Law Enforcement: Issues

Police gratuities – the long-time and controversial practice of providing unsolicited largess to sworn law enforcement officers – is a situation that was debated on legal and moral grounds. The acceptance of gratuities has been scrutinized since the beginning of policing. The gratuity provenance stems from the early days of policing when service was provided by a fee-for-service system. When a citizen’s property was stolen, one would pay a certain fee to have the police recover the goods and arrest the perpetrator. 1 This fee-for-service system was not continued because police service was seen as a public entitlement.

Restricting police service to only those who could afford to pay would create a social injustice. The thought in a democracy is that public services should be equally available to all. (www. clearwaterpolice. org/articles/andrews. as) Are police officers unethical to accept gifts like free coffee and dinners? What I saw as a wrong act was taken by others, as a right. Gratuity is something given willingly or beyond compulsion generally for some service. The concern becomes cloudy as to whether the receiving of free coffee and free or cut-rate meals is in fact, by definition, a gratuity.

Even if the receiving of free or cut-rate items is not taken formally as a gratuity, does this mean that its acceptance is justly sound? Some police officers have departmental policies that affirm that officers can accept gratuities as long as they do not ask for them. Other officers describe difference between what is an permitted gratuity. Could ethical opinion of receiving gratuities be a matter of belief, or are the taking of gratuities a community social act that should persist as an association between the community and the police?

Different opinions are present among officers, as well as in different books and studies. Distinction between gratuities and corruption is not a clear perception. “Within the a large number of any police authority, the practice of taking gifts, switching services, and widen professional ‘courtesies’ is acknowledged by all citizens. It is a common part of business affairs for a salesman to offer a deal to a sound customer or for a firm to obtain constructive advertising space on a publication or tabloid by paying ‘extra.

‘Staff on communal payrolls also accepts gifts for professional services rendered. The compensation of free coffee and discounted meals or services from businesses to police officers is a prevalent, long-established practice in many authorities. Free coffee is possibly the most frequently accepted gratuity. Additional services that businessmen anticipate in return for giving a gratuity may include such instant acts as extra protection during business hours and after closing, police attend to banks, and regular patrol of the business locality.

While officers offer extra services to personal businesses in return for a free cup of coffee, they ignore their duty towards other people within their area. Police service cannot be supposed as going to the main bidder; choice must be based on need. Most officers consent that presenting free goods and services as an right and basing efforts in handling a complaint on what the complainant has given the officer is immoral. But, according to the most of the officers a huge gray area is present, particularly in the receiving of free coffee to raise officer being there.

Observation is significant; exchanging a complimentary cup of coffee may be harmless. Yet, the public’s opinion is vital in the favor and view that the community has for their law enforcement agency. In one of the cases an officer recommended that a new restaurant opened in her town and the owners gave free meals to police officers. Subsequently, the city put into practice a policy that began to charge businesses after the police department reacted to a limited number of false alarms.

The new business expected a bill because of its number of false alarms, but the owners declined to pay based on the long list of free meals given to the police department. The media published the story, which revealed badly on the department. Many hold a view that the coffee is low-cost and that owners are screening gratitude by offering a cup and enjoying the fact that officers spend time in their shops. Consequently, what is the harm?

On the other hand, what happens in unrestricted issues where officers stop the owner or an employee for speeding? They may base their judgment whether to cite on the fact that they received free coffee. Should the free coffee aspect in the officers’ assessment? Some law enforcement officers think that if the gratuity is not given, the opinion of reprisal may become an issue if the officer was put into the point of enforcement against the store owner or employee. “What makes a gift a gratuity is the rationale it is given, what makes it dishonesty is the basis it is taken.

The officer also think that on a unrestricted call the option remains that the officer may come to a decision in favor of the violator based on the offering of gratuities, but this has not occurred in his department. Recommendations Clearly, no general agreement subsists on the receiving of gratuities or even what represent a gratuity. As a superintendent, the rational move would be to not allow officers to allow free coffee and discounted or free meals. Revieving gratuities can lead to surplus view by the public and bring the agency’s caution into question.

Though, a Christmas gift given by a personal business to a department may be customary as a token of a working affiliation. Furthermore, agencies should feel free to accept assistance from fraternal group that donate to programs that help the general community. But, when an officer receives items on a custom basis, a harmful connection may develop or be apparent as such. To eradicate uncertainty, agencies should put into practice a policy against the reception of free or discounted items by individual officers.


Law enforcement officers frequently face the problem of receiving gratuities. Some officers hold the opinion that the acceptance of free coffee and free or discounted meals as a right, while others views it as an immoral act. Police officers should regard as the opinion of the public, as well as business owners, when receiving gratuities. Departmental policies on gratuities differ between agencies, and officers may question precisely what add up to a gratuity. To eradicate perplexity, departments should make sure that their policies clearly differentiate what is acceptable.

References: John Kleining, (1996) The Ethics of Policing New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. Bracey, D. (1992). Police Corruption and Community Relations: Community Policing. Police Studies, 15(4): 179-183. Daniel Patrick Barry (1999) Handling Police Misconduct in an Ethical Way University of Nevada. Miller, Seumas and Blackler, John (2005). Ethical Issues in Policing Hants, England: Ashgate. John R. Jones, Daniel P. Carlson (2003) Reputable Conduct: Ethical Issues in Policing and Corrections, Second Edition Prentice Hall www. clearwaterpolice. org/articles/andrews. asp.