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Conceptual Barriers to Confronting Police Integrity and Corruption (From Policing in Central and Eastern Europe: Ethics, Integrity, and Human Rights, P 15-29, 2000, Milan Pagon, ed. -- See NCJ-206270)

NCJ Number
Victor E. Kappeler; Charles B. Fields
Date Published
15 pages
This paper explores five conceptual barriers to confronting corruption and the lack of integrity in police institutions.
The first and perhaps most formidable conceptual barrier to countering a lack of police integrity is the failure of scholars and public officials to develop an adequate definition that encompasses the wide variety of undesirable police behaviors. The traditional narrow definitions of negative police behaviors and attitudes serve to obscure linkages between police deviance, the state, and the values promoted by the societies from which police are drawn and in which they practice. This paper critically reviews a few definitions of police deviance that illustrate achievements as well as conceptual barriers to confronting police deviance. These definitions pertain to "police crime," "occupational deviance," "corruption," and "abuse of authority." A second conceptual barrier to a proper conception of police deviance is that norms and values for policing tend to differ within and between police groups. This requires that the study of police integrity explores the differences between policing norms as they are expressed at the social, legal, organizational, and subcultural levels. A third conceptual barrier to a comprehensive analysis of police corruption and lack of integrity is the failure to understand how police policies and actions are influenced by the political economy that defines "dangers" and promotes technologies that underlie the policies and methods of policing. Policing behaviors are strongly influenced by the priorities set by politicians and the technologies believed to be most effective in controlling citizens' behaviors. A fourth barrier to understanding the depth and breadth of police corruption is the promotion of the myth of the "rotten apple" (a small deviant minority of police are the problem), which effectively ignores and obscures the prevalence of values and norms for policing that underlie the more notorious abuses of citizen rights. The fifth barrier to a clear and comprehensive concept of police corruption is the failure to recognize that the bounds of the normative system that influence police behavior are constantly changing due to the interaction of the state, police, and society. The stage for this interaction is set in the broadest assumptions that police and society hold about the nature of crime, disorder, and the role that law enforcement plays in addressing crime and disorder. Politicians routinely negate or modify the effectiveness of the formal normative boundary by encouraging aggressive police practices and attributing a war-like orientation to crime control. Without substantial political, cultural, and social change that promotes human rights, nonviolence, equality, and crime prevention, it is unlikely that the police will be anything other than a reflection of the corruption of the larger political, cultural, and social system. 51 references