Police Corruption, Motivation, and Accountability

Introduction

Corruption is one of the direst problems facing modern society today. It is the root of many evils in the world and it has become a constant burden to governments globally. Corruption is present in many professional and non-professional settings. One profession where the presence of corruption has a significant impact on society is policing. Police officers are tasked with serving the community by enforcing the laws of the land and protecting individuals and their property.

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Corruption is one of the challenges that law enforcers face in their everyday work lives. It is where police officers indulge in unethical activities, which do not align with the police code of conduct, for personal interests. Corruption among police officers is an issue that spans cultural organizations, nations, and generations because it is perpetrated by human weaknesses and motivations. This paper explores the issue of police corruption, the motivation behind this behavior, and how it can be combated. It discusses why corruption is not a necessary or unavoidable aspect of police work.

Defining Police Corruption

Corruption is a problem that faces all societies in the world, and it involves abusing one’s authority for personal gain. Police corruption involves corruption incidents perpetrated by law enforcement officers. By definition, police corruption refers to the abuse of authority by police officers for their benefit rather than the benefit of the public. Police corruption also includes the abuse of power by the police even when it does not lead to direct personal benefits. Police officers have considerable opportunities to engage in corruption due to several reasons. To begin with, there is a special trust and responsibility that society has placed on police officers (Gottschalk, 2012).

At the same time, law enforcement officers have significant power since they are empowered to use force in the course of their work. Police officers also have inside information and an in-depth understanding of the working of the criminal justice system. They might also be able to exert some influence on this system, which places them in a position to protect themselves from arrest and prosecution.

Main Types of Corruption

Police corruption can be subdivided into some significant types. An essential and prevalent form of corruption is the soliciting and/or accepting bribes by law enforcement officers. Police officers have a position of authority, and in the course of their work, they have many opportunities to elicit bribes. Bribe eliciting or acceptance may be caused by numerous reasons, including avoiding reporting offenders such as drug dealers, prostitutes, and individuals engaged in various other illegal activities. Bribes can also be given to police officers to stop them from reporting violations of laws.

Another type of corruption is the falsifying of reports to secure arrests or convictions. In this form of corruption, police officers go against their code of conduct to achieve the end goal of putting suspected criminals in prison (Gottschalk, 2012). Most of the law enforcement officers who engage in this form of corruption assume that they are carrying out a “noble cause corruption” for their actions often achieve the desirable ends of punishing wrongdoers.

Police corruption can also be in the form of receiving gifts from citizens or discounts on purchases in various business establishments. Beckley and Prenzler (2013) report that in most cases, the donor expects to receive some favorable treatment from the police. This might include faster response time in the event of an emergency at the business that offers discounts to the police. Police are also likely to overlook minor offenses committed by a person who has provided a gift in the past.

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A damaging form of police corruption is the selling of privileged police information to civilians or criminal entities. Individual police officers are often in possession of privileged information about the activities of the police (Gottschalk, 2012). This information may include plans for raids on a suspected gang hideout, planned arrests of prominent criminals, and the identity of police informants to name but a few. This information is highly valuable to the criminal elements, who are the target of the police operations. Corrupt officers can sell this information to criminals for a significant amount of money.

Causes of Corruption

Poor governance of police authority has contributed to corruption by law enforcers. Ronken and Prenzler (2003) reveal that for decades, the Australian police agencies have operated under a minimalistic model of accountability where the police were responsible for enforcing control of police conduct. There is detached political oversight on police matters, and independent inquiries are only used as a last resort.

The accountability of police officers is mainly determined by the form of governance administered to them by the superior law enforcement agencies under which they serve (Westmarland, 2005). Police governance refers to the nature by which law enforcement is implemented and exercised in ensuring that police officers properly fulfill their duties. In this regard, the lack of strong and proper policies on misconduct and unethical behavior in the line of duty has helped to perpetuate the corruption of law enforcement officers in various sectors of their work.

One of the most evident reasons for police corruption is that law enforcement officials have numerous opportunities to not only engage in but also get away with corruption. There is no doubt that, as crime fighters, law enforcement officers come across many illegal incidents in their workday. Some of these incidents may include theft cases, bad or illegal commercial activities, and the trade or use of banned drugs. In most cases, police officers are bribed with huge amounts of money to protect those engaging in such illegal activities, thus enabling the activities to continue taking place (Tyler, 2006).

This view is collaborated by Miller (2003), who reveals that law enforcers inevitably interact with all sorts of bad people who are willing to part with any amount of money to get protection for their illegal activities (Miller, 2003). Based on this observation, there have been reports of law enforcers falling in the hands of powerful gangs who are willing to subvert ethical police operations for their selfish motives.

Corruption continues to occur since it is believed to be a historical reality of the law enforcement organization. The public has always held the view that police officers are people who can be persuaded using money. This perception was developed following numerous incidents of police corruption over the decades (Sen, 2010). Ronken and Prenzler (2003) reveal that the Australian police force has a long history of corruption and misconduct. It led to public mistrust of the police and the adoption of the view that the police lacked integrity. Since the police are assumed to be unethical professionals, individuals offer bribes to police officers to get away with illegal activities. Modern-day officers on the other hand just follow the old habits as far as this issue goes.

Discretion and the minimal benefits given to police officers have greatly contributed to the officers’ involvement in corrupt dealings and activities. Punch (2009) notes that police officers exercise a certain amount of discretion when dealing with cases in the field. In some cases, police officers tend to find themselves in a dilemma on whether or not to reveal information about criminal activities, especially if this poses a threat to their lives or if it involves some powerful personnel (Gillard and Flynn, 2012). In such scenarios, police officers would opt for the bribes offered to them by those involved rather than risk it all. More importantly, police officers tend to engage in corrupt activities to subsidize their salaries.

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Combating Police Corruption

Corruption within the police forces yields numerous undesirable outcomes. Reducing corruption and improving the integrity in policing is therefore a major goal of the Australian government. To reduce the likelihood of law enforcement officers engaging in corruption, various police agencies have come up with ethical principles that serve as the basic guideline for police conduct. Members of the police force are educated on the ethical standards that they need to uphold.

Prasser (2012) observes that law enforcement officers are constantly provided with education about the rules and principles that they need to abide by. Ethics training ensures that the police know what is expected of them regarding professional conduct. Instances of police corruption will reduce since police officers will be equipped to develop and maintain ethical competencies.

The government should implement strong institutes to oversee the activities of the police force. As noted, the relatively free rein given to the police has led to low accountability, which has, in turn, contributed to the prevalence of corruption within the force. Strong institutions such as an independent body to investigate cases of police corruption and an independent judiciary to try the cases will lead to better accountability (Prasser, 2012). These bodies will also contribute to greater deterrence since officers who engage in corruption will know that they will be investigated and punished for their actions.

Better surveillance of police officers in the frontline can contribute to the mitigation of corruption. Policing work is mostly carried out away from the view of supervisors. This exposes police officers to an atmosphere conducive to all forms of corruption, thus making them easy preys on bribery (Prenzler, 2009). Higher levels of supervision of the police and other surveillance methods will act as a deterrence to corruption. Officers who know that they are under observation are unlikely to engage in corrupt activities in the course of their work.

Another means of combatting police corruption is by coming up with ways to protect whistle-blowers within the force. In many cases, officers are away from the corrupt activities of their colleagues. Internal whistle-blowing is therefore crucial to detecting and taking disciplinary action against corrupt officers. Prenzler (2009) notes that due to the danger and stress of police work, solidarity becomes an important part of the coping mechanisms of police. Members of the force present a united front and support each other. This solidarity promotes corruption since it can become a cloak of silence and secrecy.

Officers who break this code of silence by informing their peers are punished by the rest. Prasser (2012) notes that in Australia, there is a problem with whistle-blower protection and this dissuades many officers from reporting illegal activities by their colleagues.

Discussion

Police corruption hurts society. The question is, therefore, raised as to whether this social ill is necessary and unavoidable. From the arguments made in the paper, police corruption does not have to occur. In most cases, this evil occurs due to poor governance, police discretion, and the opportunism of some police officers. The culture of solidarity by police officers also helps to perpetuate corruption since officers are reluctant to whistleblow on their comrades. Nothing indicates that corruption is necessary for the police to carry out their mandated duties to society. Applying the various solutions proposed here can effectively combat police corruption. This behavior can therefore be avoided thus ensuring that the society does not suffer from the many negative effects of police corruption.

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Conclusion

Police corruption is a major issue threatening the ability of police agencies to engage effectively in their work. This paper set out to discuss this ill and highlight how it can be combatted. It began by defining police corruption as the act where enforcement officers indulge in unethical activities that do not align with police authority for personal gain. The paper then explored the main types of police corruption, which include taking bribes, falsifying reports, receiving gifts, and selling privileged police information. A number of the reasons for corruption among police officers were highlighted.

The paper has taken the position that corruption is not a necessary aspect of police work and it can be avoided by implementing some practical solutions. This will result in a corruption-free police force, which will be beneficial to the entire society.

References

Beckley A, and Prenzler T (2013) Police gifts and benefits scandals: addressing deficits in policy, leadership and enforcement. International Journal of Police Science & Management 15: 294-304.

Gillard M, and Flynn L (2012) Untouchables: Dirty cops, bent justice and racism in Scotland Yard. London: Bloombury.

Gottschalk P (2012) Police criminality and neutralization: an empirical study of court cases. Police Practice & Research 13: 501-512.

Miller J (2003) Police corruption in England and Wales: An assessment of current evidence. London: Home Office.

Prasser S (2012) Australian integrity agencies in critical perspective. Policy Studies 33: 21-35.

Prenzler T (2009) Police Corruption: Preventing Misconduct and Maintaining Integrity. New York: CRC Press.

Punch M (2009) Police Corruption: Deviance, Accountability and Reform in Policing. New York: Routledge.

Ronken C, and Prenzler T (2003) A survey of innovations in the development and maintenance of ethical standards by Australian police departments. Police Practice and Research 4: 149-161.

Sen S (2010) Enforcing Police Accountability Through Citizen Oversight. London: Sage Publishers.

Tyler T (2006) Why People Obey the Law. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Westmarland L (2005) Police ethics and integrity: breaking the blue code of silence. Policing and Society 15: 145-165.

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