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Home / Resources / News / Corruption and the police forces

Corruption and the police forces

Introduction by Rosen Dimov
A glimpse into the origin of the term “corruption” gives an initial clue to understand the meaning behind it. The Latin root stands for “moral decay, rottenness”,, appropriate to describe this wide-spread phenomenon. While the broad term “corruption” may include a diverse set of wrongdoings for most people “bribery”is the first one to come to mind. Colgate University Professor Michael Johnston asserts that “in rapidly changing societies, as many of today`s are in the hyper-globalised and digitalised world, the limit between what is corrupt and what is not is not always clear”. To put forward a structured picture of this complex phenomenon, he identifies patterns of (dis)integrity globally and employs them to make assumptions and classifications on syndromes of corruption, based on the political, economic, social and institutional contexts. Another well-accepted distinction is laid upon quantitative indicators – grand corruption (including top officials and government heads), as opposed to petty corruption (police officers, school personnel, tax authorities, among others), also called “street” or “low” corruption.While some define corruption with mathematical precision (researcher Robert Klitgaard with the equation Corruption = Monopoly Power+ Discretion – Accountability, or UNDP`s formula equation Corruption = Monopoly Power + Discretion – (Accountability + Integrity+ Transparency), the most common and practical explanation is given by Transperancy International – “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”.Most countries (140) adhere to the definitions and counter-activities put forth in the United Nation`s Convention against Corruption, while there are regional specifics, as mentioned in the Council of Europe`s Civil Law Convention on Corruption and the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption. These are multilateral agreements in which leeway is left to their signatories, which upon adoption strengthen the disparities as a consequence of the internalisation into their legal realms. Perhaps the least degree of divergence in corruption standards is left with the instruments in the European Union, which are still weak due to the rather loose and limited cooperation among member states in the domain of Justice and Home Affairs. Definition and actions with respect to integrity are included in the more broad fields of fight against organised crime – being the joint responsibility of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), Europol, Eurojust, and the EU member states. The Millennium Strategy on the Prevention and Control of Organised Crime is in effect giving flesh to the two Conventions on the protection of the European Communities’ financial interests and the fight against corruption involving officials of the European Communities or officials of the EU Member States.

How to measure corruption? 

A landmark impediment in the eradication of corruption remains the equivocal measurement applied to it. If stakeholders contrasting this negative phenomenon – be it governments, businesses, civic associations or even individuals, do not agree upon the same gauging techniques, the success of the joint efforts will be precluded by the disparities.
Popular tools are employed by the Transparency International (TI) and the World Bank (WB). TI has started and regularly updates a Global Corruption Barometer, whereas the WB has elaborated Corporate Corruption and Ethic Indices as well as Worldwide Governance Indicators. Yet, those are perception indices that are debatable. According to Erlend Berg , a good corruption indicator shall possess the features of trustworthiness, validity, accuracy and preciseness. He argues that the abovementioned composite indicators are insufficient in these characteristics because “imperfect measure of a linear transformation of an underlying, unobserved graft quantity”. Thereby, their subjectivity is frequently neglected, but they are commonly used and overlapping conjectures.Dilyan Donchev and Gergely Ujhelyi even go further  in their non-adherence to the findings of TI and WB. Cross-country comparisons are, in their studies, contradictory as the perception tends to be biased upwards for the larger countries. Moreover, corruption has plenty of dimensions which cannot be easily gauged by a scale. They also use formulae and estimations to prove that the economic, institutional and cultural influences as well as experience with different types of corruption (along with other biases)diminish the reliability of perception-based datasets.

The Muslim world`s school of thought does not give a colliding perspective. Prominent figures of the the International Islamic University of Islamabad Zaman Asas and Rahim Faizur also dispute the credibility of perception indices in corruption measurement. They establish  that even at first glance corruption seems inestimable. The available indicators are short of measurability and specifics. TI index is named “highly misleading” because it deviates considerably from reality. It is also necessary to determine who is the perceiver, what is the object of perception and why (who is endorsing/requiring the outcomes). The authors exemplify the variability by providing traversing findings of other organisations.

The experts at United Nations and Global Integrity fuel criticism on the perception indices. They admit that many data sources must be applied altogether in order to acquire a more plausible measurement. There might be similarly sounding titles in the measurement toolkits, but they are directed at multiple targets. Although respondents in the research which produced the perception indices included developed and developing countries, the concepts that are processed are still Western-centric. There is not only disagreement about the definitions but also about whether the indices are input or output-centred.Enforcing anti-corruption measures 

Another obstacle to the prevention and downsizing of corruption lays upon those that use the corruption definitions and measures – particularly, the law enforcement authorities. The intentional misinterpretation – or more precisely, deviation from the rules — opens the door for huge misuse of the delegated public duties to the various control figures. The most tangible manifestations of corruptions refer to police officers, among others. Bribery in the form of a promise, an offer or a gift, includes both the instigator (active corruption) as well as the receiving party (passive corruption). Another form is trading in influence whereby –in exchange for surpassing the law, the official may provide the corrupting party with undue advantage. The abuse of positions includes the unlawful performance or non-performance of public duties for the gain of other party. The most arguable police-related manifestation of corruption is the illicit enrichment, whereby no justifiable reason for the income exists – yet, the criminal pursuit of this type of corruption goes contrary to the innocence presumption and reverses the burden of proof.

The most common tactics in alleviating corruption among law enforcement officials target the narrowing of discretion left to the police in executing their duties. Concrete dimensions include internal monitoring (by infiltrating a colleague to spy an investigation team), the increased use of digital equipment (substituting or complementing the physical efforts of the officers), the de-institutionalisation of police services (re-assigning them to business entities or non-government organisations) and, last but not least, the control of the citizenry over undue behaviour of the law enforcement officers. The high level of public awareness and intolerance of corrupt acts among citizens still is a matter of personal attitude, but raising sensitivity can be additionally encouraged by educational measures, promotion of good role models as well as success stories, active media, etc.

Further reading

Michael Johnston (2008) Syndromes of Corruption: Wealth, Power, and Democracy Cambridge University Press

Robert Klitgaard (1988) Controlling Corruption and International Cooperation against Corruption Available here

Maurice Punch (2009) Police corruption: deviance, accountability and reform in policing Available here

Tom Prenzler (2008) Police corruption: preventing misconduct and maintaining integrity 

Tim Newburn (1999)  Understanding and preventing police corruption: lessons from the literature Available here

Cyrille Fijhaut (2000) The problem of corruption of police officials Available here

Andros Posadas (1999) Combating corruption under international law Available here

Indicators of the WB and TI

EU corruption policies, a brief review. Available here

Alessio Pisanò (2011) “Tackling corruption in the EU, the sooner the better” in The New Federalist Available here 

Quentin Reed (2002) Corruption and EU enlargement: who is prepared? Available here

Council of Europe, Group of States against Corruption Available here and here