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Police Corruption Policing

‘Getting results in policing is more important than how they are achieved’. Discuss this statement with reference to the notion of police ethics.

Ethics is essential to policing as ethical policing develops and sustains trust between the police and the public it serves. Police corruption, noble cause corruption, ‘Dirty Harry’ dilemma, Sykes and Matza (1957) ‘Techniques of Neutralization’ theory, ethical egoism, and ‘Act v Rule’ utilitarianism are all specific ways of exploring unethical police behaviour being diverted from ethical behaviour, due to ethical laws protecting criminals ‘human rights’. Thus begs the question, is gaining results in policing more important than how they are achieved?

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When the question is posed ‘can we be ethical?’ for the large majority of us, the answer is perfectly clear. However, with regards to the policing system it is a complicated dilemma that is yet to be properly controlled and prevented. Ethics is vital to policing as this ethical quality not only affects the police officer in question but also the police organisation as a whole. Ethics is not only concerned with the individual police officer but as well as the policies and laws that are enforced to protect everyone’s basic human rights. Police corruption is one form of unethical behaviour that is due to the authority and power placed and trusted upon the police officer. Power corrupts, and so with this perceptive view, police corruption comes in many stages of development.

Kant describes police corruption as actions that “exploit the powers of law enforcements in return for considerations of private-regarding benefit that violate formal standards governing his or her conduct” (Kleinig, 1996: pg. 38). Police corruption consists of a chain of events that starts from an innocent stage where police officers are sometimes given things for free by the public due to their official status. This process consists of three hypothesis, such as; the society – at – large explanation, the structural explanation; and finally the ‘rotten-apple’ explanation (Pollock, 2006). The society-at-large explanation is concerned with the fact that police officers start to expect things to be free, once experiencing small-pay offs and bribes from the public, which leads to more serious crimes known as the structural explanation. This finally leads to the ‘rotten-apple’ explanation where the officer concerned is purely of dark character morally. One known form of corruption is ‘noble cause corruption’.

‘Noble Cause Corruption’ (Klockars, 1985), is an act on behalf of the police officer, who is committing a illegal and most certainly unethical crime, on good intentions, to justifiably reach an end result that is noble. For actions that are done for the sake of good are, nevertheless, morally wrong actions. The police officer(s) in question are only acting for the sake of what they ‘believe’ is morally right, but in fact it is not morally right; their belief is a false belief. For example, suppose a police officer forms a “corrupt relationship” with a suspected criminal and develops criminal acts to create a portfolio of evidence to convict the criminal. How ethical would this be, despite gaining positive results in policing? Noble cause corruption is strongly related to the ‘Dirty Harry’ phenomena and so an explanation of this phenomenon is due.

The ‘Dirty Harry Problem’ (Klockars, 1980) is based upon the notion that certain individuals of the police force turn to ‘dirty’ means of convicting a suspected criminal. Police officer’s who employ such ‘dirty’ means think that, by doing this, they achieve three things at the same time. The officer believes that what he/she is doing is morally right; their actions are lawful; and that the wider community will support such heroic behaviour (Thomson, 1999).

The movie titled ‘Dirty Harry’ (Siegel, 1971) involved a fictional character named Inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) who pursued a criminal named ‘Scorpio’ who kidnapped a 14 year old girl and demanded a $200, 000 ransom to release the girl who was buried with just enough air to last a few hours. Eventually Harry apprehends and tortures Scorpio into telling the location of the girl and gaining a forced confession from the suspect. An unethical procedure, but none the less, gaining ‘results’ (Siegel, 1971).’Dirty’ harry was purposely given this title to the character, harry Callahan, because of the fact that he employs ‘dirty’ means of gaining positive results and infringing upon the criminals ‘human rights’.

‘Dirty’ Harry, at the end of the film, took his badge and threw it into the river. This strongly suggested that he has lost faith in the effectiveness of the policing system and thus indicating his resignation (Siegel, 1971). When gaining positive results in policing, it can sometimes be in direct conflict with not following ethical boundaries, thus, being ethical is a rule that appears, according to the ‘Dirty Harry’ movie plot, to be in the favour of the criminal, technically putting the police officer at a disadvantage due to ‘criminal rights’ being made available to them. According to Sykes and Matza’s ‘Techniques of Neutralization’ theory, unethical police officer’s justify their behaviour in one of five methods.

Skye’s and Matza’s (1957) proposed the ‘Techniques of Neutralisation’ theory which demonstrates five basic methods of justifying deviant behaviour from the delinquent individual. The theory is relevant to police ethics as well as the fact that gaining results within the police service can never exceed the ethics of policing itself due to morality and basic human rights for which the police was based and built upon. ‘Techniques of neutralisation’ theory explains how lawbreakers are able to protect themselves from feeling of guilt and negative self-image by justifying their conduct. The five methods are: denial of responsibility, denial of injury, denial of victim, condemnation of condemners, and appealing to higher loyalties.

Denial of responsibility is concerned with how, within the context of the police work, violence may be regarded as an appropriate and necessary reaction to defiant citizens. Denial of responsibility is established when the police officer in question believes that, where excessive force is used, he/she was provoked by the citizen and therefore ‘ethically’ rationalised his/her behaviour. This shifts responsibility for the use of force away from the officer to the citizen (Albanese, 2006).

Denial of injury covers such areas as stealing and violating constitutional rights. Stealing from suspects for personal gain with the threat of blackmail if ever the suspect reported the officer to the police notes the power a police officer possess, given the position of the suspect’s situation. Kant suggests that “…Whoever tells a lie, however well intended he might be, must answer for the consequences, however unforeseeable they were, and pay the penalty for them” (Klockars, 1996: pg. 79). Kant describes a perfect example that no matter what the situation may be, telling a lie is unacceptable. Fabrication of evidence is an excellent example as although it may help seal a conviction of a major known criminal, is none-the-less a false conviction.

This brings ‘Kantian ethics’ into consideration. Kant believed that the term ‘motive’ is the most important variable when considering what is ethical and what is not. To be more exact, motives can be defined by acting in a ‘sense of duty’ towards others. For example, helping a person out of pity or to promote one’s self in face of others is not a ethical, moral action, but out of remorse and unethical means. When considering a complex situation, such as a police officer protecting a witness from murder, what does one do? Such an example goes against Kant’s beliefs on moral, ethical values.

Denial of victim is concerned with those who run from police, use illegal drugs, or defy authority are ‘threats’ predetermined as dangerous and are in need of ‘punishment’. This perception gives the notion of the police being the ‘saviour’ of all deviant acts and that they are justifiable in the eyes of the law and that these aforementioned acts must be punished to sustain control and authority through the wider community and the state as a whole.

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Condemnation of the condemners lies with the notion that the problem lies not with the officer’s motives or behaviour but with the rules, motives, and perception of those who would control and judge them. The police argue that not only do they fight criminality but also have to do battle with public criticism, judges who are too lenient, citizen lawsuits and citizen complaints against the police system. This gives a ‘loophole’ for criminals which makes police work more difficult. With such added hurdles, condemnation of the condemners seem rational and logical from the police officer’s perspective.

Appealing to higher loyalties is concerned with the fact that police officer’s will always protect ‘their own’ against any case of accusations or complaints against a police officer. However, protecting another officer – even when this involves unethical and illegal conduct is expected and regarded as noble as it demonstrates loyalty and solidarity. ‘Power corrupts’, and so with this ‘police power’, the officer will use this power to appeal to higher loyalties for their own personal gain. Personal gain is a one of many attributes of human qualities to achieve our goals in whatever means necessary. Such natural behaviour is assessed by ‘ethical egoism’ which critically examines our own hunger for wants and desires.

Ethical Egoism (Neyround, 2001) is a theory of human nature that states that we all have a strong desire for furthering our wants and desires. By nature, we are motivated to pursue our own wants and desires and, therefore, should act in accordance with our nature by following them (Neyround, 2001). Despite living in a civilised world, living according to the laws of the ‘system’, inevitable human nature, it seems, takes a hold of our behaviour when presented with opportunities to further our desires. We all naturally possess wants and needs, however, the morally relevant question to consider (with regards to unethical policing) is when, where, and to what extents are we justified in pursuing them?

The claim being made by ethical egoism is not simply that we have wants and needs; rather, it is that we are ‘morally’ obligated to pursue them on all occasions. Due to individual egoism, it would appear that furthering one’s personal desires seems to be the corruption of human nature; that we are all out for ourselves on a majority. If ethical egoism theory is correct in its perception of human’s desire for pursuing our own interests then surely police corruption is on a course of eternal reoccurrences of continuous self-indulgent behaviour, placed in a unrealistic police system to resist the temptation of abusing ones position.

A major critique of ethical egoism is that it does not provide a solution for conflicts that arise between competing self-interested individuals. Simply stated, this criticism suggests that our happiness and aspirations often comes into conflict with other individuals (Neyround, 2001). Further-more, this morality should establish rules of conduct that enables the peaceful and harmonious resolution of conflict. However, ethical egoism provides no such rules on principles. Instead, it understands life to consist of a never-ending series of conflicts on which each of us struggle to ‘come out on top’. By the nature of police officers everyday work, police officers are routinely placed in situations where personal advantages can easily be furthered through unethical and illegal means.

‘Act versus Rule’ Utilitarianism (Quinton, 2003) demonstrates an argument of why police officers break the law. Act utilitarianism states and argues that ‘ethical’ laws are first decide whether public action would be taken if ever they disagreed with the laws were to be enforced upon the public. This is then, in turn, is further decided whether the law generates the most happiness for the public. However, critics of this theory argue that the minority, whether groups or individuals, would then be treated unfairly and biased upon, thus, not an ethical method to follow. This coincides with the notion of corrupt police officers fabricating evidence to convict an innocent civilian. It may please the majority of the population if this civilian was known for criminal acts in the past and present but it doesn’t justify the action to wrongly convict an innocent.

‘Rule Utilitarianism’ (Quinton, 2003), on the other hand, determines whether a rule should be followed. ‘Rule Utilitarianism’ argues that if a rule (law) pleases the majority of the population, then, it is in the public’s interest to follow this ‘rule’, despite the objectionable minority. Capital punishment was once a rule followed by UK citizens as it resulted in the happiness of the majority with regards to killing extreme deviant individuals, even if an innocent had their life taken by mistake, as this overall pleased the population despite the ‘odd’ innocent loss of life. Critics argue that this reduces rule utilitarianism to act utilitarianism and the rules become meaningless (Quinton, 2003). From such examples, and as an ethical based theory overall, utilitarianism is not a perfect system, thus, flawed.

Ethics will either make or break an officer and the decision they make will either strengthen or weaken their ethical values. Police corruption, whether for noble or deviant reasons, weakens the officer’s moral values and only further leads to deviant temptation. However, temptation and desire appears to be of humans natural instinct to ‘come out top’ and a means of furthering one’s edge over another. Ethics can very much go against the officer inclined to solve a case, such as the ‘Dirty Harry’ dilemma, such as the criminals basic human rights (although non-deserving) benefits only the offender and develops a ‘loop hole’ for the offender to escape from justice. Police officers can be taught ethics to a certain degree, but it is the officer’s own personal benefit to resist the urge of infringing upon criminals ‘rights’ and also taking an advantage of one’s position. This ‘loop hole’ will promote a real dilemma for future policing and, thus, ethics is likely to play a prominent role in policing in the 21st century. (2124 words)

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