Police Corruption


The class is Ethics in Policing. The paper is 9 pages and will need to have ethics and how ethics is involved in police corruption.


Ethics and Police Corruption

Name of Student:

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Introduction. 2

Police Corruption: A global Problem.. 2

Ethics Training as a Way of Addressing Police Corruption. 6

Conclusion. 9

References. 11


Police corruption is a major problem the world over. This problem is attributed to a police culture that creates numerous opportunities for corrupt activities to thrive. Deficiencies in the processes of recruitment and training also make it possible for police corruption to take place. Within police departments, lack of accountability is often cited as a major factor that contributes to corruption (Williams, 2002). In countries where police corruption is endemic, citizens have no confidence in the police service. They feel that police officer is interested above all in protecting their interests.


Ethics training is often considered a viable platform through which governments across the world can address the problem of police corruption. During ethics training, police officers are enlightened on the importance of obeisance to authority. They are also encouraged to avoid engaging in corruption because it brings shame and dishonor to the police service. During training, recruits for the police service should ideally undergo a socialization process that can enable them to adapt to the world of police operations (Conti & Nolan, 2005). This is also a good time for the new law enforcement officers to be trained on how to play their part in fighting police corruption (Quah, 2006). The aim of this paper is to explore the complexity of police corruption in the contemporary world and how ethics training can be used to deal with this problem

Police Corruption: A Global Problem

Corruption is a serious problem that affects police departments in all parts of the world. This problem manifests itself in the nature of the work of police officers. Law enforcement agencies operate in an environment full of opportunities to abuse their power for personal gain. As law enforcers, police officers have the power to decide whether to make arrests, look for evidence, and testify in a court of law. In many cases, suspects seek to bribe these officers in an attempt to evade justice. In countries where police officers are poorly remunerated and ethical values have not been properly inculcated into existing training programs, the bribe offer may be too good to resist.

In the United States, police corruption is a malignant problem. For example, many US police officers collude with drug dealers to benefit from the proceeds of drug trafficking. Other common forms of corruption in the US include falsification of police reports, perjury, involvement in the protection of crime gangs, and leaking of confidential information. Such acts of corruption continue to persist in the US today because of the kind of training that the law enforcement officers receive. For instance, the first rule that recruits are subjected to in the US is police safety. Police officers are required to protect themselves first and foremost whenever they are in the process of enforcing the law. In this kind of training, no exceptions are given regarding the situations where an officer may put ethics above safety for the sake of promoting a positive image of law enforcement agencies. This means that police safety always wins over officer integrity whenever a choice between the two must be made.

In the US, new officers quickly realize that the principles that they learned in the academy are not being applied in the real world. This is evident because each police department tends to operate based on a unique set of procedures and policies, to which every police officer is required to adapt. The departmental procedure always wins over the universal policing principles acquired during training. The overarching lesson during the first days at work is that whatever was learned during training should never supersede real-world practices. Police officers who adapt to this new reality are highly likely to apply the same argument to other aspects of police training, including police integrity.

The high level of police corruption in the US is demonstrated by the growing number of local, state, and federal police officers who have been imprisoned for corruption-related offenses. It demonstrates the police officers’ inability to resist the temptation to line their pockets with bribes. Apart from this temptation, officers also tend to be influenced by the incentives that authorities put in place as a way of encouraging them to make more arrests in specific crimes. Officers who are desperate to tap into these incentives are likely to plant evidence on the citizens’ doorsteps, make arrests based on such false evidence, and pocket the financial rewards resulting from such actions.

Governments all over the world continue to face serious difficulties in their efforts to deal with police corruption. One strategy that governments use to minimize corruption is by targeting people with a poor criminal record and preventing them from joining the police force. One way to strike out such people is to introduce an ethics training curriculum that measures the suitability for the job in terms of one’s ability to contribute to police integrity. Those who fail the test should be requested to look for other careers.


Failure by US authorities to enforce such measures have led to the hiring of the wrong people as police officers. For example, in 1993, authorities in New Orleans used lenient procedures to hire police recruits, leading to the hiring of a mentally ill woman as a police officer (Williams, 2002). Two years later, the woman’s murderous instincts led her into entering a New Orleans restaurant and killing a security guard and two children (Williams, 2002).If the authorities in New Orleans had adopted stringent recruitment procedures, they could have avoided an embarrassing situation involving the loss of the lives of innocent civilians.

In Mexico, police corruption poses a serious problem as well. The country faces even bigger problems in terms of vetting recruits to ascertain their integrity and suitability for the job of law enforcement. The enormity of the problem in Mexico is attributed to the fact that the country is in its formative stages of establishing computerized databases that can enable authorities to determine the applicants’ criminal history. This has led to the hiring of criminals as police officers. Since it is difficult for the authorities to determine whether a recruit has a personal history of crime or has been fired by another police department, they end up recruiting people whose core mission is to engage in crime.

One of the reasons drug trafficking is a national epidemic in Mexico is that police officer are involved in it. Police departments in Mexico are full of officers with close links to drug trafficking networks. Such people enter the police force merely to enable them to offer greater protection to drug cartels and to facilitate cross-border drug trade. Others have been moving from one department to another after being dismissed for inappropriate behavior. If police departments subjects all recruits to integrity and ethical tests, potential criminals would be recognized and weeded out of the police force. Although it is difficult to predict how a trainee will behave once he starts working, police departments can reinforce ethical behavior considerably through ethical indoctrination.

A situation that is more or less similar to that of Mexico exists in Brazil. Brazilian police officers are easily lured into criminal activities because they are lowly paid. For example, they easily get hired to provide protection to organized criminal gangs. This practice has made Brazil infamous for its unique brand of police lawlessness. It is a reflection of not just a poorly remunerated police service but also a serious deterioration of ethical standards within the country’s law enforcement. Argentina also faces a similar challenge; many of the country’s police officers get involved in crime rings, thereby eroding public confidence (Hinton, 2005).

Ethics Training as a Way of Addressing Police Corruption

Ethics entails making a moral choice between what is right and what is wrong. Police officers who have been accorded adequate training on ethics should be able to make a decision regarding which decision is right and which one is wrong in every situation in which they find themselves. For instance, police officers should be truthful in the way they perform their professional duties. However, contradictions may arise especially in situations where undercover police officers are compelled to participate in a crime as a way of gathering enough evidence to warrant the arrest of the perpetrators (Joh, 2009). To avoid contradictions, it is imperative to look at ethics in terms of two core components: achieving the greatest good which police officers pursue and taking the right action in the pursuit of this good.

An excellent way of offering ethics training is to encourage recruits to understand that ethical behavior brings honor while unethical behavior brings shame. To demonstrate this, police departments must put in place appropriate structures aimed at ensuring that ethical behavior is rewarded through elevation to a higher position of authority.

Recruits should be helped to draw a connection between the greatest good as espoused in the “good policing” model and the “law enforcement” principles that are traditionally associated with police departments. From this perspective, they should be able to view themselves as professionals who have been assigned the noble task of protecting law-abiding citizens. Some of the most common components of ethics training include obedience to authority, community policing, and the promotion of collective efficacy. A case in point is Mexico, where considerable gains in police reform have been made through citizen-oriented professionalization (Sabet, 2010).

To enable recruits to understand how ethics training can be applied in the real-world to tackle corruption, the school of thought that embodies “ethics as practice” may be used (Gordon, Clegg &Kornberger, 2009). Based on this school of thought, recruits can learn to perceive a direct relationship between the moral choice of right behavior and immediate benefits such as honor, integrity, the elevation of professional status, and improvement in power relations (Gordon, Clegg &Kornberger, 2009). The idea of power relations should be viewed in terms of both organizational hierarchy within the police department and the manner in which law enforcement officers relate with the public. This simply means that junior officers who work with integrity are likely to win the trust and loyalty of their seniors. Similarly, the officers are likely to gain the trust of citizens, whom they are expected to protect.

Through the concept of ethics of practice, police recruits can be educated on how to apply rules to practice. Application of rules to practice is a problematic area, hence the need to take extra care during the training process. For example, rules tend to say one thing based on what is written but their meaning in the real world changes depending on the context in which they are enacted. Although there is nothing wrong with situational interpretation of rules, officers must always ensure that this practice does not lead to a slippery slope, thereby creating numerous opportunities for corruption that may seem to have been sanctioned by law.

Many of the corruption-related activities that police officers engage in do not occur because of lack of awareness regarding the ethical issues involved. Rather, they occurred because there were loopholes that the officers felt needed to be exploited to enable them to achieve personal enrichment. These loopholes may exist even in situations where governments have endeavored to entrench ethical practices aimed at reforming a negative police culture. Other than acting as an indicator of failure on the part of ethical training specialists, the persistence of corruption shows that the whole framework within which the training is being carried out should be reoriented to make it fit in with the changing times. For instance, rules of ethics may remain the same but the situations in which they are applied keep changing all the time.

Police departments must transform their organizational practices, norms, and rules to reflect the changing realities where police officers are required to apply traditional ethical principles to new situations. Based on “ethics as practice”, approach, law enforcement officers should be encouraged to view ethics from the perspective of the institutions in which they work. Once powerful myths concerning ethics are embedded into the day-to-day activities as well as organizational structures of police departments, police officers can start to perceive a direct relationship between institutional values and the task environment in which these values are being promoted.


Newham (2002) argues that corruption occurs in virtually all police departments because all officers have the power to exercise immense power that many people are eager to use to their advantage. Newham (2002) argues that this should not promote rather a practical view of corruption rather than cynicism towards the fight against corruption. In Newham’s view, corruption manifests itself in the gray area between organizational control and discretionary action by members of the police department. This means that no matter what senior police commanders do to stop corruption, the final decision lies with the officer who actually goes out there to the public to enforce the law. This indicates that senior commanders must refrain from using organizational control as a way of fighting corruption and instead redirect their efforts towards the entrenchment of a culture in which ethical values are promoted.

In the practice of entrenching an ethical culture, the idea of police integrity should be promoted. In police departments where the level of integrity is high, police officers are normatively inclined to resist any temptation to abuse their rights, privileges, and powers. One country where this approach is being adopted is South Africa. In South Africa, authorities have made great strides in efforts to create a paradigm shift in the way corruption is viewed. In this paradigm shift, government officials and heads of law enforcement agencies are increasingly learning to view corruption as a hazard that is inherent to the police officers’ occupation. This is in contrast to the traditional conception in which corruption was viewed as a problem that emerges whenever toxic police members respond to a toxic task environment. This paradigm shift is a key foundational step in the process of establishing an ethical culture in the task environment as well as the mindset of the typical police officer. From this perspective, it is possible for law enforcement agencies to make considerable progress in the fight against corruption.


Corruption is a serious problem in police departments across the world. Law enforcement officers who are entrusted with the protection of the citizens sometimes turn into tormentors of the same citizens through corruption. This situation has led to the emergence of a mainstream culture in which citizens have a harrowing distrust for police officers. Ethics training can greatly help police officers repair their damaged reputation by entrenching a culture in which ethical behavior is viewed as an integral aspect of their task environment. Ethics training can also benefit the law enforcement officers in their individual capacities by orientating them into an ethical police culture. This means that the kind of ethical values being taught in academies should be matched with the organizational principles being promoted in all law enforcement agencies.


Conti, N. & Nolan, J. (2005). Policing the Platonic Cave: Ethics and Efficacy in Police Training. Policing & Society, 15(2), 166-186.

Gordon, R., Clegg, S. &Kornberger, M. (2009). Embedded Ethics: Discourse and Power in the New South Wales Police Service. Organization Studies, 30(1), 73-79.

Hinton, M. (2005). A distant reality: Democratic policing in Argentina and Brazil. Criminal Justice, 5(1), 1466–8025.

Joh, E. (2009). Breaking the Law to Enforce It: Undercover Police Participation in Crime. Stanford Law Review, 62(1), 151-199.

Newham, G. (2002).Tackling Police Corruption in South Africa. Pretoria: Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.

Quah, J. (2006). Preventing Police Corruption in Singapore: The Role of Recruitment, Training and Socialization. The Asia Pacific Journal of Public Administration, 28(1), 59-75.

Sabet, D. (2010). Police Reform in Mexico: Advances and Persistent Obstacles. Mexico City: Working Paper Series on U.S.-Mexico Security Collaboration.

Williams, H. (2002). Core factors of police corruption across the world. Forum on Crime and Society, 2(1), 85-99.

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