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Organisations, Collective Responsibility and Anti-corruption

Our starting point for this discussion is that the collective moral responsibilities of members of organisations, including police organisations, go well beyond simply avoiding unlawful and/or corrupt activity. Managers and employees are rewarded financially, and in other ways, in order that they collectively pursue collective ends which are collective goods such as, in the case of police organisations, the protection of the legally enshrined moral rights of the citizenry. In addition, managers and employees are collectively morally responsible for seeing to it that various general standards are complied with. In some cases the standards, such as efficiency, are a means to the realisation of the collective goods. In other cases they are an independently required constraint, e.g. compliance with the law. In still others, they are both. The collective responsibility to combat corruption is of this latter kind.

Needless to say, the ascription of collective moral responsibility in the sense of joint moral or ethical responsibility to an organisation’s managers and employees needs to be qualified in any particular case by considerations of the diminished responsibility of subordinates, the nature of the specific institutional role, e.g. an investigator in the internal affairs department, and so on. Moreover, the ascription of joint ethical responsibility to an organisation’s entire cohort of staff in some cases, e.g. pervasive and systemic corruption, is consistent with the ascription of individual or selective joint responsibility to, say, the commissioner of police or members of the senior cohort of police in other cases, e.g. failure to introduce some specific anti-corruption measure such as targeted integrity testing. Further, legal liabilities and penalties could reflect such differential ascriptions of joint ethical responsibility.

Acts of corruption, are obviously not always joint actions per se, or the outcomes of joint actions. They are often crimes committed by individuals acting on their own. The individual is acting in his capacity as an individual, and is wholly morally responsible for his crime.

But just as members of the public, and not just members of the police force, are morally responsible for the prevention of crime and the capture of criminals—for example, members of the public have a duty to report crimes—so the managers and employees of an organisation are in part morally responsible for the prevention of corruption within that organisation. This is especially the case with police organisations, given their definitive role in relation to crime and corruption.

This is not yet to spell out what the specific duties of individual role occupants in this regard ought to be. However, there are some obvious responsibilities which attach to all. For example, there is the moral, and presumably legal, responsibility to report corruption. Moreover, an organisation that is highly susceptible to corruption, as police organisations evidently are, is morally obliged, should be required by law to have in place, and adhere to, a suite of measures to combat and reduce corruption (an integrity system), including professional reporting mechanisms, an internal affairs department, a complaints and discipline system, ethics education and so on, in the same way that most organisations are typically now required to put in place various measures to ensure the health and safety of their managers employees, clients and customers. Indeed, to reiterate what has been said above, the adherence to such measures is a collective moral responsibility; a responsibility one has jointly with others.

Here, the so called ‘problem of many hands’ is relevant (Thompson 1987). This problem arises in situations in which many individuals contribute to an outcome, though each only in a very small way. Thus each police officer might accept a free hamburger from a particular diner; yet this in itself is innocuous. However, if many police officers regularly do this then the diner in question might be unfairly receiving a high degree of police protection not afforded to other establishments. Accordingly, officers might reasonably be required not to accept free hamburgers. The problem of many hands is solved by implementation of a policy which everyone complies with in accordance with their collective or joint responsibility to impartially protect the rights of citizens.

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