Types of Police Corruption and its Effects in Society

Corruption is a major social and economic problem in the world today. Though the levels of corruption differ across different societies, there is consensus that there is a bit of it in most places around the world. There are many definitions given to corruption depending on the perspective with which it is approached. In social circles, it is defined as a social evil that leads to loss of quality in service for unsubstantiated benefits (Dimant & Schulte, 2016). This definition is narrow and not comprehensive, with an economic angle giving a better description. In this regard, corruption is defined as an intentional violation of the arms-length principle, for the purposes of extending benefits to oneself or some related parties (Begovic, 2005). Though corruption is systemic in many countries from the political class to the bureaucracy, the police have in many instances stood out for their penchant for the vice. In most reports by the Transparency International (TI) and other monitoring bodies, the police have often emerged as the most corrupt public entities. Many countries have attempted to attenuate this standing with police reforms but significant success remains elusive in most cases. The sustained corruption in law enforcement organs majorly the police have been to various negative effects in the society, both in social and economic angles. This paper shall examine the types of police corruption and its effects on the society.

Types of Police Corruption

            Understanding the types of corruption in law enforcement or any other context requires the drawing of a theoretical framework first. Begovic (2005) proposes two frameworks that can be used to understand and stratify corruption. First is the agent-principle theory which pits the political class as the principals and the bureaucrats like the police as the agents. In this case, there is perceived knowledge asymmetry between the two levels of operation with the political class assumed to be benevolent. Thereby, the police’s actions are singularly conceived and orchestrated without the due influence or encouragement of the political class. The latter are exogenous of the corruption advanced by the police and in fact deemed to be clear of any form of it.  The alternative framework considers corruption as endogenous of the political class and is thus advanced in their orders and interests. In this case, corruption of civil servants like the police is considered to be a direct result of the political process. It results from the cohesion of predatory teams working together within a self-regulatory hostage mechanism. Favors are traded for loyalty to the ruler and anyone against the system, or who wants to pull out is blackmailed with exposure of their past deeds. The theoretical framework explains both corruption at the political and bureaucratic levels.

            Based on the above theoretical models, one of the emerging types of police corruption is administrative. This refers to the corruption advanced by civil servants in their own capacity for economic benefit (Begovic, 2005). It is characterized by the violation of laws or a very biased implementation of laws, in which both parties involved have something to gain. A good example is when a driver is caught speeding by a traffic police officer and instead of being taken in offers a bribe to secure their release. In such a case, both parties get some advantage- the offender avoids being taken to court while the police offer gets some cash/other economic benefit. This form of corruption aligns to the principle-agent model whereas the corrupt activities are extended without the collusion of the political class. However, in most cases, the latter are often guilty of coming up with bad policies that give rise to this form of corruption (Rose-Ackerman & Palifka, 2016). When politicians come up with unfavorable public policies, the police take advantage of such to propagate corruption. The public would rather part with some money in order to avoid compiling with such negative public policies. For instance, when there are stringent and insensitive immigration laws, there is a possibility of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials colluding with illegal immigrants to gain access to the US. The political class in this case creates conditions necessary for corruption to thrive but is not complicit to the corruption activities.

            Begovic (2005) also proposes another form of corruption under the principle agent model, namely corruption without theft. This is a form of corruption that is used to speed up the conferment of certain services that the public or an entity is already entitled to. The civil servant, in this case a police officer, is offered a bribe in order to do their job more quickly. No law is broken in this case as the individual is fully entitled to the service and the officer has the liberty to render services in the acceptable speed and order. This form of corruption is quite pervasive in the society today and indicates power administrative capability on the part of government organs (Rose-Ackerman & Palifka, 2016). For instance, one’s processing of a police abstract takes three weeks when they need it for immediate business and other essential functions. They are left with no choice than to bribe the police officer to perhaps work overtime or push it ahead of the queue in return for some financial benefit. When a country creates smooth administrative structures, this form of corruption subsides. This is because there will be no need to offer bribes for a service that one can get within the same time and in the same form through standard procedure.

            A less common form of police corruption is political corruption. This refers to a systemic form of corruption involving multiple state actors that work with the police to advance corruption activities. In this affront, the political class uses the police establishment to advance their own causes and is complicit in propagating attendant acts (Dimant & Schulte, 2016). The scenario is common in despotic regimes where rulers use policemen to trample the rule of law, impose dictatorship and silence dissenters. In return, the police are rewarded with attractive remuneration packages, equipment for work and other privileges that are not witnessed by other bureaucrats. It is a dangerous form of corruption as it erodes democracy and oppresses the people.

Effects of Police Corruption  

The effects of police corruption are quite a number. The obvious one is poor implementation of public policies. This is experienced in both administrative corruption and corruption without theft. In administrative corruption, the police fail to implement laws and public policies in return for financial benefits (Dimant & Schulte, 2016). This has been witnessed in many countries around the world in the traffic department with drivers negligent and careless on the road. Despite having good traffic laws, you find that there is little or no observance, with the police failing to adhere to implementation guidelines for their own economic benefits. In corruption without theft, the public collude with police officers to get exemptions from observing public policies that they deem unfavorable. The cure for that lies with coming up with better policies that are easily implemented and observed. Generally, police corruption therefore leads to poor implementation of public policies.

Police corruption can also lead to disasters of monumental proportions. Police officers are tasked with protection of the public and public spaces, which implies that corruption may lead to laxity in observing these roles (Begovic, 2005). In the event of such lack of vigilance and due diligence, acts that lead to disaster such as terrorism happen. Imagine a scenario where police fail to accost a suspect in an airport after they are offered money and he latter goes ahead to blow off a plane. A simple act of administrative corruption in this case shall lead to mass casualties. In the same way, police may fail to act in complicity with corrupt politicians to protect human rights. An example is in cases of picketing where the police are supposed to offer protection. If corrupted, they may shoot at peaceful demonstrators or stand aside as demonstrations get rowdy. A humanitarian disaster may suffice in the process. Therefore, police corruption is capable of causing disasters.

In summing up, it is notable that corruption is not a simplistic idea as it appears on the surface. It is a serious vice that involves an intentional non compliance to the arm’s length principle for one’s own economic advantage. Police corruption may entail administrative, corruption without theft and political corruption based on various theoretical frameworks. As demonstrated, corruption can lead to poor enforcement of laws and public policies as well as disasters. It is therefore essential to understand police corruption and address it substantially.


Begovic, B. (2005). Corruption: concepts, types, causes and consequences. Center for Liberal-Democratic Studies, Year III No26.

Dimant, E., & Schulte, T. (2016). The nature of corruption: An interdisciplinary perspective. German LJ17, 53.

Rose-Ackerman, S., & Palifka, B. J. (2016). Corruption and government: Causes, consequences, and reform. Cambridge university press.

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