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Noble Cause Corruption in Policing

Abstract In this chapter a very important species of police corruption is analysed, namely, so called noble cause corruption: corruption undertaken to achieve a good purpose. I argue that while noble cause corruption in policing is a pro tanto moral wrong and typically undermined criminal justice processes and purposes (as well as the moral character of police officers), it might be morally justified all things considered in some instances.

Corrupt practices are often rationalised by those who engage in them. For example, person A might argue that if he, A, does not accept the bribe someone else will. So the world will not be a better place if A refuses the bribe, and A will lose out if A refuses it. So A should accept the bribe. Such rationalisations can make corrupt practices seem reasonable, and thus tend to reinforce rather than undermine them. Rationalisations are particularly potent if they cohere with a personal, community or occupational worldview even it the worldview in question is not objectively sustainable. Accordingly, one important source of rationalisations is an alleged role responsibility. In these sorts of case a person convinces him or herself, or is convinced by colleagues, that a manifestly wrongful act is justified in terms of their professional duty—it is somehow justified by virtue of some larger moral purpose of their institutional office.

Some rationalisations have a basis in reality; they are not mere rationalisations, but rather plausible justifications, or at least excuses. As such, they may not be violations, but only infringements, of moral principles or moral rights. Perhaps A is extremely poorly paid and the main breadwinner for a large extended family; therefore, A must engage in minor forms of corruption (bribery) to avert a morally unacceptable outcome. And there are other rationalisations that are neither plausible justifications nor mere rationalisations. These include ones that arise when a person is put in a very difficult situation that calls for moral courage or even heroism. Suppose Person B is working in a corrupt environment and is offered a bribe. B does not want to accept, but if B does not then B will be ostracised by B’s colleagues and subjected to harassment. At any rate, the widespread existence and © The Author(s) 2016

S. Miller, Corruption and Anti-Corruption in Policing—Philosophical

and Ethical Issues, SpringerBriefs in Ethics, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-46991-1_3

influence of rationalisations for corrupt practices, and the confusion that they create, makes it important to subject them to philosophical scrutiny.

In this chapter I consider in detail noble cause corruption and its attendant rationalisation. Noble cause corruption is corruption in the service of a good end (Miller 1999, 2004, 2007).[1] Consider a police officer seeking to put away a known paedophile. Perhaps the evidence is not quite as strong as it could be, so the paedophile might escape conviction. Accordingly, the police officer ‘enhances’ or ‘loads up’ the evidence. In so doing, the officer rationalises his course of action by recourse to the good end that he believes it will realise.

  • [1] Earlier versions of the material in this chapter are contained in Miller (1999, 2004, 2007).
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