According to Dean J. Champion (2005, 61), corruption is defined as ”behavior of public officials who accept money or other bribes for doing something they are under a duty to do anyway.” In terms of law enforcement, police officers engage in corrupt actions when, for money or other favors, they fail to do something when they have a lawful duty to act or when the officer does something that he or she should not have done (Dempsey and Forst 2005, 296). Also, if officers incorrectly use their discretion, they are engaging in corruption (Champion 2005, 61). An example of an officer’s failure to perform his or her duty is when an officer accepts a small bribe in exchange for not issuing a traffic citation. An example of a law enforcement officer doing something that he or she should not do would be an officer’s protection of criminals who engage in unlawful actions. Finally, an example of an officer misusing his or her discretion involves letting personal values, biases, and beliefs interfere with the performance of the job, such as when an officer issues traffic tickets only to African Americans because of personal discrimination against this ethnic minority.
Dimensions of Corruption
Types of Corruption
Most researchers identify nine main types of corruption by law enforcement officers: (1) corruption of authority, (2) kickbacks, (3) opportunistic theft, (4) shakedowns, (5) protection of illegal activities, (6) case fixing, (7) direct criminal activity, (8) internal payoffs, and (9) padding (Types and dimensions 2005). Corruption of authority is defined as ”when an officer receives some form of material gain by virtue of their position as a police officer without violating the law per se” (Types and dimensions 2005). An example of this form of corruption occurs when an officer accepts a gratuity, such as a free meal. Kickbacks occur when, in exchange for referring an offender to a business, the officer receives a fee. When defense attorneys pay a police officer a fee for referring everyone he or she has arrested to their offices, this is an example of a kickback. When a police officer steals from a crime scene or an arrestee, this is known as opportunistic theft.
According to Champion (2005, 231), a shakedown is defined as ”a form of police corruption in which money or valuables are extorted from criminals by police officers in exchange for the criminals not being arrested.” Protection of illegal activities involves, as the name suggests, the officer using his or her position to protect those individuals engaging in illegal conduct (Types and dimensions 2005). An example of this is an officer protecting organized crime figures who are engaging in prostitution rings. Fixing cases is also a problem within policing, and it involves officers using their position to get someone that they know out of trouble, such as out of a traffic ticket. Directed criminal activity involves officers actively committing crimes for money or property. The key to directed criminal activity is the officer’s planning of the criminal offense. The final two forms of corruption are padding and internal payoffs. Padding involves interfering in the investigation of crime by planting evidence, and its purpose is to ensure the prosecution of an offender (Types and dimensions 2005). Internal payoffs are associated with the police department itself. It includes things such as paying other officers for their holiday or vacation times.
Levels of Corruption
There are three general categories or levels of corruption within police departments (Lawrence Sherman, as cited in Dempsey and Forst 2005, 299). The first level is ”the rotten apples and rotten pockets” theory of police corruption, which holds that only one officer or a very small group of officers in a department or precinct is corrupt. With this theory, because there is no widespread corruption within the police department, the organization might not do anything to combat these corruption acts. The second level of corruption that occurs in departments is known as ”pervasive, unorganized corruption” (Dempsey and Forst 2005, 299). With this form of corruption, many officers within a department might be engaging in corrupt actions, but they are not working together. The final level of corruption occurs when the entire police department is working together and protecting each. This type of corruption is known as ”pervasive, organized corruption” (Dempsey and Forst 2005, 299).
Issues Associated with Gratuities
One of the most controversial issues in terms of police corruption is the acceptance of gratuities by officers. Accepting gratuities is defined as happening when an officer accepts an incentive in exchange for favors (Champion 2005, 114). Gratuities can be free items, discounts, or gifts. Many law enforcement administrators do not allow their officers to accept any form of gratuities; some departments allow them to accept some things such as a free meal. Those departments that allow officers to accept gratuities usually rationalize it by letting the persons offering the gratuities know that they will not received any special privileges, which is more like the officer accepting a gift rather than a gratuity. Those departments that do not allow gratuities believe that it opens the officer up to committing corrupted acts, and administrators believe gratuities are never offered without the expectation of something in return (Delattre 1996, 77). These departments believe that officers will start justifying stealing and other major corruptions if they accept small incentives for services. Stuart MacIntrye and Tim Prenzler (1999) found that officers are more likely to respond favorably to those individuals who have offered them some form of special privilege.
With regards to the issue of gratuities, there are different arguments for and against their use. Because most gratuities are small, many people do not see a problem with officers accepting them (White 2002, 22). According to Mike White (2002, 21), other reasons why those who support the use of gratuities believe that it is safe to do so is because not only do the officers who receive the gratuities benefit, but the community is also helped. The relationship between the police and the citizens within their policing community is improved when officers feel appreciated and rewarded for their work. Also, officers might feel that their supervisors do not trust them to make a decision on unacceptable and acceptable behavior if the department has guidelines against the acceptance of gratuities.
In addition to the reasons previously stated, critics of the use of gratuities believe that other people are at a disadvantage when they are offered (White 2002, 22). For example, if one restaurant offers police officers free meals in exchange for patronage and another restaurant owner cannot afford to offer the same service, then problems might arise. If there were a sudden string of robberies in the area, the owner who could not afford the gratuity would be at a disadvantage. Many people believe that officers can be placed in situations where they encounter such conflicts (White 2002, 21). This conflict could occur when individuals expect officers to ignore certain unlawful behavior, such as driving while under the influence of alcohol, because of the special services that the officer received. Pollock and Becker (1996, 172) look at the issue from a different perspective. If other governmental professions cannot accept gifts or services, then police officers should not be allowed to accept them.
The Corruption Process
Many theories have been proposed for why officers or police departments become corrupt. One explanation involves the increased drug use and distribution in today’s society. With the current war on drugs, police are encountering more money than ever before (Carter 1990). Because of the lack of supervision that occurs when an officer comes into contact with criminals, this can increase the likelihood that officers will take money from the offender because they are not likely to get caught. Officers can further become involved in drug-related corruption through the sale of drugs for money or the protection of those criminals engaging in the drug trade for a bribe.
The Police Subculture and the Cop Code
Another reason for the amount of corruption among law enforcement personnel is the nature of police work and, particularly, the nature of the police subculture. Dean J. Champion (2005, 195) defined the police subculture as ”the result of socialization and bonding among police officers because of their stress and job-related anxiety” and the ”unofficial norms and values possessed” by those working in the field of law enforcement. These values that officers learn as part of their job are different from the values of non-law enforcement people. New recruits learn quickly what is expected of them in terms of their fellow officers. They learn the cop code that is discussed by John P. Crank and Michael A. Cal-dero. These authors identified the following relationships that exist within police department between peers and supervisors. The following rules apply to law enforcement:
Rules Defining Relationships with Other Cops:
1. Watch out for your partner first and then the rest of the guys working that tour.
2. Don’t give up another cop.
3. Show toughness.
4. Be aggressive when you have to, but don’t be too eager.
5. Don’t get involved in anything in another guy’s sector.
6. Hold up your end of the work.
7. If you get caught off base, don’t implicate anybody else.
8. Make sure the other guys know if another cop is dangerous or unsafe.
9. Don’t trust a new guy until you have checked him out.
10. Don’t tell anybody else more than they have to know; it could be bad for you and it could be bad for them.
11. Don’t talk too much or too little. Both are suspicious.
12. Don’t leave work for the next tour.
Rules Defining Relationships of Street Cops with Bosses:
1. Protect yourself. (If the system wants to get you, it will.)
2. Don’t make waves. Supervisors pay attention to troublemakers.
3. Don’t give them too much activity. Don’t be too eager.
4. Keep out of the way of any boss from outside your precinct.
5. Don’t look for favors just for yourself.
6. Don’t take on the patrol sergeant by yourself.
7. Know your bosses. Who’s working and who has the desk?
8. Don’t do the bosses’ work for them.
9. Don’t trust bosses to look out for your interests (Crank and Caldero 2000, 144).
The cop code demonstrates how the police subculture can foster corruption through protecting those who are engaging in criminal acts and not reporting them to supervisors and the public.
Neal Trautman (2000, 65) developed the corruption continuum to explain the unethical actions of police officers. This continuum involves four levels. The first one is the implementation of policies that ensure that officers know the ethical rules that they have to follow. If the administrator fails to do this, then officers will believe that they can be corrupt and no one will do anything about it. The next phase of the process involves police supervisors not doing anything when they know of unethical acts committed by officers or when they try to cover for those officers who engage in corruption. The next step involves officers become indifferent or fearful of becoming involved in the situation. They may feel that if they come forward, they will be punished. After a period of time, when these officers become unhappy with their job, they are more likely to become corrupt. The final step of the corruption continuum involves officers doing anything they can to survive within the corrupt environment of the police organization, even if that means they have to become corrupt themselves.
Combating Corruption in Police Organizations
When faced with the issue of combating police corruption, law enforcement agencies and administrators can try various means to deal with the problem. J. Kevin Grant (2002) listed four means of dealing with this issue. The first method of fighting police corruption is through leadership. Police agencies must have a strong administrator that is willing to assess the problems, come up with solutions, and monitor the success of their implementations. Strong leadership is very important in terms of handling corruption because officers will typically look to their leaders to determine how they should behave (Pollock 1996, 220). If officers see that their supervisors are engaging in corruption, they are more likely to engage in it themselves, but if they see that administrators are following the law, punishing violations, and behaving ethically, then they would learn that to do otherwise is unacceptable.
Two other ways that J. Kevin Grant (2002) developed for combating corruption involved the hiring process and departmental procedures. Grant believed that if administrators selected quality applicants through high standards, then corruption would likely decrease. The use of psychological tests can help in the selection process because they are designed to determine characteristics of individuals. The administrator can decline those applicants that do not meet the standards set by the department. With regard to department standards, Grant believed that by providing training, setting up codes of conduct, making sure the officers are punished when violations occur, and encouraging officers to work together, a lot of the problems with corruption would disappear in police agencies. One of the main forms of training that police departments can provide is ethics training. Joycelyn Pollock (1996, 217) stated that ”ethics training in the academy, as well as offering in-service courses, is common and recommended for all police departments today.” This training will give officers the opportunity to understand the different ethical issues that are a part of the job, and, it is hoped, they will learn how to deal with these conflicts in a moral and ethical manner.
Civilian Review Boards
A final way to combat corruption in law enforcement is through civilian review boards (Dempsey and Forst 2005, 311). It is the job of law enforcement civil review boards to investigate allegations of corruption. The board can also make recommendations for change in terms of punishment meted out and policies on dealing with corruption. Many people like review boards that are independent of police departments because of the increase in impartiality that is associated with them. They believe that these types of boards are able to fully investigate issues of corruption and look at everyone’s side of the story.