps a solid minority - avail themselves of offers of gratuities in defiance of departmental policy and public opinion. The favored explanations for gratuities being offered were "possible bribe" and "presence for deterrence." This contrasted with the explanations suggested as to why the offers were accepted, which were "promotion of goodwill" and "normal." The motives suggested for gratuities being offered appear fairly dubious in terms of active pursuit of favorable treatment. However, the motives attributed to police for accepting gratuities were more benign.

The responses overall demonstrate that the public feel a need to trust the police and that trust is substantially dependent on fidelity to quite exacting standards. Slightly less than half of all respondents believed that gratuities lead to corruption. There is, therefore, some support for Benson and Skinner's view that "it is not uncommon for citizens to believe that police who abuse their positions of trust for something as minor as a free cup of coffee will also be willing to take payoffs in other ways."(46)

The responses of those who observed police accepting gratuities were less cynical, but there was certainly a perception that the reasons for offering gratuities were to obtain influence. This concurs with the view described earlier that, in general, "police are given things, even discount hamburgers, in the hope that donors will get more service."(47) About one-quarter of respondents believed that gratuities resulted in biased service. The majority did not believe that gratuities inevitably produce corruption or distorted services, but there was a strong feeling that acceptance of gratuities puts police in a compromising position. This is a utilitarian view concerned with the potential consequences of an action. The public in this survey were not inclined to fully support Cohen's contention that "when police accept gratuities they allocate their presence on the basis of ability or willingness to pay."(48) The public were concerned, however, that this may happen and clearly prefer that the situation of potential compromise should not arise in the first place.

The results of the survey also confirm the argument that gratuities, especially regular or large gratuities, should be officially prohibited. Only 20% of respondents were willing to leave the decision to an officer's discretion. At the same time there was some indecisiveness on this issue. Twelve percent were uncertain, which was the highest level of uncertainty expressed for questions in the survey. Some support for official prohibitions was also evidenced in willingness to report. Just over half said they would report police who accepted the gratuities disapproved of by the respondents. A degree of lack of trust in the police may be indicated by the fact that about half of those willing to report said they would do so only if anonymity were guaranteed.

There was also a degree of uncertainty (12%) over the issue of large donations to the police organization: 46% disapproved and 40% approved. It is clear from this that police departments cannot claim solid public support for this means of improving resources.


Looked at as isolated individual acts, many police gratuities are small and appear relatively harmless. Nonetheless, some simple arithmetic, calculated over several years, might indicate a more serious abuse of position for personal gain. More significant, however, is the way in which the regular provision of gratuities may produce a pattern of uneven police presence. This is directly at odds with one of the most basic standards behind the claim for police legitimacy: the equitable provision of crime prevention and crime detection services. Police services should be provided without "fear or favor" on the basis of need. Acceptance of gratuities creates a potential for inequality and compromise, even where the practice may not produce a clear pattern of unequal protection or a clear case of compromise. It also appears to produce a perception of inequality and a reduction in public trust. The acceptance of small incidental gratuities has public support. To prevent the appearance of exploitation of position, where larger gratuities are offered they may usefully be directed towards police charities or joint police-community crime prevention projects.
Table 3 Reasons for Approval of Police Acceptance of Regular, But
Small, Gratuities

Reason %

Helps relations between police and the public 15
Helps business receive deserved police protection 8
Every occupation has its perks 6
Compensates the police for poor pay 6
Compensates the police for poor working conditions 5
Saves the police from being considered impolite if they reject
 officers of gratuities 5
Gratuities are pretty and do not lead to corruption 5
It will be used for a good cause such as helping with essential
 bills 1


(1) Following submission of this paper to Criminal Justice Ethics, John Kleinig brought to the authors' attention a similar study: Sigler & Dees Public Perceptions of Petty Corruption in Law Enforcement, 16 J. Police Sci. & Ad. 14-20 (1988). Sigler and Dees surveyed residents in Reno, Nevado, with the expectation that the city's economic reliance on gambling and casino employee dependence on tipping would predispose residents to favor gratuities for police. A small majority were found to be opposed to police receiving small gratuities and a large majority were opposed to police providing favorable treatment to those who provided gifts. The present study, which employed a wider sample, confirms Sigler and Dee's findings and offers a more detailed analysis of reasons for public opposition. One notable point of difference between the studies is that respondents in the present survey were much less likely to believe that those who gave gratuities received favorable treatment in return. (2) J. Pollock-Byrne, Ethics in Crime and Justice, 75 (1989). (3) Id. at 77-78. (4) Kania, Should We Tell the Police to Say "Yes" to Gratuities?, 7 Crim. Just. Ethics 37-49 (Summer/Fall, 1988). (5) Barker, Peer Group Support for Police Occupational Deviance, in Police Deviance 51-52 (T. Barker & D. Carter, eds. 1991). (6) Miller & Braswell, Police Perceptions of Ethical Decision-Making: The Ideal vs the Real, XI Am. J. Police 27-45 (1992). (7) Felkenes, Attitudes of Police Officers to their Professional Ethics, 12 J. Crim. Just. 211-20 (1984). (8) Hyams, Communicating the Ethical Standard, 24 J. Calif. L. Enforcement 76 (1990). (9) Ellis, Westcott, Thomas & Associates, Perceptions, Attitudes and Beliefs of Police Recruits, 15 Canadian Police C. J. 95-117 (1991). (10) Feldberg, Gratuities, Corruption and the Democratic Ethos of Policing: The Case of the Free Cup of Coffee, in Moral Issues in Police Work 267-76 (F. Elliston & M. Feldberg, eds. 1985). (11) W. Knapp, J. Monserrat, J. Sprizzo, F. Thomas & C. Vance, Commission Report 170 (1972). (12) Benson & Skinner, Doughnut Shop Ethics: There are Answers, The Police Chief, December 1988, at 32-33. (13) Police told: don't accept deal from Macdonalds, Age, Jan. 17, 1979, at 4. (14) Corruption and police, Age, June 13, 1983, at 4. (15) Flat Feet of Clay Canberra Times, March 2, 1988, at 3. (16) R. Graef, Talking Blues 314 (1989). (17) G. fitzgerald, Report of a Commission of Inquiry Pursuant to Orders in Council (1989). (18) Feldberg, supra note 10, at 268. (19) Cohen, Exploiting Police Authority, 5 Crim. Just. Ethics 23-31 (Summer/Fall, 1986). (20) Feldberg, supra note 10, at 268. (21) A. Niederhoffer, Behind the Shield: The Police in Urban Society 239 (1969). (22) Police Told, supra note 13, at 4. (23) In R. Graef, supra note 16, at 313. (24) Feldberg, supra note 10, at 269. (25) Id. at 269. (26) J. Pollock-Byrne, supra note 2, at 86. (27) Kania, supra note 4, at 39. (28) Police Told, supra note 13, at 4. (29) J. Pollock-Byrne, supra note 2, at 83-84. (30) E. Delattre, Character and Cops 81 (1989). (31) Feldberg, supra note 10, at 274. (32) Benson & Skinner supra note 12, at 32. (33) Kania, supra note 4, at 39. (34) Id. at 38-42. (35) QPS, Sponsorship and the Queensland Police Service 2, 5 (1992). (36) Benson & Skinner, supra note 12, at 33. (37) Kania, supra note 4, at 44. (38) Id. at 46. (39) Id. at 39-42. (40) QPS (Queensland Police Service) Code of Conduct (n.d.). (41) Benson & Skinner, supra note 12, at 32-33. (42) Id. at 32. (43) W. Knapp, J. Monserrat, J. Sprizzo, F. Thomas & C. Vance, supra note 11, at 181. (44) Australian Bureau of Statistics, Year Book Australia 1994, 176 (1994). (45) SP bookmakers are off-course betting agents whose activities are usually illegal. Historically, protection of SP bookmakers has been a common source of police corruption. (46) Benson & Skinner, supra note 12, at 32. (47) Flat Feet of Clay, supra note 15, at 3. (48) Cohen, supra note 19, at 29.

Tim Prenzler lectures in the School of Justice Administration, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia. Peta Mackay is a research assistant in the Centre for Crime Policy and Public Safety, Griffith University.
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Title Annotation:Australia
Author:Prenzler, Tim; MacKay, Peta
Publication:Criminal Justice Ethics
Date:Jan 1, 1995
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