Understanding the culture of police corruption

Understanding the culture of police corruption

Not only Pakistan but police authorities across the world do not state the statistics of their corruption and corrupt officials due to fear of loss of public support for the force in fighting crime. However, it is acknowledged that police corruption is one of the greatest obstacles to fighting of crime and securing the confidence of the public. It is even harder to fight organized crimes since in many cases police officers receive payment to protect the criminals.
The police force is commonly identified as one of the most authoritative and corrupt governmental institutions not only in Pakistan but across the world and especially in under-developed regions. According to Transparency International in Middle East and North Africa, one in four people who dealt with police was paid a bribe. Pakistan is also facing challenges of dealing with corrupt police officials who undermine enforcement of the law.
There are many forms of police corruption and one of the most common is acceptance of bribes in order to ignore arrest or investigation of certain criminal activities. This form of corruption is seen where organized crime such as prostitution or drug activities are concerned. Another common form of police corruption especially in Pakistan is flouting conduct often exhibited in custodial killing and procedures to gain conviction of a suspect. This may take the form of falsifying evidence which implicates a suspect.
Police officers are often confronted with morally ambiguous dilemmas in the course of their work. We have to understand that corruption in the police can take many forms and occur in many situations across many different cultures. This moral ambiguity is exemplified by the dilemma of “noble cause corruption”.
Police are agents of the state and are bound by strict policies and procedures. On the other hand, they are morally committed to the “good end”. These roles can be conflicting because the policies and procedures in place to protect officers and the public can obstruct an officer from obtaining this good end. Noble cause corruption therefore occurs when a person tries to produce a just outcome through unjust methods, for example, police manipulating evidence to ensure a conviction of a known offender as it had happened in most of the cases, generally in cases of gang rapes, child sexual abuses and in many instances of terrorism related incidents.
Corruption in the police ranges from petty corruption and small acts of bribery to criminal infiltration and political corruption. However, this can be categorized into four types, the petty corruption among lower level police officers including acts of bribery in everyday interactions with citizens. Second type is the bureaucratic corruption or administrative corruption that refers to the misuse of internal procedures and administrative processes and resources for private gain, such as licensing or a lack of response to citizen’s complaints against police officers.
Third type of corruption is the link of police officers with criminal groups and it includes misconduct such as misleading investigations or tampering with evidence. Fourth is the high level or political corruption occurs where high level police officials abuse their power for personal gain or for the benefit of political groups to which they are formally or informally affiliated, in other words, criminal infiltration of the state. Sometimes, political interference may also occur in police investigations, false investigations and the “framing” of political opponents as we inherited this culture as a colonial legacy.
The impact of police corruption is always far reaching. Since the basic function of law and order are compromised due to corrupt practices within the police force, the state becomes unable to legitimately prevent and punish violations of the law and to protect human rights.
Police corruption results not only in public mistrust of the police and state, but ultimately an uncertainty arises and the whole criminal justice system is maligned and bound to drop its effectiveness, rendering it more difficult for the police to perform what should be their primary task, countering crime. It compromises the institutional integrity of the criminal justice system and undermines its legitimacy.
A serious result of police corruption is weakening ethical standards in society. If the public perceives the police to be benefiting from corruption, this could lower their own moral standards and make them more willing to engage in criminal behaviour.
Before suggesting any reforms or strategies to eradicate corruption in the police force, we have to understand the corruption phenomenon existed since the inception of police in colonial era. The most obvious police related corruption often seen on streets may comprise of petty corruption where, for example, the public is expected to pay bribes for alleged traffic violations, corrupt police officers can conspire with criminals and organized crime gangs.
The success stories of Singapore and Georgia may provide us few lessons as we can find many similarities between their police departments and in our police forces. The lower level police officials were handed low salaries in both the countries and had faced the similar poor working conditions and this was acknowledged and addressed in the reforms process. However, cultural considerations must be taken into account in any study of police corruption as these conditions must be different from other countries in Pakistan.