Police Corruption

As a complex of normative principles, ethics plays the organizing and ordering role in society. Moral life means a state of things when each member of society does not violate others’ rights and freedoms. In such a way, the main role of ethics is to maintain common harmony in so that person fairly performs his or her individual functions. Thus, each person has some ethical guidelines, as well as each organization has to perform its activity in regard to its specific ethical code. As the organization that provides the control over the social morality, the police has to embody the ethical principles in the highest degree. In addition, the problem is that the police comprise of average people who feel many temptations to violate the moral norms, as well as others. Certainly, in some degree, the relation of an officer to such temptations depends on his or her personal qualities, but the influence of the state and certain collective specifics the officer belongs to also play an important role. As the phenomenon of corruption is the result of some disorder in the structure of the police, it is obvious that the main reason for that is the problem of correspondence between the reality and its normative description. To fight the police corruption, the legislative authorities, academy teachers and chiefs need to understand police officers and those difficult situations they work with through the realistic approach that would help officers act in accordance with the demands of their ethical code.

The Police Corruption and Ethics

To find a way to overcome the police corruption, it is important to explain what is corruption and how it interacts with the ethical dimension of police officers’ practice. According to Stuart A. White, “Corruption is the illegal use of legitimate authority. Any behavior that abuses and therefore crosses the parameters of one’s power can be classified as corruption” (1999). Such definition allows accept reasonably broad meaning of police corruption. Firstly, the police is an organization that embodies the internal power of the entire state. Secondly, as soon as the police is a specific organization with some common morale, customs, problems and typical behavior, theoretically, it can exist as a presupposition for grouped activity of corrupted police officers. Thirdly, as the police must protect society from criminals and other dangers, the police officers feel both very powerful (one officer represents the state) and very influential and socially important (the well-being of all citizens depends on an officer’s work). Thus, there are many possibilities and temptations for officers to use the power endued with them, and they can appear in various forms. Among them, there are the need for some bigger reward for dangerous and important work, need for more rights to increase the effectivity of fight against the criminals (the so-called “noble cause corruption”), the spirit of solidarity with other (already corrupted) police officers from the department, and other reasons.

Before analyzing specific types of police corruption in connection with ethics, it is important to mention some ideas from the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. This step should be taken to acquaint the police officers with some professional norms that would form their understanding of an ideal police officer. In fact, such practice is reasonably effective, but its only disadvantage is the lack of complex approach, which would involve all branches of society in helping the police officers avoid the temptations that lead to corruption. Even a perfect ethical code, which, for example, does not correspond to the legislative initiatives, does not work as the best one. Ethics does not exist independently from the reality; it also cannot violently predict how to act in the reality. The role of ethics is to show the best ways for everyone to satisfy his or her own needs and at the same time to allow others achieve the same.

Thus, the mentioned code of ethics includes some statements that govern the standard behavior of a police officer. There are five statements in a form of oath for everyone who joins the police. An officer promises that he or she will serve to the well-being of all people, protect the innocents, help those who need help, and make everything possible to ensure public order and safety in accordance to “the Constitutional rights of all men to liberty, equality and justice” (“Police Officer Code of Ethics”, 2004). At the same time, as a representative of the entire state, an officer has to serve as an example of citizen’s positive characteristics such as courage, honesty, obeying the laws, etc. It is important for a police officer to understand that his or her behavior is a very influential factor, which determines the order in a state both actively (through the fighting against the criminals) and passively (through the constructing of average police officer’s social image). The specifics of law enforcement officer’s work presuppose the access to some information, publication of which can have a negative effect on some people’s reputation. For this reason, the next promise of a police officer is to keep all information in confidence until the work demands some piece of that. At last, an officer has to separate his or her private life from the police duties and obligations (there is no contradiction with the promise to be an exemplary citizen in private life) (“Police Officer Code of Ethics”, 2004). In such a way, the creators of this ethical code attempt to keep the officers from specific relation to their friends, relatives and enemies because while performing the duties, an officer has to embody the justice itself.

This ethical code resembles the ethical codes of the European medieval knights (so-called Knights’ codes of chivalry) who also protected the innocents, represented the best characteristics and served the justice (the God). The knights’ ethical codes appeared as the Church’s and King’s attempts to regulate the elite warriors’ behavior by some moral norms. The creation of an exemplary knight’s positive image, according to which all moral knights had to be similar, served as an ideological instrument that helped overcome the medieval phenomenon analogous to the today’s police corruption. Thus, as the ethical codes appear as the responses to the improper deeds of those to whom the codes are addressed, it is clear that the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics shows in a negative form the main ways of the police corruption implementation.

Forms of Police Corruption

There are many possibilities for a police officer to use his or her legitimate authority in an illegal way, as well as there are many reasons for that, and personal profit is not the only one of them. The most popular forms of police corruption are bribery and extortion. In some respect, those are the same phenomena, with the only one difference: extortion presupposes the activity of a police officer while bribery is the result of another person’s activity (when someone proposes a bribe to an officer) (Newburn, 1999). These forms of corruption violate the constitutional equality of all people because bribery helps those who have more money to get an advantage over those who are poorer. This advantage can be indirect (when a police officer interacts with bribers and non-bribers in different ways) and direct (when in contradiction between two people, an officer protects and covers the one who pays him or her instead of acting in accordance with justice and fairness laws). In some degree, extortion is a more violent form of corruption because a bribe just stimulates an officer to increase his activity while extortion is implemented through an obligatory payment that is demanded by a police officer for his or her service (Newburn, 1999). Through the bribery, even an entire police department can become an instrument for a rich criminal who uses the corrupted police officers to protect himself from the law.

Along with that, corrupted police officers usually practice theft and burglary. The best example of that is a situation when a criminating evidence, such as criminals’ drugs, weapons or money, disappears after a police raid. In addition, a police officer can take some object from his/her department. The reason for that is the combination of personal and official spheres of life. A police officer who performs such activities believes that everything that belongs to the police becomes a collective property of the police officers (Newburn, 1999).

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Another form of police corruption is the so-called “corruption of authority”, which means that a police officer uses his or her status to get various personal advantages. They can include some gifts from people whom an officer helped (this is not a bribe but also a form of corruption), specific relation of the society (which is a specific “social” gift for important and dangerous work). A police officer may also help his or her relatives or friends resolve the problems with law instead of treating them equally to other citizens. Another side of such personal and official life combination is the use of a legal authority to implement a revenge to a police officer’s enemies only due to personal relationships with them and despite of usual injustices that follow such actions (“Police Corruption and Misconduct”, 2008).

An important form of a police officer’s corruption is perjury: he or she lies in order to protect someone from his or her department (or even him or herself). This cause implies the department forms an organized grouping (“us”), which interacts with others (“they”) to get some profits and advantages. The collective solidarity among corrupted police officers is a widespread phenomenon, and the problem is that some officers can sophistically justify such behavior as an expression of courage because the protection of colleagues is a positive act (Newburn, 1999). The main mistake here is the misunderstanding of the supreme role of the law, which has to determine the decisions of a police officer instead of the interests of his or her group.

One of the most important forms of police corruption in its connection with ethics is the so-called “noble cause corruption”. It usually involves the most effective and responsible police officers who violate the law in order to increase the results of their work (Martinelli, 2006). For example, some of them can falsify evidence, get fabricated testimonies and data, manipulate with facts and implement other possibilities they have in order to sentence a suspected criminal. The problem is that the specifics of the work in police causes some professional deformation. It makes the officers suspicious and, to some degree, sure in their suspicion’s objective reasons. Thus, an active officer believes that his duty is to ensure the punishment of a person he or she suspects to be a criminal even if there is not enough evidence for the judge’s sentence (Martinelli, 2006).

Through the prism of ethics, the most interesting and controversial form of corruption is the last one, which appears as the needed measure for the good goal. The most important ethical detail in each of these corruption forms concerns the way how the corrupted police officers justify their illegal behavior. Thus, as a justification for bribery, extortion, corruption of authority, theft, burglary and other similar forms of corruption, the police officers usually use appellation to various difficulties and threats connected with their work, and the need of some compensation because salary does not cover those problems. As for perjury, such form of corruption is more interesting in relation to ethics because it appears as the result of cops’ collective solidarity. The dangerous work of police officers demands the mutual belief within the department staff. For this reason, solidarity is one of the main values for an officer, and this value serves for a corrupted officer as a justification for the law violation because the spirit of collectivity becomes for such a person a higher value than the law itself. Thus, there are many forms of police corruption, and each of them has some mistaken ethical justification provided by an officer in accordance with both his/her personal specifics and environmental conditions such as department’s subculture.

The Solution of the Corruption Problem

The variability of police corruption forms demands having different approaches to each of them in accordance with the ethical reasons that the corrupted officers use to justify their illegal deeds. It is possible to underline four reasons of police corruption. Those are contradictions between the law and the reality (the lack of realism in the law), officer’s personal psychological or ideological presuppositions to corruption, contradiction between the reality and the courses of Academy (when officers start working unprepared to real situations and problems), and poor financing of police departments in connection with small compensations for the dangerous work. It is possible to explain each position in regard to its specific character and connection with the field of ethics.

The lack of realism is a common problem in the field of legislation. When there is no way to abide some law effectively, the most reasonable solution is to violate it. Through the prism of everyday ethics, such choice is the result of the legislators’ unprofessionalism and contradiction between the norm and the real life. Thus, many criminals just pay the police officers to be untouchable for the law instead of obeying it. Such bribes accept finds its justification in the mass character of some kind of law violation. For example, the officer cannot arrest the whole city if most of the citizens violate the same law that is why such officer would better accept their bribes. Furthermore, the officer would understand his/her deeds as ethical because he/she helps people to survive some contradictory law. The best way to avoid such situations is the decriminalization of some common forms of activity. Certainly, it would not relate to socially dangerous crimes but minor offences. For example, the decriminalization of marijuana use, which makes no negative effect for society and affects only its users, can keep numerous police officers from bribery connected with illegal allowing of it. Thus, the society, which already uses marijuana, would continue using it but without illegal interaction with the police. Such realistic measures can save many police officers from the corruption temptation as well as save the high status of the law.

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Another important detail is related to the personal qualities of the police officers. Kappeler, Sluder and Alpert propose three prisms to discover the personal presupposition to corruption (2010). Through the psychological paradigm, the corrupted officers are usually viewed as very authoritarian people. They like to feel themselves powerful and use their power both for personal psychological satisfaction and for some material profits. Their ethical justification of illegal authority use comes from the belief in their supremacy over others. The anthropological paradigm proposes the image of racists, chauvinists and conservators who believe that some people (those who do not belong to some “higher” ethnical, cultural, religious or other group) have a presupposition to criminal activity. The best example comes from some police officers’ specific suspicion towards African-Americans and immigrants instead of being objective. Thus, the officers use their authority to help their group dominate over others, and they ethically justify their behavior through the high importance of the collectivity spirit. As for the third paradigm, it is the sociological one, which determines the interrelations within a police department. The problem is also with a collective solidarity, but in this case, it concerns its professional but not cultural aspect. According to rotten apple theory, one corrupted police officer is quite enough to corrupt the entire department. The best way to overcome all problems connected with the mentioned aspects is the control over the police officers through all three paradigms. It is necessary to elaborate effective testing to detect those who have some strong presupposition to corruption in order to deny such people even the access to Academy. Martin claims, “a major consideration in rooting out misconduct is not hiring unethical individuals” (2011). Another important step is a regular screening of all departments in order to find the problematic departments and resolve the problems with their staff.

The next problem, as well as the first one, also relates to the lack of realism but in the field of education. White claims, that while working at their departments, most of the police officers understand that all knowledge they had received in Academy has no relation to the real world, with its specific ethical challenges (1999). The researcher adds, “officers coming out of the Academy learn quickly that the principles learned in the Academy, are just that, and each department has its own policies and procedures that officers must adjust to” (White, 1999). The mentioned Police Officer Code of Ethics proposes some useful norms that may help a police officer in some controversial situations, but it concerns a more abstract, ideal image of a police officer. There are no real advises for those people who interact with criminals, fight against the law violations, protect the society and regularly face the temptation to accept the corruption as many other colleagues and friends. There are also no means to prevent some police officers from becoming cynical through the understanding of contradictions between the ideal models and the reality. Gilmartin and Harris underline that “strategies for accepting the fact that officers do not control their police role, but do have absolute control over their integrity and professionalism have to be taught and practiced” (1998). Such statement means that the police administration has to implement its policy in accordance to personal specifics of police officers. The police, in other words, needs some internal humanism. Rich Martin proposes some advises in regard to such a problem solution. According to Martin, “First of all, the discussion of ethics as related to law enforcement must begin with a definition of the word integrity” (2011).

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