Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology

The Noble Cause Corruption of Frank Castle

Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology

The Noble Cause Corruption of Frank Castle

Article excerpt

Introduction

Our goal in this study is to better understand popular notions of noble cause corruption through a specific medium, namely: comics and graphic novels. Noble cause corruption is achieving licit goals via illicit behavior. The term itself was coined in the late 1980's by DeLattre (1989) in his volume Character and Cops: Ethics in Policing (now in its sixth edition), but popularized in policing literature by the work of Crank and Caldero (2000). The ideas undergirding noble cause corruption were first described by Hopkins (1931) early in the 20th century, but most clearly expressed by Klockars (1980) in his seminal article "The Dirty Harry Problem", where he employed imagery from the fictional Detective Calhoun to discuss the nature and etiology of noble cause corruption. Klockars explained the "Dirty Harry Problem" as being a moral dilemma: the police officer wants to achieve a good and noble end, but the constitutional constraints of procedural justice can impede this goal. For example: When Calhoun illegally enters the suspected serial killer Scorpio's dwelling, shoots him, and then tortures him until he reveals information about a missing girl's location - all to find the missing girl. When the ends become so noble that they are compelling and unquestionable, an officer may opt to forgo due process. This behavior is therefore corrupt in the sense that procedural safeguards are being ignored; but it is also noble in the sense that it is moral. Expressions of noble cause corruption can be seemingly small (eg., claiming evidence is in "plain view" after dumping out the contents of a suspect's backpack), larger (eg., committing perjury), to very serious and egregious (eg., planting evidence).

To date, there is very little research on noble cause corruption, in part because researchers are using disparate methodologies to study this concept without necessarily maintaining a scholarly dialog. Thus, there are philosophical dialogs (Kleinig, 2002; DeLattre, 2006), policy-oriented studies (Harrison, 1999; Punch, 2000; Sunahara, 2004); anecdotal observations (Miller, 1999); and tentative attempts at quantifying noble cause corruption (Porter and Warrender, 2009). While authors may acknowledge one another, we have yet to see a "unifying theory" of noble cause corruption (Cooper, 2012). Our study does not attempt to provide such a unifying theory; rather, we propose to "return to basics" and, in the spirit of Klockars, employ cultural imagery to re-evaluate what noble cause corruption is, how it is perceived, and why it matters.

Police corruption, in general, is a popular topic for cultural imagery, particularly in media. From the less-than-noble cause corruption in Serpico and Princes of the City to the occasionally noble cause corruption in The Wire (Cooper & Bolen, 2013), civilians are awash in images of "cops behaving badly" - even if for a "good reason." Such media serve to both communicate and inculcate messages about the administration of justice. Whereas most will agree that the behavior of the NYPD as depicted in both Serpico and Princes of the City is despicable, some of the behavior of the police in The Wire, while cringe-worthy, may still be laudable. Thus, the entire series The Wire revolves - eventually - around a wiretap illegally obtained by the officers to arrest a violent drug dealer. Such moral ambiguity speaks to viewers. For example, Sykes (1986) discussed noble cause corruption in terms of "street justice", which he defined as the "informal distributive and retributive justice in situations where individuals violated community norms and impinged on the personal and property rights of others" (p. 497). In this same article, Sykes supported this sort of street justice, going so far as to express the hope for more officers with the moral fortitude to engage in what one might call "soft" noble cause corruption. Although Sykes's article was not met with silence or strong support from within the academy (cf. …

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