Effective management of serious police misconduct: A machine learning analysis

Mr Timothy Cubitt1

1Australian Institute Of Criminology, Barton, Australia


Fairness in policing, driven by the effective and transparent investigation and remediation of police misconduct, is vital to maintaining the legitimacy of policing agencies. There are a range of management strategies available to police agencies to prevent serious misconduct. While many of these strategies are well accepted practice, there is limited empirical evidence demonstrating their effectiveness. This research sought to identify the antecedents of serious police misconduct, resulting in dismissal or criminal charge, among a matched sample of 600 officers that had committed serious misconduct, and 600 that had not, across a 13 year-period. A random forest was utilised for analysis, this presentation employs partial dependence plots to explore management strategies which have been identified as either increasing or decreasing risk of serious police misconduct. Predictive features of serious misconduct often did not relate to prior instances of misconduct, for example, secondary employment was an important predictor. In considering features of the policing environment that may be leveraged as protective factors to serious misconduct, three domains were identified. Expedient and opportune complaint resolution processes at a local level, positive behavioural reinforcement, and having a diverse range of career opportunities appear to offer options for prevention of serious misconduct by police officers.


Timothy Cubitt is a Principal Research Analyst in the Australian Institute of Criminology’s Serious and Organised Crime Research Laboratory. He previously led Professional Standards research at the NSW Police Force. Timothy is experienced in leading research in the areas of policing, criminology, drug dependence and countering violent extremism. His research has included the development of machine learning models to predict serious police misconduct, and assess offending patterns among Outlaw Motorcycle Gang members, development of alternate therapeutic treatments for drug dependence, and evaluating approaches to countering violent extremism in Australia. Prior research in addiction medicine included evaluating the role of pharmaceutical medications in illicit polydrug use. He has led large-scale evaluations of policing agency culture and the rescheduling of pharmaceutical anxiety medications, and managed investigations into police misconduct. Timothy holds a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology, a Master of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism, and a PhD in Criminology.