To Serve and Collect: Measuring Police Corruption

By Ivkovic, Sanja Kutnjak | Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

To Serve and Collect: Measuring Police Corruption


Ivkovic, Sanja Kutnjak, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology


Stories of police corruption are cover-page news: they draw public attention and sell the newspapers. As the recent examples from Los Angeles (1) to Tokyo (2) and from New York (3) to Rio de Janeiro (4) demonstrate, no police agency is completely free of corruption and police officers--the "blue knights" entrusted and empowered to enforce the law--can become some of the most aggressive criminals themselves.

Learning how much corruption there is and understanding its characteristics are both basic yet crucial steps toward successful corruption control. Accurate information is necessary to diagnose the extent and nature of the corruption problem, trace the changes in its volume and patterns over time, determine the causes of corrupt behavior, learn about the susceptibility of various types of corrupt behavior to successful control, choose the required degree of interference, design adequate control strategies and mechanisms, estimate the resources necessary, determine the success of the techniques used, and monitor agency performance in corruption control over time.

A police administrator determined to engage in an extensive reform and invest resources in corruption control without information about the nature, extent, and organization of corruption in the agency is likely wasting at least part of the resources, lowering the morale, strengthening the code of silence, and raising doubts about his ability to manage the organization. Moreover, without accurate measurement of corruption, the degree of success of a reform is often determined on the basis of its political appeal and the absence of subsequent scandals, rather than on the true impact the reform has had on the actual corruption in the agency. (5)

Despite its apparent significance and the vast resources invested in the police, the measurement of police corruption--or, for that matter, any other type of corruption--is surprisingly underdeveloped, as illustrated by Jacobs:

   Unlike for most other crimes, there are no official data on the
   corruption rate. How much corruption is there? Is the rate rising
   or falling? Is there more corruption now than in previous decades?
   Is there more corruption in one city than another, in one
   government department than another? Has corruption decreased after
   passage of a law, announcement of an investigation or arrests, or
   implementation of managerial reforms? Corruption cannot be
   estimated by examining the Uniform Crime Reports or the National
   Crime Victimization Survey. Thus, it cannot be determined whether
   any particular anticorruption strategy or spate of strategies is
   working. We are data deprived. (6)

Although no official nationwide data on police corruption are available, the situation regarding measurement of corruption is somewhat brighter than Jacobs claims it to be. In this paper, I draw upon the available data to examine the extent and nature of police corruption and provide a comprehensive analysis of the existing methods for corruption measurement. Specifically, I discuss the existing assessments of police corruption (conducted for a variety of reasons, from performing cross-national comparisons, estimating the investment risk, to smoothing the effects of a scandal), analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each methodological approach, and elaborate on the extent to which these efforts show promise in the measurement of key corruption-relevant issues. I argue that, while each individual method (e.g., interviews, surveys, observations) suffers from numerous drawbacks and is therefore highly problematic when used as the sole source of corruption-related information, methodological approaches that relied on combinations of various methods have had more success in estimating the actual corruption and should thus be regarded as superior.

I. PROBLEMS AT THE OUTSET

First, in the course of measuring police corruption it is crucial to delineate what corruption is.

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