Police corruption remains one of the leading challenges, affecting law enforcement agencies in the United States and around the world. Based on the impact of this vice, it is important for the government to initiate measures, which are feasible in dealing with it. This literature review explores the issue of police corruption, giving its definition, brief history, causes, and recommended prevention measures.
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Police corruption is defined in different ways, depending on the context and the nature of the corrupt activities. This is to say that various authors and justice experts have developed definitions, which describe a wide-range of activities, which amount to corruption. According to Newburn (1999), some of the activities described by the term “police corruption” include but not limited to bribery, nepotism, violence and brutality, racism, and destruction of evidence. It is however important to note that these activities of corruption open opportunities for detailed descriptions. On the other hand, most corrupt officers misuse their authority to either pursue their personal interests or take advantage of innocent citizens (Newburn, 1999). Police corruption is therefore unethical, since it goes against the accepted norms and values of the society.
The history of police corruption dates back in 1800s when the first police department was established in America. It was during this time that political parties played a major role in governing municipal governments, thus customizing their authority to suit their personal interests and aspirations (Newburn, 1999). As a result, corruption among police officers became acceptable, as they leaned towards benefiting particular officers involved in criminal activities. Additionally, most officers preferred being given money in order to ignore some criminal activities in town, say, prostitution and pick-pocketing. Although there were police reforms led by educated Protestants towards the end of the 19th century, police corruption remained a major problem in the country.
Further studies were carried out in 1920s, led by the Wickersham Commission as a way of finding a lasting solution to the problem. It was discovered that the issue of Prohibition had significantly contributed to police corruption as it remained unenforceable within the American society (Newburn, 1999). As a result of this survey, several systems were initiated to deal with the problem and curb against its escalation. Corruption was also witnessed during the time of civil movements in which police corruption was manly demonstrated through violation of human rights and racial discrimination between 1960s and 1970s.
Even though the Kerner Commission suggested a host of police reforms in 1972, the impact of these proposals was short-lived as corruption persisted. Since then, efforts to tame police corruption have been witnessed in the country even though the problem is still rooted in the society. Notably, levels of corruption have drastically decreased due to combined efforts and modern technology used to monitor police officers like cameras (Newburn, 1999).
According to Crank and Caldero, police corruption is caused by an array of factors, which may vary from one state to another. In their 2010 survey, Crank and Caldero argued that the nature of the work of police officers exposed them to numerous opportunities to take bribe and engage in other deviant behaviors (Crank & Caldero, 2010). Additionally, police officers are allowed to decide the kind of punishment to administer in some situations, creating chances for them to advance their interests.
This variability to use discretion properly affects the effectiveness of officers to perform their work honestly without elements of compromise or biasness. Additionally, police officers are exposed to minimal managerial supervision due to the nature of their job, and by the fact that they are spread all over the country. This makes it hard for police bosses to keep an eye on their junior officers while in the field, enforcing law and order. As a result, secretive areas being guarded by police officers are prone to high levels of corruption (Crank & Caldero, 2010).
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Another factor that is common in promoting police corruption is low public visibility. Oftentimes, much of the police corruption occurs in the presence of the victims or a few individuals. Additionally, police have access to private areas, which limit their public visibility, thus creating opportunities for officers to engage in unethical behavior (Crank & Caldero, 2010). High levels of secrecy among police officers further promote corruption in the society. In general, the police culture is highly characterized by internal secrecy and solidarity such that they are not accountable to their peers and colleagues.
This means that police officers cannot easily report their workmates who may be involved in corrupt activities. In some cases, poor payment of police officers has been considered to be a major cause of corruption within the force. While this is the case, they are supposed to meet the needs of their families, with limited resources and high cost of living. In the same line of thought, high variations in salaries among different police officers contribute to deviant behaviors within the force. In essence, those who have a lot of work in the field are less recognized as compared to senior officers who are less occupied in offices. This lowers the morale among junior officers and makes them act unethically while at work (Crank & Caldero, 2010).
Based on the nature of police corruption, there is need to implement preventive measures in order to deal with the problem. Firstly, corruption within the police emanates from individual personality. As a result, it is important for police agencies to recruit officers with high integrity in order to promote good conduct and performance within the force (Chambliss, 2011). This can be achieved through the introduction of higher recruitment standards and thorough screening. In other words, there is need for the recruiting agencies to carry out background research to avoid hiring criminals into the force. Candidates with higher education should also be encouraged to join the profession and those in the force should be supported to pursue their studies, to widen their scope of knowledge and nurture professional standards.
Proper training of police should also be encouraged through revision of the police training curriculum. This is necessary to allow trainees to understand the need for moral uprightness in the force. Besides being disciplined, police officers ought to know the existence of corruption in the force, its consequences, and possible ways of dealing with it (Chambliss, 2011). In line with this, implementation of the police code of ethics should be encouraged as a way of taming deviant behavior among police officers. Improved management of police agencies should also be encouraged to promote positive influence, which is necessary in nurturing good behavior. Above all, police officers need to be motivated through improved salaries, allowances, and good welfare. This promotes a good working attitude, thus limiting the cases of corruption.
Chambliss, W. (2011). Police and Law Enforcement. California: SAGE.
Crank, J., & Caldero, M. (2010). Police Ethics: The Corruption of Noble Cause. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
Newburn, T. (1999). Understanding and preventing police corruption: lessons from the literature. Research, Development and Statistics. Web.