Syed, T & Bruce, D. (1998). Inside and Outside the Boundaries of Police Corruption. In African Security Review, Vol. 7, No. 2.

www.iss.co.za/Pubs/ASR/7No2/SayedAndBruce.html

 


Taleh Sayed and David Bruce
Researchers, Criminal Justice Policy Unit Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation

Published in African Security Review Vol 7 No 2, 1998


INTRODUCTION


This article is the second of a two-part series on defining and identifying police corruption. In the first article,1 some of the major issues dealing with the concept of `police corruption' were explored and a working definition of the term was arrived at:

Any illegal conduct or misconduct involving the use of occupational power for personal, group or organisational gain.

Thus, to be considered corrupt, an act must be a violation of South African criminal or civil law or qualify as misconduct under either the South African Police Service (SAPS) or traffic officers' regulations. In addition, it must use either the legal or organisational powers of the police and be motivated by the desire to achieve some identifiable personal, group or organisational gain.

This article will examine some of the implications of using this definition. In the next section, the working definition will be used as a basis to outline and distinguish between various forms of police corruption. Different kinds of corruption will be discussed and some examples will be given. Following that, practices that are not regarded as corrupt, but are either criminal, examples of misconduct, or simply problematic will be identified and reasons presented for their exclusion. A consideration of the often small variations in the causes or ramifications of some of these practices when compared to those that are regarded as corrupt will serve to indicate the links that may exist between police corruption and other forms of behaviour. In addition, such a discussion may highlight some of the key issues that arise from the limitations in using any one definition exclusively, and may underline the need for a degree of fluidity in how corruption is viewed and addressed.

FORMS OF POLICE CORRUPTION


The following is a series of tables listing various groups of `illegal conduct or misconduct' that qualify as being corrupt under the above definition and are specific to the police. In addition to the identification of specific categories of corrupt acts within each group, the tables state whether the acts are crimes or forms of misconduct, and what types of power and gain are involved. They also indicate international examples of the occurrence of such practices and record whether or not such acts have received recent coverage in the South African press.2 Following each table is a brief discussion of the differences that exist among the categories within each group and those that exist between one group and another. It should be noted that differences between corrupt practices are not always clear or distinct. Thus, the various categories and groups should not be viewed as precise divisions, but as attempts to gain some clarity on the `general forms' of corrupt practices that exist.

TABLE 1
TYPES OF FAVOURITISM

PRACTICE

ILLEGAL OR MIS-
CONDUCT

TYPE OF POWER USED

TYPE OF GAIN

INTL EXAMPLE

COVERAGE IN SA PRESS

1 'Looking the other way' for family members or friends in trouble with the law

misconduct

 


police legal

 

 

personal

 

 

no

 

2 'Looking the other way' for 'favoured'3 people, fellow officers or influential people

 

 

misconduct

 

 

police legal

personal, group or organisational

Victoria, Australia

 

no

 

3 Using police access and influence to provide illegitimate assistance to any member of the above groups (involves police intervention in the criminal justice process, above and beyond the use of discretionary powers)

misconduct or illegal

 

 

 

 

 

 

police organisational

 

 

 

 

 

 

personal, group or organisational

 

 

 

 

 

New York

 

 

 

 

 

 

yes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


What the categories outlined above have in common, is that the act is committed, unlike the categories in other groups, for a form of gain that is not materially tangible. Nevertheless, the actions do result in a clearly identifiable benefit for the officer in question and, since in all other respects they fit the definition, they are clearly corrupt. The first two categories both involve the misuse of police discretionary powers in allowing someone to avoid the consequences of committing an infraction. What is different between the two is the type of gain. In the first case, the gain is the personal benefit of helping a friend or family member in trouble. In the second instance, it can take a few forms. In terms of `looking the other way' for another police officer, the gain may be the personal benefit of helping a friend or colleague, but it may also be a kind of organisational gain, in the form of a general recognition and acceptance among the police that cops are generally exempt from the enforcement of certain `minor' laws. Also, it should be noted that in such a case there are two corrupt acts, as the officer giving and the officer receiving (and maybe also soliciting) such special treatment are both guilty of abusing their power.

Another example of the second kind of practice is an officer overlooking a parking violation of a `favoured' restaurant owner, one that regularly provides free meals or discounts to the officer in question or to police officers in general. At the time of the specific act of favouritism, there may be no tangible benefit, but it is clear that the officer is acting in a corrupt manner by repaying the restaurant owner's "gifts" by giving special treatment. In fact, this act may be motivated by a form of group, rather than personal, gain, as even if the officer in question does not accept such `gifts', s/he may still be reluctant to cite the owner for a violation, as doing so may result in upsetting other officers who do benefit from the owner's `generosity'.4

An example of a practice in the second category that is motivated by organisational gain alleged to have occurred in Victoria, Australia is when officers `refuse to charge' or investigate `criminal and other offences' of politicians (such as the Premier of the province) who are influential and supportive of the police agency, in order to ensure her/his continued support.5 This type of organisational gain may also be a motivating factor for the third type of favouritism, which differs from the others in the nature and circumstances of the corrupt act. While the first two involve the use of police discretionary powers in overlooking violations of the law, the third entails the use of different police powers in intervening in the criminal justice process. For example, the report of the Mollen Commission on corruption in New York City found evidence of commanding officers and those in the Internal Affairs Department involved in the `burying' of files and the obstruction or prolonging of investigations involving corrupt activities by other police officers.6 Such acts involve the abuse of police access and influence and, whether the gain was personal (helping out officers who were friends), or organisational (trying to avoid damaging publicity, either for a specific station or the police service as a whole), they are certainly forms of corruption. Another example of the third type of practice, reported in The Star and one in which both parties were acting corruptly, involved one or more police officers allegedly providing confidential information relating to a case to another officer in which the latter was under investigation. The information was then allegedly used in an attempt to deter the complainant from pursuing the case.7 The officer(s) who allegedly provided the information abused their access to the police docket, while the officer allegedly receiving it abused the connections he had as a police officer.

What the above types of corruption indicate is that there are many instances of corrupt acts where the gain may be neither personal nor materially tangible, but is nonetheless identifiable and needs to be recognised. Furthermore, even though some of these instances of favouritism may be viewed as not so serious, it must be kept in mind that they grant immunity from the law (or at least some laws) for certain people or groups of people. Even in relatively minor instances, once this practice of viewing the law as applying differently to different people starts becoming accepted among officers, other more serious perversions of justice may not be far off.

Acts of bribery are usually the most common examples of what is meant by police corruption. Generally, they involve the payment of money (or some other material good) in return for protection from law enforcement. In fact, most of them are quite similar to acts of favouritism, except that they now result in a materially tangible gain. Thus, the above categories of different types of bribery are not always easily distinguishable from one another. However, making the distinction is useful in order to gain a clearer understanding of the specific circumstances in which different acts of bribery occur.

TABLE 2
BRIBERY AND RELATED PRACTICE

PRACTICE

ILLEGAL OR MIS-
CONDUCT

TYPE OF POWER USED

TYPE OF GAIN

INTL EXAMPLE

COVERAGE IN SA PRESS

4 Taking a bribe, solicited or not, for non-enforcement of a violation (e.g. not giving a speeding ticket to someone in return for some kind of payment

illegal

 

 

police legal

 

 

personal

 

 

Mexico city

 

 

yes

 

 

5 Bribery for obstruction of criminal justice process (e.g. 'making a bad case', one that the officer knows the defence can exploit, or failing to show up at a trial)

illegal, but often only misconduct provable

 

police legal

 

 

personal

 

 

London

 

 

yes

 

 

6 Bribery for direct intervention in criminal justice process (e.g. destroying a docket)

illegal

police legal and police organisational

personal

New York

yes

7 Extortion, i.e., demanding payment, under threat of action, from those in conflict with the law (possibly involving an element of victimisation or framing by the police)

illegal

 

 

police legal

 

 

personal

 

 

Victoria, Australia

 

 

yes

 

 

8 Paid protection, i.e., providing police assistance and information to criminals in order to help avoid arrest or prosecution (e.g. tipping someone off on a drug raid coming up)

illegal

 

 

police legal and police organisational

 

personal or group

Virgin Islands, United States

 

yes

 

 

9 Regular protection - similar to above, but more organised and systematic, often in relation to gambling, prostitution and drug rings

illegal

 

police legal and police organisational

personal or group

Queensland, Australia

yes

 


The first type of bribery is the straightforward case of non-enforcement of a violation, for example, speeding or possession of marijuana, in return for some form of payment. It involves the abuse of an officer's discretionary powers and, in this category, is a one-off incident. The next two types of practices are different, due to the fact that they usually take place after the alleged offender has been identified as a suspect, or been placed under investigation or arrest, and involve the use of powers other than discretion in order to enable the alleged offender to either get a lighter punishment or escape punishment altogether. Category five practices involve the use of subtle, or more difficult to expose, means of assisting an alleged offender, while category six acts are generally more overt, direct and easily detected. While the difference between these two is often not very clear, the distinction allows us to recognise that certain corrupt acts may often be mistaken for instances of negligence or incompetence. One example of a more subtle corrupt use of police power is an officer `making the case' badly, i.e., writing "the case up in such a manner that it will be thrown out of court."8 Another, cited by Morton in his survey of police corruption in England, is an officer being paid to `co-operate' with the defence by performing badly in court.9 Not properly investigating a case, failing to retain witnesses, or not showing up at the appointed time for a hearing or trial, are all examples of what may be acts of corruption disguised as instances of incompetence. On the other hand, examples of more direct forms of intervention in the criminal justice process would be destroying or selling dockets, quashing fines, selling confidential information, helping prisoners escape or instructing junior officers to cease investigations. Also included would be reducing the amount of drugs seized or the number of previous convictions of an offender in order to lighten her/his sentence.10

The next category, extortion, differs from the others in that it entails, through action or the threat of action, a more aggressive pursuit of corrupt funds. Here, the distinction made by the Knapp Report between "grass eaters" those who accept corrupt funds that come their way and "meat eaters" those who actively seek opportunities for corrupt gain is appropriate.11 In the case of extortion, police officers no longer just respond to opportunities that arise during the course of police work, but use their powers to pursue or create such opportunities. Some instances may involve extorting funds from those already in trouble with the law, some may involve the enforcement of a legitimate violation in order to `make a deal', and some may involve the framing of people or the fabrication of a violation in order to extract payment. Examples of the second kind are the alleged actions of police in the United States Virgin Islands, where officers have been accused of "routinely shak(ing) down prostitutes [and] illegal aliens, [extorting money from them] by threatening to turn them in to the Immigration and Naturalization Service."12 A South African example of the third kind of extortion was an incident where five officers, falsely informing a man that "his vehicle had been used in a crime and would have to be confiscated", seized his car and demanded R6 000 for its return.13

The difference between the above forms of bribery and the last two categories of `paid protection' is that the latter involve more of a relationship, rather than a one-off exchange between an officer or officers and an alleged offender or group of offenders. Often, the provision of police assistance is in advance of the alleged offender being in trouble with the law. In New York, the Mollen report detailed instances of officers providing drug dealers with information or "tip-offs [on] such things as narcotic raids and undercover operations."14 In other cases, officers may intervene on behalf of members of certain organised crime rings who have been arrested and attempt to get "all charges dropped."15 In these instances, the protection and assistance of the police are regularly provided to criminals, who are able to consistently evade the law and run their operations more effectively. Category nine differs from eight only in the level of organisation and the number of police involved. It refers to those cases when it is no longer just one or two officers who regularly protect criminals and syndicates, but groups of officers providing police protection for syndicate activity. The Knapp report findings of large scale police cover for organised drug rings in New York during the 1970s, or the Fitzgerald Inquiry reports of police protection of gambling rackets in Queensland, Australia16 are examples of such regular police protection, or what the Knapp Report referred to as "pads".17 In another example of a `pad', this time with regard to prostitution, sex workers in London, in return for `lump sum' payments, were either regularly given cautions (as opposed to being arrested), or fixed appointments for arrest, leaving them free for the rest of the time to "give full attention to passing men without the nervous wear and tear of keeping constant look-out for coppers."18

TABLE 3
KICKBACKS AND SIMILAR PAYMENTS

PRACTICE

ILLEGAL OR MIS-
CONDUCT

TYPE OF POWER USED

TYPE OF GAIN

INTL EXAMPLE

COVERAGE IN SA PRESS

10 Payment for favouritism regarding the delegation of legitimate tasks (e.g. assignment of towing work to specific companies who pay)

illegal

 

 

 

police legal

 

 

personal

 

 

 

Victoria, Australia

 

 

 

yes

 

 

 

11 Payment (among police officers) in return for the awarding of work-related opportunities for corrupt incomes

illegal

 

police organisational

personal

 

Mexico city

 

no

 

12 Payment regarding delivery or favourable treatment in respect of legitimate services (e.g. expediting issuing of firearm licences)

illegal

 

 

police legal

 

 

personal

 

 

New York

 

 

yes

 

 

13 Payment for delivery of illegitimate/illegal services (e.g. issuing false gambling licenses)

illegal

police legal

personal

Queensland, Australia

yes


The above practices relate, in general, to the more `administrative' or `bureaucratic' sides of police work. They are usually in the form of giving favourable treatment in respect of the provision of a legitimate service and they take place in interactions with workers in areas related to police functions and responsibilities or with members of the general public. Categories ten and eleven are forms of `kickbacks', i.e., "a part of an income to a person having influence over the size or payment of the income, especially by some illegal arrangement."19 One example of a category ten kickback is when certain towing companies regularly pay police officers in order to get all police-related towing work directed their way.20 Other examples, involving agents in the criminal justice system, are of law firms giving `gifts' to the police, who have "influence over the distribution of legal aid work", or of "desk sergeants inform(ing) bondsmen ... whenever a prisoner needed their service [in return for a] percentage of the fees they collected."21

The practices in category eleven are similar, but take place among police officers themselves, usually involving payments for receiving desirable work assignments which offer increased opportunities for corrupt income. For example, in Mexico City, "officers frequently pay the equivalent of $100 or more per shift to be assigned to drive a tow truck, knowing that officers at the impoundment lots will pay at least $30 for every auto delivered and in turn charge hapless owners $85 to $100, off the books, to retrieve their cars."22 In this circle of corruption, there are three separate corrupt exchanges. It is the first two, with officers paying other officers to receive `plum' shifts or increased opportunities (i.e., more vehicles) for corrupt interactions, which are examples of kickbacks.

The third exchange belongs in the next category. It is not really a `kickback', but a payment in order to receive favourable or quicker delivery of legitimate services. An example of this type of practice is when officers take money in order to expedite the process of issuing a firearm licence.23 Such practices are similar to other forms of public sector corruption and are sometimes viewed in the light of increasing efficiency or `greasing the wheel'. However, they can quickly turn into practices of extortion or providing illegal services for payment. For instance, the third corrupt act in the example above is extortion, where the officer abuses her/his power in order to extract extra funds for providing a service which is due anyway. Also, it may be a small step from officers expediting the issuing of legitimate licences and officers issuing false firearm or driver's licences for money.

The latter acts belong in the next category, which is quite similar to categories in the bribery group, since an illegal service is provided for money. The point of categorising this type of bribery separately and in this group is that the specific circumstances surrounding it seem to indicate a link between it and other forms of corruption in this group.24

TABLE 4
DIVERSION OF POLICE RESOURCES

PRACTICE

ILLEGAL OR MIS-
CONDUCT

TYPE OF POWER USED

TYPE OF GAIN

INTL EXAMPLE

COVERAGE IN SA PRESS

14 Officers or commanders selling or disproportionately providing police services (e.g. police officers, during working hours, guarding a private business)

misconduct or illegal

 

police legal and police organisational

personal

 

Mexico City

 

no

 

15 Officers or commanders selling legitimate police services to criminals

illegal

police legal and police organisational

personal

Mexico City

no

16 Targeting (using police powers to help criminals, business people, etc., to target certain people or groups)

illegal

police legal and police organisational

personal

New York

no


The practices in this group involve the use of police resources and powers for private purposes. As such, they seem to have something in common with abuses of police power which were identified in the first article in this series as examples of `corrupt' or `illegitimate' uses of the police, but not as individual acts of police corruption. The difference is that in these cases, the officers in question derive clearly identifiable benefits from the acts. In instances of the police being used illegitimately by the state, it is not so clear. Category fourteen entails business interests buying police services. One example is of some police commanders in Mexico selling `security services' to `merchants and bankers'.25 Also, cases of extra attention being paid to pubs in England26 or movie theatres in the US27 as a result of free or discounted goods provided to the officers, are examples of police services being provided disproportionately in return for payment.

The next category involves officers providing what are generally legitimate police services to people involved in criminal activity. Naturally, once these services are provided to criminals, they are no longer legitimate. An example is of police commanders in Mexico, who sold security not only to legal business operations, but also to prostitutes and drug dealers.28 Police involvement in drug syndicates in New York shows how closely the practices in categories fifteen and sixteen are often linked in assisting and strengthening criminal operations. Some of the actions of officers who, during working hours, would escort "a car transporting drugs or cash" or simply be visible while transactions were taking place, are examples of category fifteen practices, with police presence being bought for extra `insurance' or protection.29 Others, such as officers aiding drug dealers "by harassing and intimidating their competition", often through focusing legitimate law enforcement powers on them, belong in category sixteen. Such practices give officers the power to "allow certain individuals or groups to operate in the illegal market while preventing other potential participants", in effect selling "monopoly rights" to operate in such an `underground market'.30 Many of the corrupt acts involved in carrying out this assistance are particularly difficult to detect, as they may often seem to be only instances of the police carrying out law enforcement tasks, such as arresting legitimate offenders.

TABLE 5
DECEPTIVE PRACTICES

PRACTICE

ILLEGAL OR MIS-
CONDUCT

TYPE OF POWER USED

TYPE OF GAIN

INTL EXAMPLE

COVERAGE IN SA PRESS

17 Falsifying evidence or documents for the purpose of falsely enhancing performance of self, others or organisation

illegal

 

police legal

 

personal or organisational

 

London

 

yes

 

18 Making false statements or committing perjury

illegal

police organisational

personal or organisational

Los Angeles

yes


As discussed in the earlier article, when an officer employs `deceptive', `illegitimate' or `improper' methods not for the purposes of legitimate law enforcement ends, but in order to fraudulently enhance the performance of her/himself or others, or to gain some special bonus, then s/he is acting corruptly. In the case reported in The Star of a junior forensics examiner allegedly "mismatching fingerprints", this would be an example of a corrupt act if the motive was the "`pure enhancement of performance' of the examiners" or providing "favours" for detectives, by helping them to falsely "build stronger cases."31 Other examples are inflating the seriousness of crimes reported and thus cleared (e.g. recording a theft as an armed robbery32), or falsifying times of arrests in order to get overtime pay.33

Practices in category eighteen are often just extensions of the distortions or falsifications of category seventeen. For example, planting drugs on someone to inflate the seriousness of the crime may also require filing a false report or committing perjury in court. Such perjury must be considered an act of corruption, since its success relies on the credibility that a police officer has and thus a form of occupational power is used. Other instances of perjury or false statements, which are also examples of corruption, are when an officer lies to cover up acts of misconduct committed by her/him or another officer, something found by the Christopher Commission to be widespread and tolerated in the Los Angeles police department.34 An example would be claiming that a suspect was resisting arrest in order to cover up the use of unnecessary force. In such instances, the gain is either avoiding personal harm or helping a friend or another officer to avoid such harm.

It should be pointed out that there are instances of perjury committed by an officer that, despite being criminal or improper, should not be viewed as acts of police corruption. One such instance is when an officer her/himself is on trial and lies. Since it is doubtful that an officer under investigation still retains the credibility that comes with being a police officer, there is no use of occupational power and thus it is not an example of corruption. Other instances are the kinds of falsification and perjury used by some narcotics enforcement units in order to get around "what they perceive to be unrealistic laws" which serve to increase their "inability to stem the crime in their precincts through legal means."35 In such cases, when perjury is used as a means of pursuing legitimate ends, it is an offense. Nevertheless, what is also clear is that the motives behind such an act indicate that it ought not to be viewed as an example of corruption.

TABLE 6
THEFT

PRACTICE

ILLEGAL OR MIS-
CONDUCT

TYPE OF POWER USED

TYPE OF GAIN

INTL EXAMPLE

COVERAGE IN SA PRESS

19 Stealing from crime scenes and other areas of legitimate police presence (e.g. an unlocked shop)

illegal

 

police legal

personal

 

Atlanta

 

yes

 

20 Stealing from stored goods, evidence, or turned in, seized or recovered property (e.g. stealing parts from a car stored in police compound)

illegal

 

police organisational

personal

 

Victoria, Australia

 

yes

 


The final two groups of corrupt practices entail police powers being used for straightforward criminal activity for gain. The reason for distinguishing between the two is that the exposure to opportunities for the above forms of theft generally occur in the course of police work and are thus more closely related to the regular functions and tasks of an officer than the crimes in the group below. In category nineteen, the theft is facilitated by legal police powers and duties. It occurs in areas where police presence is not only legitimate, but often required.36 Such areas include unlocked shops, broken into or burnt buildings and crime scenes. Also, in such instances, when the theft is committed out in the `field' of police work, there is often little in the way of supervision or control of police actions.

In category twenty, the thefts are committed in or near police property and the acts rely on the use of the organisational access of the police to certain goods and areas, such as stored ammunition or compounds for recovered vehicles. The distinction between these two types of theft is not always clear, as in an instance of an officer finding a lost item, such as a wallet with money and therefore being responsible for turning it in. The officer may simply steal all the money in the wallet, or s/he may lie about how much money was in the wallet and turn it in with only some of the money left. Also, even if all the money was returned, somebody else at the station could then steal it. Similarly, the amount of evidence or recovered property seized by officers after an arrest could be falsely recorded by the officers or by a desk clerk, either of whom, in turn, could keep or sell the difference between the recorded and actual amounts. In these cases, the theft may occur inside or outside police areas and it may involve the abuse of legal or organisational access to goods.

TABLE 7
PRE-MEDITATED CRIMINAL ACTIVITY

PRACTICE

ILLEGAL OR MIS-
CONDUCT

TYPE OF POWER USED

TYPE OF GAIN

INTL EXAMPLE

COVERAGE IN SA PRESS

21 Pre-meditated criminal acts for gain, such as theft, robbery, involvement in car hijacking or drug trafficking, the opportunities for which do not just arise in the course of police work, provided that police occupational power is used to facilitate the crime (e.g. issuing of false car clearance certificates as part of a hijacking ring)

illegal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

police legal and police organisational

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

personal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

yes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

22 Extensions of corruption, such as pooling corrupt money among officers or selling goods acquired by corrupt practices

illegal

 

 

extends abuse of both police legal and organisational

personal or group

 

Mexico City

 

 

yes

 

 


The transition from acts of favouritism, receiving kickbacks or opportunistic stealing to the above group of criminal activities is where the distinction between `grass eaters' and `meat eaters' is clearest. These acts are not committed as a result of pressures or opportunities presented in the nature or course of police work. Rather, like extortion, they are examples of criminal activities which require an officer's planning, initiative and aggressive pursuit of opportunities. Reports of police collusion with, or even control over car hijacking operations is one example of such corruption. "Tampering with computers, stealing car clearance books, issuing false clearances and stamping false chassis and engine numbers on cars" are all instances of organised and planned criminal activity using police powers.37 Another example is the "alleged involvement of several policemen in a liquidation sale scam", where officers and a local businessman colluded to defraud customers of a `liquidation' business of over R100 000.38 Another pre-planned criminal activity is the case of some police officers in New York using their work to "cultivat(e) connections with drug dealers [and then] transact drug business with them both on or off duty, often in uniform."39

The last category of corrupt practices refers simply to extensions of other corrupt acts, such as sharing corrupt money in a mutual `fund',40 or giving a portion, or `quota' of bribes collected to superior officers.41 While the individual acts of corruption in this category, at times, may not involve any direct gain or use of occupational power, they are the result of previous corrupt activities and need to be seen in this context.

Relevance of South African Examples


With regards to the column in the tables referring to reports of corrupt practices in the South African press, one needs to keep in mind factors such as the ease with which certain activities are exposed, or what the attitudes of the media and the public are towards some practices when assessing the relevance of media coverage of corruption. Furthermore, it should be recognised that the fact that certain categories have received coverage in the South African press does not necessarily mean that they are common occurrences. One or two stories about a specific type of corruption does not mean that such corruption is rife. On the other hand, the fact that certain categories (such as acts of favouritism, kickbacks among officers and the diversion of police resources) have not been reported, should not be taken to mean that such corrupt practices do not take place in South Africa. It may simply be that certain practices are even more difficult to detect than other forms of corruption. Or it may be that certain incidents may not have received coverage because they are so common that they are not regarded as being worth reporting on, or are perceived to be not very serious or not even recognised as corrupt.

In terms of using press reports as an indication of how widespread police corruption is in South Africa, it should be noted that measuring the extent of corrupt activities is notoriously difficult.42 Corruption is generally a covert activity that often results in mutual benefit to the parties involved, thus complicating its detection and exposure. Media coverage of corruption therefore does not provide an accurate measure of the quantity of corruption. However, press reports do offer "a window on the organization of corruption at the point in time"43 of the reporting. As such, the fact that, of the twenty-one practices that had international examples (which were drawn from book surveys, media sources, and analytical literature published over the last two decades), there were reports of sixteen in the South African press over the fifteen-month period from February 1996 to April 1997 alone, does seem to indicate that police corruption is quite widespread in South Africa. Although one needs to be cautious, it seems reasonable to assert that the publication of reports on so many different types of corrupt activities in the South African press in little over a year may indicate that police corruption in South Africa is fairly extensive, as well as varied in nature. It follows that police corruption represents a serious problem which needs to be addressed if the SAPS, and other police services in South Africa are to gain public respect and perform their tasks effectively.

Corrupt Practices not Specific to the Police Organisation


As mentioned in the first article, a distinction can be made between forms of police corruption that use occupational powers specific to the police and those that use powers that are more generally available to people in a variety of organisations. Corrupt practices that are more general include, but are not limited to the following:

 

    • pilfering of goods available in the office (e.g. office supplies);

    • use of office resources for private use (e.g. personal long-distance phone calls, faxes, photocopies);

    • embezzlement of funds (e.g. from the payroll, insurance policies, charity or community trusts); and

    • abuse of general office authority (e.g. a senior officer demanding favours or goods to grant sick leave or holiday time).

 

Apart from achieving an analytically more subtle understanding of police corruption, making the distinction between forms of police corruption that are specific to the police and those that are more general is also of practical value. Many of these practices are quite common in a variety of sectors in society. However, by indiscriminately grouping them with other forms of police corruption, one may be overlooking the possibility that the causes for such behaviour may not be the same as other forms of corruption whose causes may be more directly related to the nature and pressures of police work. Understanding that different forms of police corruption may have their roots in different sources is essential to the formulation of strategies to combat the existence of corrupt practices.

The widespread nature of some of these more general corrupt practices has other implications for strategies. Firstly, separating these abuses of organisational power from those that are specific to the police enables us to identify more general problem areas which apply to the public sector as a whole. Thus, any strategies to curb such behaviour should be uniformly applied to public servants. Besides the value that such an approach would have for the reduction of corruption in the public sector as a whole, it would additionally avoid the danger of selective morality, i.e., the judging of the police, but not of other sectors. Singling out police officers for practices which are prevalent in society could have the effect of damaging morale, incurring hostility to any reforms and discrediting anti-corruption measures.

It also needs to be recognised that the impact of these more general forms of corruption may not be as damaging as that of some corrupt practices specific to the police. While it may be true that, in general, a higher level of conduct is expected of police officers, it seems unlikely that public awareness of the prevalence of many of these practices in the police service would result in the same decrease in public confidence and trust in the police that news of police collusion in car hijacking, docket theft or widespread favouritism would. Furthermore, many of the more general corrupt practices do not have nearly as devastating an impact on the performance of the criminal justice system (e.g. either through facilitating crime or obstructing justice) as do other forms of police corruption.

However, the reasons given for the importance of distinguishing between forms of police corruption specific to the police and those that are more general should not be taken to obscure the fact that both are police corruption and that, in certain cases, the links between the two are quite strong. An example is the police officer in Mpumalanga found guilty of "demanding sex, brandy and bags of peanuts from job applicants and residents applying for firearm licenses."44 In this case, where abuses of both general organisational powers (in the case of job applicants) and powers specific to the police (in the case of firearm applicants) take place in the same context, there seems to be little to divide the two. Also, there are some powers and duties which are neither specific to the police occupation nor generally available, but which the police share with other agents in the criminal justice system, such as prison workers or court officials. Thus, while acts facilitated by the use of these powers (e.g. `losing' dockets) have been classified as examples of corruption specific to the police, it should be noted that other criminal justice employees may also be involved in such corruption. Finally, an important point to recognise is that the common occurrence of general forms of corruption, such as New York officers in the 1970s having to bribe clerical staff to do paper work, can indicate that a corrupt culture has been "systematized at almost every level of police work."45 In another instance, an officer in Mexico City having to pay "the equivalent of $50 to a captain to schedule a leave so that he could arrange his father's funeral" strongly signifies, as one veteran officer put it, "an empire of corruption" flourishing in that city's police organisation.46

THE BOUNDARIES OF POLICE CORRUPTION


The following sections address those police practices which are often difficult to categorise and, depending on the circumstances, may be viewed as corrupt. However, in most cases, our definition would not define them as corrupt. Rather, they would be viewed as instances of criminality, police misconduct or simply problematic practices. Besides indicating why they are generally not examples of police corruption, the circumstances in which they may become instances of corruption are indicated and some of the links that they have with police corruption are discussed.

Private Criminal Activity


As stated in the definition, an act can be classified as an instance of police corruption only if the person who committed it used their "occupational power." Thus, an activity engaged in by a police officer in her/his private capacity cannot qualify as police corruption. This includes any criminal activity, whether for gain or not, that is engaged in by an officer as a private citizen without resort to the legal or organisational powers of the police. Such activities ought to be viewed in the larger context of crime, not as examples of the abuse of police powers for gain. Even in those cases when an off-duty officer commits a crime, for example domestic abuse, and automatically receives favourable treatment by the police, the crime itself is not an instance of police corruption (even if it were for an identifiable gain). Rather, it is the act of giving (or soliciting) favourable treatment that is corrupt.

Of course, it must be recognised that the distinction between an officer's public and private capacity can be quite difficult to make. As stated earlier, it is not enough that an officer is off duty. Committing the crime must not have been facilitated by the use of any access, information, connections or resources that were made available to someone by virtue of her/him being a police officer. For example, stealing car parts from a police compound even when off duty would still be a corrupt act. In addition, the use of the uniform, badge or any other identifying apparatus which gives an off-duty officer the authority and credibility of the police instantly changes her/his private status and makes any criminal act for gain committed by the officer an instance of police corruption.

Grey areas: interaction and exchange with the public


In many discussions of police corruption, one comes across examples of incidents which reflect a significant aspect of life as a police officer. These incidents involve the giving of `gifts' by members of the community to police officers as individuals or to police organisations as a whole. Generally, few of these acts would instantly be classified as corruption under our definition, but most present some problems which need to be acknowledged. On one end of the spectrum lie simple acts of thanks or kindness, while at the other end are increasingly grey situations which can, and do become instances of corruption. With these grey areas, considerations such as exchange, intention, magnitude (value and frequency) of the `gift' and timing all play a role.

An example of quite a harmless incident, drawn from Dorothy Bracey's discussion of police corruption and community policing, is that of a woman baking a cake for the department as an expression of thanks to a few officers who had helped her solve a particular problem.47 This is not at all problematic, even though there was an exchange, since the value of the gift was minimal and the officers just did their job, with no intention of receiving anything. In addition, as the gift was given well after the incident and just once, there is little chance of the development of a relationship of exchange and expectation, with police resources becoming available to the woman at a price.

More problematic are cases where an officer or a department as a whole receives free or discounted goods, such as meals or tickets to entertainment venues, even when there is no overt or easily identifiable exchange. An example is a restaurant owner regularly providing free meals to police officers. Since no form of misconduct or illegal conduct needs to be committed by officers to get such a perk, this is not automatically an example of corruption. But it is very problematic. The value of the `gift' increases the more often it is given, and even if there is no immediate exchange or even intent, such a practice can easily lead to forms of corruption. For example, one officer, referring to a restaurant owner who provided free meals to the police, stated that if he had "run across Sam doing anything short of murder" he would have "treaded very lightly", for fear of incurring the wrath of his peers for "foul(ing) up (their) meal ticket."48 Another example was the extra attention and service given by a police department to a specific pub whose owner regularly gave all police officers free food and beer, in effect buying better police service and protection.49 Both examples indicate how quickly a `one-way' gift can turn into a relationship of exchange which can compromise police integrity and performance and lead to or increase the potential for corrupt acts.

Thus, when evaluating such `grey areas' or `shady practices', one needs to keep in mind that even though they may not be classified as corrupt, they are problematic and can become sources of corruption. The proverbial `free cup of coffee' may be harmless when infrequent and not an instance of corruption even when more frequent, but it certainly is problematic, not only because it can lead to corrupt practices but also since, even if there is no intention of exchange, the public may perceive the owner as receiving or expecting preferential treatment, thereby reducing public confidence in the integrity and fairness of the police. As such, even examples of seemingly innocent gifts and exchanges between the police and members of the public should be taken into consideration when addressing police corruption, if for no other reason than to use them in police training for the purposes of illustrating some of the complexities in police-community relations.

Police Misconduct and Criminality


One other area of problematic practices, often of a very serious nature, are those acts of police misconduct or even criminal behaviour that are not defined as forms of corruption. Many forms of police misconduct are difficult to distinguish from police corruption while others are more straightforward. The following is a list of some types of misconduct that, due either to occupational power not being used or no identifiable benefit being derived, clearly do not fall under the heading of corrupt practices, according to our definition:50

 

    • sleeping on the job;
    • drinking or using drugs on the job;
    • feigning illness, injury or some other indisposition to obtain exemption from duty;
    • reckless driving;
    • using threatening language or adopting an insolent attitude towards fellow employees; and
    • displaying gross discourtesy towards any person.

 

While the above list contains practices easily distinguishable from police corruption, many forms of misconduct are problematic. A discussion of these forms of police misconduct (some of which are forms of police criminality ostensibly engaged in for the purposes of police work) which do not clearly qualify as corrupt, serves to underline the importance of flexibility in using any one definition of police corruption. Some of the major forms of such misconduct or criminality are:

 

    • discrimination (e.g. harassment or physical abuse of members of a specific racial or other group);

    • brutality (e.g. torture, assault of vagrants, witnesses or suspects);

    • selective law enforcement (e.g. not pressing charges against valuable informers);

    • providing drugs to informants (as payment for information);

    • falsification of evidence (e.g. planting drugs on a person);

    • illegal searches and seizures (e.g. stopping and searching an alleged drug trafficker without any grounds for suspicion);

    • perjury (e.g. claiming drugs were on the suspect when in fact they were in the room); and

    • excessive force (e.g. inappropriate use of deadly force).

 

In some cases, the above acts may be examples of either gross negligence, improper conduct or police criminality (without any obvious gain) by the police, often resulting in some form of victimisation. An isolated case of a racially motivated beating or the torture of a detainee are examples, where the act is not so much an instance of police `corruption' but of police `brutality'. However, when such victimisation is not an isolated case, but rather part of a perceived targeting or `terrorising' of some groups in society for the benefit of those able to direct police actions,51 then the actions may be viewed as instances of broader `corrupt' or `illegitimate' uses of the police. In either case, however, the actions are not examples of individual acts of police corruption.

However, there are circumstances when it is difficult to determine if instances of the above kinds of actions are examples of police corruption or the use of `illegitimate means for legitimate ends'. In such cases, the intention behind the act and the gain received are important deciding factors. For example, falsifying evidence can mean mismatching fingerprints to help out in a friend's case or it can involve claiming that drugs were visible in a car, thus granting grounds for stopping the suspect, when in fact they were not. The first case would be labelled police corruption, whereas the second is more problematic. The first case involves a violation of procedure for the purposes of helping a friend. The second case, however, involves a violation for the purposes of justifying a search of a suspected offender. While it may not be acceptable police conduct, it does not seem to be motivated by a desire to gain any form of illegitimate benefit and therefore would not be viewed as police corruption. Another example is the practice of using criminals as informers. Often such a practice will require protecting the informer from arrest or prosecution for an offence in order to keep her/him on the street, where s/he can provide key information leading to arrests. Here the act of misconduct is not committed for gain, but in order to help with the effective carrying out of police work. Besides the questions of intention and gain, another factor to bear in mind, especially when evaluating not only if an act is corrupt but whether it is at all defensible, is `proportionality', the idea that a `lesser wrong' may be justified in order to apprehend someone guilty of a `greater wrong'. The fact is, such infractions or compromises are not uncommon in police work, where illegitimate or morally complex methods are often required to achieve desirable ends. What needs to be kept clear are the ends which police officers are seeking to promote.

Perhaps the best solution is to recognise the difficulty in making a clear distinction in some cases and instead accept that, even if they are not be classified as corrupt, such methods are certainly problematic, not least because they can have a similar impact on public perceptions of and confidence in the integrity of the police as corruption. Furthermore, even those illegal practices and powers originally intended to carry out proper tasks, or even `improper' but state-approved tasks, may by converted into use for private corrupt gain. Examples of such links between `well-intentioned', or at least state-sanctioned misconduct and later forms of corruption are not uncommon. The example of Craig Williamson and other members of the South African security forces who allegedly converted illegal practices employed for state-sanctioned activities into methods for acquiring personal wealth is one such instance.52 The Mollen report stated the strong possibility of links between the uses of unnecessary force or perjury in order to catch or convict suspects and the development of a culture of lawlessness which allowed corruption to flourish.53 In an article entitled What Makes a Good Cop Go Bad, former New York city police officer, Robert Leuci, recounted how his first misconduct was lying in order to establish probable cause, i.e., a justification for searching a suspect, so that a case would stick in court. Soon, such a practice become "a casual thing" and not long after, he had "graduate(d) to bigger crimes."54 Thus, especially in those cases where the infractions become increasingly serious, one needs to beware of entrenching too firm a distinction between misconduct and corruption.

That being said, there remain a number of good reasons for maintaining a dividing line between the two. Firstly, although a fair bit of anecdotal evidence points to a link between corruption and other forms of misconduct, the strength and nature of that link have not been established through research.55 Secondly, many officers who do engage in improper practices to apprehend or convict suspects do not get involved in corrupt activities. This, along with the fact that many acts of misconduct are clearly not forms of corruption, indicate a fair bit of divergence in the causes for the two forms of behaviour. This necessitates the need to explore different strategies to combat them. Finally, at least in some instances, the impact of these types of acts are markedly different. Unlike corrupt practices, many forms of misconduct do not involve subverting the ends of justice but, in some cases, may even be seen as supporting such ends.

CONCLUSION


It was stated at the beginning of this two part series that there were two major purposes in arriving at a working definition of police corruption. One, which was the focus of the first article, was to identify and grapple with some of the major issues that are linked to the concept of police corruption. A point that was raised, was that a rigid adherence to a formal definition may lead to any analytical approach becoming irrelevant to social perceptions of police corruption. Thus, keeping in mind that part of the problem of police corruption is the damage it does to relations between the public and the police, we need to take public perceptions into account when delineating, as this article does, acts that are corrupt or not. For example, although not instances of police corruption, criminal acts committed by the police in their private capacity or in the victimisation or targeting of certain groups in society can have similar effects on public perceptions of police integrity as corrupt acts and reports of widespread absenteeism in the service.56

The other purpose was to formulate a working definition that can serve as a tool to guide further study of the problem. This article has sought to apply the working definition to police behaviour and identify and distinguish between different forms of corrupt acts and those that are not corrupt. Further study needs to entail a more detailed look at the consequences and causes of police corruption, in an effort to identify areas to address and strategies for change. Towards such an end, it may be useful to briefly explore some of the ways in which our definition and its application can facilitate further study and perhaps point to areas that need attention.

An important component in an analysis of police corruption is a look at the effects of corrupt practices. The importance of such an analysis is that, by highlighting the harmful impact that corrupt practices have and by demonstrating some of the consequences of specific practices, it can combat the views of corruption as `victimless' and identify which practices are the most damaging and thus need to be addressed as a priority. Identifying which practices are corrupt and understanding why they are defined as corrupt are important first steps in the further categorisation of these practices according to their effects. Furthermore, the identification of the different kinds of abuse of power that facilitate corrupt acts helps to determine the differing consequences of such acts (e.g. the abuse of police organisational powers can have a much greater impact on direct victimisation or on the fostering of a culture of impunity than the abuse of general organisational powers).

In order to formulate strategies to combat police corruption, one needs to grasp the broad range of factors which cause and facilitate the existence of corrupt practices. Towards such an understanding, the knowledge that a clear definition provides of the specific circumstances (i.e., the `how' and `why') of any one corrupt act plays an important role. Knowing what types of power are used and what types of gain are involved can aid strategies in various ways. Specifying what powers are involved in the committing of corrupt acts highlights some of the circumstances which enable corruption to flourish, providing indications as to some areas where strategies should focus (e.g. perhaps increased transparency or controls in certain aspects of police work). The delineating of different kinds of gain serves to identify a variety of sources of motivation for police corruption. Different forms of gain can have different causes. Realising that there may be different motivations behind corrupt behaviour alerts us to the need for a multifaceted approach in trying to limit such behaviour. For example, strategies geared towards combating the acceptance and covering up by some officers of other officers' corrupt activities may need to be quite different from those used to put an end to the immunity of local political leaders from police scrutiny or investigation.

 

ENDNOTES

1. T Sayed & D Bruce, Police Corruption: Towards a Working Definition, African Security Review, 7(1), 1998, pp. 3-14.
2. Sources for material on the international examples are listed as endnotes where appropriate. South African newspapers surveyed were Business Day, Citizen, Weekly Mail & Guardian, Sowetan, and The Star, for the period covering February 1996 to April 1997.
3. An example of `favoured' people are those purchasing from the police, special car stickers or `courtesy cards' (the proceeds of which go to police `pools' ) which make them exempt from traffic citations; see E Stoddard, Blue Coat Crime, in C B Klockars (ed.), Thinking about Police: Contemporary Readings, MacGraw-Hill, New York, 1983, p. 341.
4. Ibid., pp. 343-344.
5. R Hoser, Raymond, Police Corruption in Victoria, 1996, <www.lexicon.net.au/~adder/ vrb1.htm>
6. Mollen Commission, Commission to Investigate Allegations of Police Corruption and the Anti-Corruption Procedures of the Police Department, City of New York, 1994, pp. 90-101.
7. The Star, 11 February 1996.
8. P K Manning & J L Redlinger, Invitational Edges, in Klockars, op. cit., p. 359.
9. J Morton, Bent Coppers: A Survey of Police Corruption, Little, Brown and Company, London, 1993, pp. 230-231.
10. Ibid., pp. 215-217.
11. Knapp Commission, Patterns of Police Corruption, in Klockars, op. cit., p. 352.
12. M Claxton, Corruption and Disorder: Police Department at Core of Crime Crisis, Public Service, 13 December 1994, <www.pulitzer.org/ winners/1995/winners/works/public-service/ 13corruption.html>
13. Business Day, 23 October 1996.
14. Mollen Commission, op. cit., pp. 32-33.
15. Weekly Mail & Guardian, 6 September 1996.
16. M Finnane, Police Corruption and Police Reform: The Fitzgerald Inquiry in Queensland, Australia, Policing and Society, 1, 1990, pp. 159-171.
17. Knapp Commission, op. cit., pp. 352-353.
18. Morton, op. cit., pp. 219-220.
19. Collins Dictionary, Harper Collins, Glasgow, 1991, p. 852.
20. Hoser, op. cit.
21. Morton, op. cit., pp. 223-226.
22. S Dillon, Mexico City Police Fight Corruption Within Ranks, New York Times News Service, 18 October 1995, <www.latinolink.com/ mex1018.html>
23. S Grobler, Personal Interview, National Director of the Anti-Corruption Unit, SAPS, 22 May 1997.
24. Ibid.
25. Dillon, op. cit.
26. Morton, op. cit., pp. 211-212.
27. Stoddard, op. cit., p. 341.
28. Dillon, op. cit.
29. Mollen Commission, op. cit., pp. 32-33.
30. B L Benson, An Institutional Explanation for Corruption of Criminal Justice Officials, Cato Journal, 8(1), 1988, pp. 139-163.
31. The Star, 14 february 1997.
32. Morton, op. cit., pp. 350-351.
33. Mollen Commission, op. cit., p. 37.
34. In S Glazer, Police Corruption, Congressional Quarterly Researcher, 24, November 1995, pp. 1044-1047.
35. Mollen Commission, op. cit., pp. 38-39.
36. Stoddard, op. cit., p. 342.
37. The Star, 22 March 1997.
38. The Star, 18 March 1997.
39. Mollen Commission, op. cit., p. 34.
40. Weekly Mail & Guardian, 30 August 1996.
41. Dillon, op. cit.
42. L W Sherman, Scandal and Reform, in Klockars, op. cit.; Stoddard. op. cit.; Y Meny, `Fin de siècle' Corruption: Change, Crisis and Shifting Values, International Social Science Journal, 48, 1996, pp. 309-320.
43. Sherman, ibid., p. 375.
44. Citizen, 18 March 1997.
45. Glazer, op. cit., p. 1053.
46. Dillon, op. cit.
47. D H Bracey, Police Corruption and Community Relations: Community Policing, Police Studies, 15(4), 1992, pp. 181-182.
48. Stoddard, op. cit., p. 344.
49. Morton, op. cit., pp. 211-212.
50. Examples taken from Republic of South Africa, Regulations for the South African Police Service, R 2086, Government Printer, Pretoria, 27 December 1996.
51. H Dieterich, Enforced Disappearances and Corruption in Latin America, Crime and Social Change, 25, 1986, pp. 47-49.
52. See S Ellis, Africa and International Corruption: The Strange Case of South Africa and Seychelles, African Affairs, 95, 1996, pp. 165-196.
53. Mollen Commission, op. cit., pp. 39, 45-47.
54. Glazer, op. cit., p. 1046.
55. Ibid.
56. The Star, 13 May 1997.

Copyright © 2020 CSVR. All Rights Reserved.