Police Culture and Corruption

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Introduction A string of media investigations during the 1980s uncovered police corruption in Queensland. Persistent media attention and national interest soon led the Acting Premier of Queensland to commission an inquiry into illegal behaviour and related police misconduct. The subsequent inquiry substantiated reports that corruption did exist and that, worryingly, the corruption was wide-spread and high-level. As a consequence of exposing police corruption, society is often left with questions regarding the degree of trust they have with the police, the extent to which corruption runs within the department, and what is being done to prevent corruption from spreading (Lawson, 2011; Loree 2006). A police department with an organisational culture of systemic corruption and questionable ethics, will find itself with officers (exposed to that culture early in their career), soon promoted to leadership roles in which the corruption can bloom and perpetuate. In this essay I will address the role that the police culture plays in the opportunity for corruption to breed, and identify what can be done in an attempt to stamp it out. Organisational Culture and Corruption Organisational culture is the unwritten rules, shared values and beliefs that guide the attitudes and actions of an organisation’s members in their approach to their work and how they interact with each other (Lawson, 2011; State Services Authority, 2013). For police officers, these rules are shaped by the function of policing itself and create a culture of conformity and camaraderie with cultural elements that include: an inflated belief of purpose concerning the role of policing and a passion for exciting work with a slanting towards crime; revelment in macho activities and deeds; the disposition to utilise force; distrust and suspicion; isolation from friends and family; defensive esprit de corps; a cynical attitude towards the motives of others; and an unwillingness to accept the views of individuals who defy the current state of affairs (Lawson, 2011). These cultural elements lend themselves to a sub-culture typified by a code of silence, undisputed devotion and loyalty to other officers, and pessimism regarding the criminal justice system (Loree, 2006, p. 10) and can lead to a closed police society and corruption (Cox, McCamey and Scaramella, 2013). Loree (2006, p.4 citing Sayed and Bruce, 1998) defines police corruption as ‘any illegal activity or misconduct involving the use of occupational power for personal, group, or organizational gain’ and can occur internally (as bullying or hazing, or offering payments or favours in return for shift changes or holidays) or externally (by receiving free meals or drinks, accepting bribes or kickbacks, or participating in theft or organised crime). When corruption is uncovered it can have consequences for both the officer involved, other officers who have had no part to play in the corruption or for the police department as a whole. For the officer, or officers, involved, the consequences can vary depending on the nature and severity of the corruption or misconduct. At the lesser end of the scale it can include demotion, reduction in pay or limitations in career advancement. At the more serious end of the scale punishment could include dismissal, criminal charges or prison. As severe as some of these consequences are for the individual officers, the effects of corruption on the organisation are even more critical. The embarrassment resulting from misconduct and corruption can be injurious to the public’s confidence and trust, demoralize sections and officers, or expose the department to litigation. (Fitch, 2011; Loree, 2006, pp.17-19) As a result of judicial inquiry, departmental review or analysis by external researchers, numerous suggestions have been made that police departments can adopt in an attempt to stamp out, or reduce, misconduct and corruption. After the judicial inquiry into police corruption in Queensland during the 1980’s (later becoming known as the Fitzgerald Inquiry), a recommendation was made that the Queensland police should adopt a fundamental doctrine of community policing. The implementation of this recommendation has led to a proactive community policing approach in which crime prevention officers engage with the community through school visits, security and safety audits or homes and business premisies and presentations to various community groups (Lawson, 2011). Equally important to the reduction of corruption and misconduct is the presence of ethical and strong leadership (including organisational management, officers in charge of branches or sections, supervisors of teams, or senior partners). These leaders influence the culture of the organisation and the organisation’s enthusiasm for change. Leaders should take a zero tolerance approach to dishonesty, misconduct and mediocrity. The dispensement of soft punishment for dishonesty or misconduct will be seen as tolerating those behaviours, and the acceptance of mediocrity can produce an environment in which misconduct flourishes. By taking a zero tolerance approach to these issues, and perpetuating a high standard of ethics and integrity, leaders can create an organisational culture that is capable of stifling misconduct. (Barry, 1999, pp.81-85; Cox, McCamey and Scaramella, 2013, p.99; Loree, 2006, p.26; Martin, 2011) To the same degree that leaders should have a zero tolerance approach to misconduct and mediocrity, they should also recognise and reward virtuous conduct and exceptional work. Loree (2006, citing Mink et al., 2000) notes that when officers feel valued ‘they are satisfied, positive and productive in their behaviours and efforts towards achieving organizational goals’. If the only recognition officers receive is chastisement for mistakes, they quickly learn that the reward for keenness and hard work is the danger of being exposed to punishment (Cox, McCamey and Scaramella, 2013, p.99). Protection for whistle-blowers, or those officers who are prepared to speak out against the code of silence, is essential to protect the whistle-blower from litigation, civil and criminal liability, and victimisation (OmbudsmanSA, 2013). The code of silence is grounded in those parts of police culture that often make work teams and sections so effective - loyalty and group acceptance. However, it is those same parts that also make it problematic for police officers to report the corruptive behaviour of others (Loree, 2006, p. 11). It is crucial then, to ensure that those officers brave enough to speak out are protected from being turned into outcasts and rewarded for their ethical stance. Punishment for misconduct and corruption, and reward for exemplary work and virtuous conduct are reactive measures for reducing corruption and changing police culture. Taking a proactive approach, ethical training regarding the essential part police officers have in the community, and closely tied to the actualities of police work should be both evolving and ongoing. Field tutors and senior partners, particularly, should be educated in ethics so that they are prepared to reinforce the ethics and integrity message that recruits are exposed to during training. When officers are aware of the conduct expected of them, they can be considered responsible for any misconduct or corruption (Barry, 1999, pp.81-85; Loree, 2006, p.22). Of considerable value when attempting to reduce future misconduct is careful recruiting, selection screening and the arduous task of not employing unethical individuals to begin with. Factors which might make an individual at risk of being involved in misconduct or corruption, such as: their associations with criminals; upbringing; or lifestyle choices, should all be considered when screening potential employees. It is vital that departments adequately assess applicants and employ only the most upstanding and honest ones because they potentially have a superior measure of integrity (Loree, 2006; Martin, 2011). Do police officers need to know this? It is important for all police officers to understand the effects of misconduct and corruption for themselves and the department, for them to take the ethical and moral high-ground in coming forth to report such actions, and to understand what can be done to overcome an organisational culture that lends itself to corruption simply being the way things are done. It is important as every police officer can be the catalyst for change, to foster integrity and be a part of an organisation that the community trusts. South Australia Police Strategic Direction and Service Delivery Charter The South Australia Police (SAPOL) Service Delivery Charter (n.d.) clearly sets out the expectation of a culture of service excellence. To achieve this SAPOL need to be seen to be ethical and devoid of corruption. Through community engagement and proactive community policing, as outlined in their Strategic Direction (2012), SAPOL opens itself up to public scrutiny and offer a level of transparency into the way in which results are achieved. It is essential that the results that are expected by both the community and the department are achieved fairly, professionally and ethically. Conclusion Judicial inquiries, whistle-blowers and investigative journalism have shown that police departments are sometimes not absent of corruption and misconduct. At times this corruption and misconduct is borne from a culture characterised by a code of silence, dedication, loyalty and pessimism. However, the existence of such an organisational culture is not necessarily par for the course. By establishing a moral and ethical culture in a police organisation misconduct and corruption can be controlled and prevented. The steps needed to establish a culture of this type includes: a doctrine of community policing; a zero tolerance approach to dishonesty, misconduct and mediocrity; recognition and reward for virtuous conduct and exceptional work; ethical training; and careful recruiting. The adoption of the above recommendations can assist to embolden leadership, propagate an ethical and morally rich organisational culture and craft police departments which are open and approachable to their communities. Key aspects for presentation Some elements of the community believe that all police are corrupt. Whilst this is at the extreme end of the scale, it would be foolish to assume that a large percentage of citizens don’t suspect that there are still corrupt elements within SAPOL. Corruption or misconduct occurs for many reasons, and sometimes those reasons are because of the police culture – an unspoken rule regarding the code of silence (or looking out for your mates because of some misguided sense of loyalty), or turning a blind eye to catch a crook or ensure a successful prosecution (because the courts aren’t capable of doing their job properly). It is important that the department, and the people in it, do all they can to distance themselves from being the root cause of corruption and misconduct due to an unethical organisational culture. SAPOL can achieve this by continuing its policy of community policing, ensuring that it remains open to public scrutiny, maintain strict recruitment processes and provided ongoing training in relation to the behaviour expected from officers. Police officers can help to ensure a culture free from corruption and misconduct by adopting a zero tolerance approach to dishonesty, misconduct and mediocrity, and speaking out about such behaviour without fear of retribution. Word count: 1765 Bibliography Barry, D. (1999).Handling Police Misconduct in and Ethical Way. Master. University of Nevada. Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, (2012).Leading Culture Change - Employee Engagement and Public Service Transformation. Policy into Practice. London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Cox, S., McCamey, W. and Scaramella, G. (2014).Introduction to policing. 1st ed. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications. Fitch, B. (2011). Understanding the Psychology of Police Misconduct.The Police Chief. [online] Available at: http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display_arch&article_id=2290&issue_id=12011 [Accessed 1 Jun. 2014]. Fleming, J. and Rhodes, R. (2004). It’s situational: the dilemmas of police governance in the 21st century. In:Australasian Political Studies Association Conference. Adelaide. Gilmartin, K. (n.d.).Ethics Based Policing - Undoing Entitlement. [online] Emotionalsurvival.com. Available at: http://emotionalsurvival.com/ethics_based_policing.htm [Accessed 1 Jun. 2014]. Lawson, C. (2011).:: SCAN | journal of media arts culture ::. [online] Scan.net.au. Available at: http://scan.net.au/scan/journal/display.php?journal_id=159 [Accessed 28 May. 2014]. Loree, D. (2006).Corruption in Policing: Causes and Consequences A Review of the Literature. Ottawa: Canadian Mounted Police. Martin, R. (2011).Police Corruption - An Analytical Look into Police Ethics. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Murray, T. (2000). Police and the challenge of the 21st century: managing change in police organisations.Platypus Magazine. [online] Available at: http://www.afp.gov.au/media-centre/publications/platypus/previous-editions/2000/september-2000/2-21century.aspx [Accessed 28 May. 2014]. OmbudsmanSA, (2013). Whistleblower Protection. Adelaide: OmbudsmanSA. [online] Available at: http://www.ombudsman.sa.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/policy_part_2_2013.pdf [Accessed 28 May. 2014]. South Australia Police, (2012).South Australia Police Strategic Direction 2012-2015. [report] Adelaide: Government of South Australia. South Australia Police, (n.d.).Service Delivery Charter. [report] Adelaide: Government of South Australia.
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