What Is Police Corruption?

Corporate leaders may bribe police officers to ignore illegal activity.
Corrupt police may use their authority to speed through traffic without just cause.
Some police officers are faced with bribery from inside their own department.
Instances of police corruption may lead to civil unrest.
Organized crime outfits are known for paying off police officers who ignore their illegal activities.
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  • Written By: Tara Barnett
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 01 October 2014
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Police corruption is often used colloquially to refer to any type of police misconduct, but the term is more appropriately used for police misconduct intended to produce financial or personal gains for those police officials involved. This type of activity could be considered a subset of police misconduct. In many cases, police corruption involves explicit monetary gain and might take the form of bribes or kickbacks. Occasionally, police corruption might take the form of favors, such as the promise of a promotion in return for a conviction based on wrongfully obtained or falsified evidence. Corruption is a serious problem for police, both due to the severity of the crime and the difficulty of prosecuting corrupt officers internally.

Many cases of police corruption involve monetary compensation, either directly to officers in the face of a crime or systematically for more regular crimes. A bribe, for instance, might be offered to a police officer who has just caught a criminal in the act of committing a crime. Bribes need not be monetary in nature, and sexual favors are often offered as bribes.

Police officers are sometimes offered more regular monetary compensation in return for turning a blind eye to crime in a systematic fashion, resulting in police protection for illegal activities. This type of police corruption is usually a feature of organized crime. Sometimes, police corruption might involve police officers performing illegal activities themselves for profit, with the understanding that their jobs will protect them from prosecution.


Sometimes police corruption is internal and involves some members of the police force demanding cooperation from other members while offering promotions and raises in return. Obtaining a difficult conviction by falsifying evidence, for example, might result in a promotion to a better job. This type of corruption is particularly difficult to prosecute because police officers often operate under a code of silence, which is used to protect other members of the police force. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence, it is often difficult to find witnesses from within the police force who will testify.

Given that many different types of activities can result in personal or financial gain, it is difficult to delineate the terms of corruption for police. Some people do not even consider gains to be necessary for actions to count as corruption. It is important to note that the term corrupt when used to describe a police officer does not always imply that the officer acted in order to improve his or her own situation. In some cases, corrupt police officers engage in misconduct because they find it pleasurable or because they enjoy power, in which case they are corrupt without demonstrable returns.


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