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Police corruption is a form of police misconduct in which law enforcement officers break their social contract and abuse their power for personal or department gain.

One common form of police corruption is soliciting or accepting bribes in exchange for not reporting organized drug or prostitution rings or other illegal activities. Another example is police officers flouting the police code of conduct in order to secure convictions of suspects—for example, through the use of falsified evidence. More rarely, police officers may deliberately and systematically participate in organized crime themselves.

In most major cities there are internal affairs sections to investigate suspected police corruption or misconduct. Similar entities include the British Independent Police Complaints Commission. Police corruption is a significant widespread problem in many departments and agencies worldwide.

Corrupt acts by police officers[edit]

Police officers have several opportunities to gain personally from their status and authority as law enforcement officers. The Knapp Commission, which investigated corruption in the New York City Police Department in the early 1970s, divided corrupt officers into two types: meat-eaters, who "aggressively misuse their police powers for personal gain", and grass-eaters, who "simply accept the payoffs that the happenstances of police work throw their way."[1]

The sort of corrupt acts that have been committed by police officers have been classified as follows:[2]

  • Corruption of authority: When police officers receive free drinks, meals, and other gratuities, because they are police officers, whether intentionally or unintentionally, they convey an image of corruption.[citation needed]
  • Extortion/Bribery: Demanding or receiving payment for criminal offenses, to overlook a crime or a possible future crime. Types of bribery are protection for illegal activity, ticket fixing, alter testimony, destroying evidence, selling criminal information. the list goes on an on. Bribery is one of the most common acts of corruption.
  • theft and Burglary Is when an officer or department steals from an arrest and crime victims or corpses. Examples are taking drugs for personal use in a drug bust, and taking personal objects from a corpse at the scene of a crime. A theft can also within a department. An officer can steal property from the departments evidence room or property room for personal use.[citation needed]
  • Shakedowns: Can be classified under theft and burglary. Stealing items for personal use from a crime scene or an arrest.
  • "Fixing": undermining criminal prosecutions by withholding evidence or failing to appear at judicial hearings, for bribery or as a personal favor.
  • Perjury: Lying to protect other officers or oneself in a court of law or a department investigation.
  • Direct criminal activities a law enforcement officer engages in criminal activity themselves.[3]
  • Internal payoffs: prerogatives and perquisites of law enforcement organizations, such as shifts and holidays, being bought and sold.
  • The "frameup": the planting or adding to evidence, especially in drug cases.
  • Ticket fixing: police officers cancelling traffic tickets as a favor to the friends and family of other police officers.

Prevalence of police corruption[edit]

Accurate information about the prevalence of police corruption is hard to come by, since the corrupt activities tend to happen in secret and police organizations have little incentive to publish information about corruption.[4] Police officials and researchers alike have argued that in some countries, large-scale corruption involving the police not only exists but can even become institutionalized.[5] One study of corruption in the Los Angeles Police Department (focusing particularly on the Rampart scandal) proposed that certain forms of police corruption may be the norm, rather than the exception, in American policing.[6] In the UK, an internal investigation in 2002 into the largest police force, the Metropolitan Police, Operation Tiberius found that the force was so corrupt that "organized criminals were able to infiltrate Scotland Yard “at will” by bribing corrupt officers ... and that Britain’s biggest force suffered 'endemic corruption' at the time".[7]

Where corruption exists, the widespread existence of a Blue Code of Silence among the police can prevent the corruption from coming to light. Officers in these situations commonly fail to report corrupt behavior or provide false testimony to outside investigators to cover up criminal activity by their fellow officers.[8] The well-known case of Frank Serpico, a police officer who spoke out about pervasive corruption in the NYPD despite the open hostility of other members, illustrates how powerful the code of silence can be. In Australia in 1994, by 46 votes to 45, independent politician John Hatton forced the New South Wales state government to override the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the advice of senior police to establish a ground-breaking Royal Commission into Police Corruption[9] However, in a number of countries, such as China,[10] Pakistan, Malaysia, Russia, Ukraine, Brazil or Mexico, police corruption remains to be one of the largest social problems facing their countries.[citation needed]

"Noble cause corruption" and police[edit]

"Noble cause corruption" as ethical corruption is a departure from conventional discussions on police corruption, which typically focus on monetary corruption. According to the field of Police Ethics, noble cause corruption is police misconduct "committed in the name of good ends." In Police Ethics it argued that some of the best officers are often the most susceptible to noble cause corruption.[11] According to professional policing literature, noble cause corruption includes "planting or fabricating evidence, lying or the fabrication and manipulation of facts on reports or through testimony in court, and generally abusing police authority to make a charge stick."[12] According to Robert Reiner, a professor at the London School of Economics, stops based on statistical discrimination are also a form of noble cause corruption.[13]

Effects of Police Corruption[edit]

Police corruption effects society, including political, economic, and sociological. The social aspect is perhaps easiest to define, because even one corrupt officer in a department can generate an overall distrust of the department (the Rotten Apple theory).[14] This negative outlook on policing by citizens helps maintain an "us versus them" mentality among police, which only serves to further the rift between police and the public.

Police corruption, when brought to the public eye, increases pressures on departments by lawmakers to enact change from within. In 2013, the West Valley City, Utah police's narcotics unit was disbanded due to rampant corruption among its officers. These officers were found stealing small items from seized vehicles, taking evidence, and placing tracking devices on potential suspects' vehicles without warrants.[15] This action, like many others, not only increases distrust among the public, but lawmakers begin to feel pressure from the masses to remove officers and revamp entire departments.

Political Effects[edit]

Citizen involvement[edit]

Citizens within the jurisdiction look to lawmakers and justice officials to enact justice against the officers involved. If the instance of corruption happens to fall on an election year, their re-election campaign may be lost.

In areas such as Afghanistan, media exposure and citizen involvement in combating corruption is rarely seen. Rather, international officials step in to help eliminate corruption in the department.[16]

Top-down discipline[edit]

Depending on the number of people involved and severity of the acts, the state executive or legislature may be compelled to demand that the department be scrutinized and its policies corrected. This can involve replacing individual officers, mid-level leadership, or asking for a resignation by the department chief. Disciplinary actions depend on the severity of the act, but typically result in disciplinary actions by the department and negative media coverage for the department.[17] In 1970, the New York City Knapp Commission began holding officers and supervision accountable and institute real disciplinary actions for police corruption. In countries where corruption is a major issue, such as China and Russia, state government is often directly involved in investigating and disciplining cases of corruption, such as in the Chongqing gang trials, where police chief Wen Qiang was detained and put on trial for accepting bribes, rape, and other crimes during the Chongqing gang crackdown.[18]

Social Effects[edit]

General distrust of police in the community[edit]

While political issues can easily be worked through, the social effect of police corruption is much harder to overcome. Citizens, especially those who or know someone who has been victimized by certain types of corruption, tend to see the police as more of an enemy.[19] Similarly, police view citizens in the same light. Both issues have only been exacerbated by the War on Crime and War on Drugs. The "us versus them" mentality is especially prevalent among inner city minorities, where stereotyping and racial targeting seem to be the norm.

Rotten Apple Theory[edit]

This theory suggests that one bad cop ruins the entire department. A single officer can not only cause leadership to initiate investigations over entire sections or the department as a whole, but that one corrupt officer can bring a generally appreciated department to its knees in terms of public relations. People look at that one bad cop and assume, sometimes correctly (especially in this case, where several other officers were found to be committing similar violations) the entire department is corrupt and committing similar or worse acts.[14]

Reduced effectiveness[edit]

Police corruption not only generates distrust among the populace, but undermines the criminal justice system as a whole. Judges and prosecutors may develop a negative opinion of officers who come to testify in cases, especially those who have a history of disciplinary action related to corrupt acts. The trustworthiness of officers who work in departments where corruption has been discovered is severely diminished, and even if the testimony they provide in court is an exact recollection of the events in question, a prosecutor or judge may choose to simply ignore these facts because of their association with a seemingly corrupt department. In the case of the Waldo, FL police, the entire department was disbanded partly due to allegations of corruption, meaning county law enforcement must take over where the city failed.[20]

Economic Effects[edit]

Officer training[edit]

Should the corrupt act not be extremely severe, or the department decide discharge of the officer is unnecessary, those involved in corrupt acts may be charged to undergo remedial training. This could be inside or outside the department, and becomes another red mark on the already strapped budget of most departments. The cost of this remedial training pales in comparison to the cost of having to train new officers to replace those who are relieved of their duties, since these new hires will need to undergo initial academy training as well as whatever additional training the officer would require as they advanced in their career.[21]


Investigation and litigation costs may be high. These investigators are either part of their own department or taken from other squads (county sheriff investigating a city department, for example), or can be private entities. The department must also invest in retaining attorneys for both themselves and the officers involved.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Thomas C. Mackey, "Meat-eaters and Grass-eaters", H-Net, November 1997, available at http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=1503. Accessed 6 February 2010.
  2. ^ Newburn, 1999, p. 4
  3. ^ a b "Met Commander Ali Dizaei guilty of corruption". BBC News. 2010-02-08. Retrieved 2010-02-08. 
  4. ^ Sanja Kutnjak Ivkovic, "To Serve and Collect: Measuring Police Corruption", The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 93, no. 2/3 (2003): 600.
  5. ^ Peter Kratcoski, "International Perspectives on Institutional and Police Corruption", Police Practice and Research 3, no. 1 (2002): 74.
  6. ^ "I am simply saying that the current institution of law enforcement in America does appear to reproduce itself according counter-legal norms, and that attempts to counteract this reproduction via the training one receives in police academies, the imposition of citizen review boards, departments of Internal Affairs, etc. do not appear to mitigate against this structural continuity between law enforcement and crime. Specifically the continuity between the breaking of procedural rules as a matter of routine and the kind of large scale criminal corruption we saw in Rampart bears further investigation." Judith Grant, "Assault Under Color of Authority: Police Corruption as Norm in the LAPD Rampart Scandal and in Popular Film", New Political Science 25, no. 3 (2003): 404.
  7. ^ Tom Harper (2014-01-10). "Exclusive: Scotland Yard’s rotten core: Police failed to address Met's ‘endemic corruption’ - Crime - UK". The Independent. Retrieved 2014-03-20. 
  8. ^ Jerome Skolnick, "Corruption and the Blue Code of Silence", Police Practice and Research 3, no. 1 (2002): 8.
  9. ^ ABC Stateline The Stench Friday, November 6, 2009 http://www.abc.net.au/news/video/2009/11/06/2735960.htm accessed 16 May 2010
  10. ^ Wang, Peng (2013). "The rise of the Red Mafia in China: a case study of organised crime and corruption in Chongqing". Trends in Organized Crime 16 (1): 49–73. doi:10.1007/s12117-012-9179-8. 
  11. ^ Crank, J., Caldero, M., Police Ethics: The Corruption of Noble Cause, IBSN-13: 978-1-59345-610-8
  12. ^ Thomas J. Martinelli, "Unconstitutional Policing: The Ethical Challenges in Dealing with Noble Cause Corruption", The Police Chief, 2006. http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display&article_id=1025&issue_id=102006
  13. ^ Robert Reiner, The Politics of the Police, Oxford University Press, 2010, ISBN 0199283397.
  14. ^ a b http://policecrimes.com/police_deviance.html
  15. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/18/us/drug-cases-put-utah-towns-police-force-under-scrutiny.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
  16. ^ http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2014/may/31/afghan-police-corruption-beat/
  17. ^ http://www.nationalpoliceresearch.org/storage/updated-papers/Police%20Integrity%20Responsibility%20and%20Discipline.pdf
  18. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10535226
  19. ^ http://www.csvr.org.za/index.php/publications/1485-not-victimless-understanding-the-harmful-effects-of-police-corruption.html
  20. ^ http://www.myfoxtampabay.com/story/26680063/2014/10/01/speed-ticket-quotas-led-to-demise-of-waldo-police-department
  21. ^ http://www.emich.edu/cerns/downloads/papers/PoliceStaff/Police%20Personnel%20(e.g.,%20Selection,%20%20Promotion)/Police%20Recruiting%20and%20Its%20Impact%20on%20Corruption.pdf
  22. ^ http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display&article_id=1025&issue_id=102006

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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