Thursday, May 6, 2010

Causes of Police Corruption

As many have questioned, what leads to police corruption? What has caused an officer to become so unethical? Is it as simple as a few bad apples are going to fall from the tree? Is it the opportunity that presents itself?

There is a list of constant and variable factors that, when combined, often lead to police corruption. The constant factors consist of:
  1. Discretion - Descrition has both bad and good qualities. If used correctly discretion should not be a problem, but when taken advantage of discretion is a huge problem.
  2. Low managerial visibility - Officers do a majority of their work with very little supervision. The managers are not there watching over their shoulder to make sure they are doing everything correctly.
  3. Low public visibility - A majority of what an officer does is not seen by the public.
  4. Peer group secrecy - Officers have a strong bond with one another. Internal solidarity and secrecy is a large part of police culture.
  5. Managerial secrecy - Most managers have worked their way up from an entry level officer and have a lot of values in common with those they manage.
  6. Status problems - Police officers are often underpaid compared to the amount of power they have.
  7. Association with lawbreakers/contact with temptation - Police are always coming into contact with people who break the law and may have a access to resources. (Newburn, 1999)
The variable factors consist of:
  1. Community structure - Police are often influenced by politics, culture, and the standards and norms of those surrounding them.
  2. Organizational characteristics - "Levels of bureaucracy, integrity of leadership, soliditary of work subcultures, moral career stages of police officers, and the perception of legitimate opportunities." (Newburn, 1999)
  3. Legal opportunities for corruption - Crimes that are considered victimless crimes and using minor or trivial regulations, such as construction, traffic and licensing, for exploitation.
  4. Corruption controls - How the police are policed themselves.
  5. Social organization of corruption - Take place in ways of an arrangement or an event.
  6. Moral cynicism - Due to the inevitable association with those who break the law and the contact of temptation, officers are often directed towards moral cynicism. (Newburn, 1999)
As the factors are presented, we can see that there are multiple reasons that lead an officer to engaging in corrupt behavior. Usually an officer would start at an entry level position and start to get to know the department and their policies. Once an officer gets comfortable with their environment and the department, they will start to use their discretion to their advantage, knowing that they are not being closely supervised. An officer may start by performing some small type of corrupt activity, such as taking a candy bar at the convenience store and then gradually grow into more serious corrupt activities. As the officer gets away with one thing after another, he will gain more and more courage to engage in larger and more serious corrupt behavior.

In order to prevent police corruption from occurring there should be more consequences, even for actions that don't seem to matter. The small corrupt activities need to be noticed and brought to the officer's attention that what they did was unethical and that any further corrupt activity will lead to more serious consequences. A police officer has a lot of power and the power should not be used unethically to engage in corrupt behavior(s).


Newburn, T., Understanding and preventing police corruption: lessons from the literature. Policing and Reducing Crime Unit: Police Research Series. . 1999.

Punch, M., Police corruption and its prevention. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research. 2000.