Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Lorie Fridell


As police personnel carry out their mandates of enforcing the law, maintaining order, and serving the public, they are entrusted to "practice what they preach." They are expected to abide by the rules, laws, and ethical principles that apply to them as they hold private citizens to account for violations of laws. When the police do not live up to this standard by committing police misconduct, it can tarnish not just the individual officer, but the department and jurisdiction as well. Police misconduct is a concern for society as police misbehavior can result in negative outcomes, such as distrust by the citizenry, poor police-community relations, and litigation. Therefore, it is important for academics and police administrators to gain a better understanding of why police personnel engage in occupational deviance.

A sizable literature has identified several individual, organizational, and community-level correlates of police misconduct, but there is a general dearth of knowledge concerning criminological explanations for police misconduct. The purpose of this study was to assess the potential relationship between self-control and police misconduct utilizing two versions of self-control theory. The primary objectives of the dissertation were to: (1) investigate whether self-control predicts police misconduct; and, if so, (2) identify which version of self-control theory best explains police misconduct.

The original version of self-control theory (Gottfredson and Hirschi, 1990) hypothesizes that crime and deviant behavior are the result of low self-control, which is characterized by impulsivity, a preference for simple tasks, a proclivity for risk-seeking activities, self-centeredness, and a quick temper. More than a decade later, Hirschi (2004) revised the theory in an effort to address several shortcomings of the original theoretical model. In this revision, he moved the focus away from the personality trait of self-control to a rational choice, decision-making conceptualization, which he argued is more consistent with the original intent of the theory. From this new perspective, self-control refers to an internal set of inhibitors that influence the choices people make.

Data were collected through online surveys of 101 police supervisors within three U.S. police agencies. The respondents are part of a larger research project, known as the National Police Research Platform, which is funded by the National Institute of Justice. The data were analyzed using a series of correlational and multiple regression strategies. Based on theory and prior research, it was hypothesized that measures of both theoretical versions would significantly predict police misconduct and that, in a full regression model, both versions would yield significant (and independent) effects.

As predicted by the hypotheses, the results demonstrated that low self-control (as a measure of Gottfredson and Hirschi's theoretical version) and revised self-control (as a measure of Hirschi's revised theoretical version) were both significantly related to past police misconduct and the likelihood of future police misconduct. Furthermore, both measures produced independent effects in full regression models. Lastly, as evinced by standardized regression coefficients, the results suggested that revised self-control is the superior theoretical version within the context of police deviance.

The finding that self-control is related to police misconduct has important policy implications for police administrators. Specifically, it is recommended that administrators 1) bolster their personnel selection and hiring through the use of more judicious background investigations and increased use of psychological testing; 2) increase the use of integrity-testing strategies, such as early warning systems, to detect problematic employees; and 3) utilize quality police training programs with emphases on ethics, consequences of misbehavior, and mechanisms to strengthen employees' levels of self-control. Study strengths and limitations, as well as directions for future research, are presented.