Introduction Occupational deviance is prevalent in all occupations, but the setting and structure of policing invites the possibility for greater deviance. (Mars, 2006) Corruption: “acts involving the misuse of authority by a law enforcement officer in a manner designed to produce personal gain for himself or others.” (Goldstein, 1975) Corruption exists on a continuum ranging from accepting free meals to actively tampering with an investigation. Some argue that small gratuities can be a slippery slope to larger corrupt activities. Corruption is a problem because, in order to function effectively, the public must have trust and confidence in the police.
Defining Police Deviance and Corruption Any definition of corruption must include the means, ends, and motivation driving the conduct. (Newburn, 1999) – Means: the exploitation, misuse or abuse of police authority. (Id.) – Ends may be either legal or illegal (accepting free meals or stealing money). Agencies have been accused of falsifying data to raise property values or increase tourist money. Corruption is “an ethical problem before it is a legal or administrative problem.” (Id.)
Types of Corruption The most common and extensive form is the acceptance of small gratuities. This is an issue because there is a tendency for humans to be more protective towards others who make an effort to please them. Kickbacks for referrals for service – A towing company gives kickbacks (goods, money, services) to officers who call them to the scene of a crime. Opportunistic theft – Officers stealing items from people in custody, removing items of a victim of crime. (This suggests a failure to monitor and supervise.) Shakedowns – When an officer extorts money with a threat to enforce or fail to enforce a law. Protection of illegal activities – An officer may not do this actively, but could talk with friends in a specific division to control the outcome of the case. Accepting money to fix cases (typically traffic tickets). Direct Criminal Activities – Examples include stealing drugs from a crime scene and selling them or even murder. Padding – Planting weapons at the scene of a shooting to make an officer-involved shooting seem justifiable. Individual corruption – Grass eaters: passive officers who only engage in corrupt activities when solicited. (Knapp Commission, 1973) – Meat eaters: aggressively engage in corrupt activities. (Knapp Commission, 1973)
Departmental Corruption Sherman’s (1974) typology of corruption: – Type I: individuals fail to abide by laws or rules. Not tied to police structure, and it receives no support from supervisors. – Type II: pervasive, unorganized corruption. This type permeates the organization, with many officers involved either aggressively or passively, but not in coordinated action. – Type III: pervasive, organized corruption. This is similar to organized crime, where the activities must be protected by a well-organized operation. This requires the involvement of control hierarchies, or the absence of organizational control. Police misconduct becomes corruption “when actions violate external expectations regarding what the department should do.” (Lundman, 1980) Peer or supervisor support does not always need to be active.
Causes of Corruption The nature of police work: the extraordinary discretion and low visibility involved in police work leads to an unusual opportunity for deviance. The police subculture has an emphasis on secrecy, loyalty and solidarity, which leads to a more permissive attitude towards corruption based on how long an officer has been exposed to that subculture. Officers rarely report their fellow officers’ misconduct (“Code of Silence”), and those who do face repercussions. (Weisburd et al., 2000) The police organization: persistent deviance is not a solitary enterprise, but flourishes with group support. Poor and crime-ridden communities have the worst instances of police corruption, especially when communities have few resources to rely on when the police are no longer there. (Mollen Commission, 1994) The low social status and low pay of officers leads to rationalizations for corruption.
Controlling Police Deviance and Corruption - Internal The attitude of the chief is the most important factor in battling corruption, followed by the actions of front-line supervisors. The failure to conduct thorough background checks can result in the employment of corrupt officers. Having weak enforcement of rules, or failure to provide adequate training on those rules diminishes their effectiveness. Agencies should establish reporting procedures which allow citizens and other officers to easily file complaints about officer behavior. Early intervention systems (EIS) are based on the theory that corruption begins on a small scale, but evolves to a larger scale, and if caught early enough can be prevented. Integrity tests can be done by giving officers opportunities for corruption and see if they do.
Controlling Police Deviance and Corruption - External Court Supervision: Consent decrees are agreements between the agency, municipality and federal government to monitor police actions and required changes. Criminal Prosecutions: Prosecutors must actively pursue criminal prosecutions, especially at the severe end of the corruption spectrum. Citizen Review Boards: The police have generally been distrustful of citizen oversight, believing that evaluation of police cannot be fair if the evaluator has not been involved in policing.
Summary To operate effectively, departments must have a system of control that is understood and trusted by the community. Officers must internalize the general value system on which policies are based and learn the rules and procedures to follow in certain situations. It is much more efficient to prevent problems before they arise than to handle them after they become a crisis.