Police Corruption: Definition, Types & Improvement Methods

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  • 0:02 Police Corruption
  • 1:49 Types of Corruption
  • 3:01 Causes of Corruption
  • 4:21 Ending Corruption
  • 5:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley has a JD degree and is an attorney. She has taught and written various law courses.

Police corruption is the misuse of police authority for personal gain. This lesson discusses the different types of police corruption, causes of corruption, and some methods for ending corruption.

Police Corruption

CRASH stands for 'Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums' and was an elite anti-gang unit. It was part of the Los Angeles Police Department until a 1999 investigation of nearly 70 officers found the unit was involved in drug sales, the theft of money from drug dealers, assaults, fabricated arrests and false police reports. Dozens of criminal convictions attributed to CRASH were overturned. Many CRASH officers were convicted of crimes themselves, and the city paid over $40 million to settle civil lawsuits. It was one of the worst police corruption scandals in U.S. history.

Police corruption is the misuse of police authority for personal gain. Personal gain can mean monetary payment or any other type of benefit. The benefit must be gained illegally and as a result of the officer's position or authority. For example, the CRASH officers had access to drugs and drug money because of their positions as anti-gang officers.

Police corruption hurts both law enforcement and the community. Scandals, like the CRASH one, damage the police's public image and undermine a community's trust of law enforcement. Crime flourishes in these communities, because criminal activity is protected rather than abated. As a result, the protected criminal activities often contribute to organized crime rings. This is because the protected activities, like drug dealing or prostitution, quickly become lucrative sources of income for all involved.

Types of Corruption

There are many different types of police corruption. Let's take a look at some of the most common forms. In the context of police corruption, bribery is giving or receiving any item of value in order to influence an officer. For instance, an officer might accept money in exchange for not arresting a suspect. It might help to remember that a bribe is usually money.

Extortion is also somewhat common and is similar to bribery. Extortion is threatening someone in order to obtain money or property. Here, an officer might threaten to have someone falsely prosecuted if that person doesn't pay the officer. Just remember that to extort means to threaten. Extortion always involves a threat.

Many police corruption investigations have also uncovered officers dealing in stolen goods and selling drugs. Officers have access to these items through their investigations. Once police confiscate certain items as evidence, corrupt officers find that they can easily profit by reselling those items.

Causes of Corruption

In fact, the mere easy access to large sums of money seems to be the largest contributing factor to police corruption. This type of corruption isn't new. Corruption was widespread during Prohibition. Officers had access to large sums of money through the illegal liquor trade. Similarly, in the CRASH scandal, officers had access to large amounts of unaccounted for cash from drug dealers. Many experts believe the easy access may prove to be simply too tempting for some officers.

There are also other possible causes of police corruption. Some studies cite a blue wall. This is a code of silence among police officers that discourages an officer from reporting the misconduct of another officer. Due to the culture of many police departments, officers are often willing to tolerate corrupt behavior rather than 'rat' on a colleague.

Studies also point to the rotten apple theory. This theory says that most corruption stems from just a few dishonest or unethical officers. In other words, entire units or police departments might be branded as corrupt due to the actions of just a handful of officers.

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