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IACP 2006 article- Unconstitutional Policing: The Ethical Challenges in Dealing with Noble Cause Corruption

11/1/2016 12:00:00 AM

Police Chief Magazine | Unconstitutional Policing: The Ethical Challenges in Dealing with Noble Cause Corruption
When uncovered as a pattern or practice, the police crimes defined as noble cause corruption can result in constitutional rights litigation that can financially cripple agencies. In promoting police integrity, the U.S. Department of Justice repeatedly emphasizes the duty of law enforcement agents to respect the value and dignity of every person, including criminal citizens.1 The Department of Justice has recently emphasized this message, and has entered into consent decrees with cities stemming from allegations of patterns of police abuse of authority.

Rogue officers are tempted to engage in noble cause corruption in situations where they perceive no administrative accountability and decide to push the constitutional envelope, even though police must know and respect the constitutional laws upon which their very authority is derived. Departmental leaders must address noble cause corruption by defining what it is, what fosters it, and how to eliminate it.

What Is Noble Cause Corruption?Noble cause corruption in policing is defined as "corruption committed in the name of good ends, corruption that happens when police officers care too much about their work. It is corruption committed in order to get the bad guys off the streetsthe corruption of police power, when officers do bad things because they believe that the outcomes will be good."2 Examples of noble cause corruption are, planting or fabricating evidence, lying on reports or in court, and generally abusing police authority to make a charge stick.

The policing profession attracts, among others, a certain type of individual: authoritative and responsible, one with leadership skills, who acts on behalf of others, with a high disregard for his or her own well being. Some academics suggest police applicants have a preconception of the profession-the noble cause-that makes them stand out as promising prospects. This preconceived notion is a profound moral commitment to make the world safer.3

Police corruption, traditionally, has been defined as the following:

  • "a misuse of authority by a police officer for personal gain,"4
  • "accepting money or money's worth to provide a service they are duty bound to provide,"5 or
  • "physical, psychological or legal abuse used by police."6

A recent survey demonstrated that officers felt corruption for personal gain was a much more serious charge than engaging in corrupt behavior that appears "to benefit society at large."7 This sub cultural value system rationalizes constitutional rights violations.

Officers do not normally define "a bending of the rules for a greater good" as misconduct or as corruption; rather, they rationalize that such behavior is part of the job description, in a utilitarian sense, to get the criminals off the streets, regardless of the means.8

When this passion for a safer society goes unchecked, it often leads to police crime and civil rights violation. This passion-laudable in itself-can cause good officers to overzealously execute their duties..... READ ARTICLE

Posted In: Civil Rights, Constitutional/Proper Use of L.E. Authority, Leadership/Supervision, Publication,
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