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.

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