Jump high, jump low; come hell or high water; COVID-19 or no COVID-19; there will be corruption in Guyana. In reality, we cannot stop corruption. There is no silver bullet or a one-shot solution to stop corruption. However, we can put systems in place to minimise it. A menu of measures can be employed to stem the flow of corruption. Please allow me to share some views with you and your readers on this much talked about subject – corruption. This confabulation will have a law enforcement bias, although it could equate to other departments and individuals. Corruption is not unique to policing, but, no other profession is more adversely affected by corruption than law enforcement.
What is corruption? The key elements of corrupt behaviour are that the conduct (1) is prohibited by law or rule (2) involves misuse of position and (3) involves a reward or personal gain for the officer.
Corruption is of concern because officers in the field and elsewhere are exposed to numerous opportunities to benefit from actions they take against offenders of the law and the chance to illegally obtain money, chattel and valuable securities. They may be offered bribes or come across huge amounts of drugs or cash. They may feel overworked, underpaid, overlooked for promotion and therefore entitled to take what they consider just compensation for the risks they take on the job. Yet, whenever one member of a Police department is found to be corrupt, thousands of honest hardworking officers suffer.
Sherman’s Slippery Slope of Corruption posits that police corruption begins with the lowering of ethical expectations and values to attain a gratuity of minor value, for example, accepting a free cup of coffee or lunch or barbeque tickets or pass to go to a show. It is debatable whether or not police should accept gratuities. Perhaps, in time to come, I may share some views on that topic.
Although this action in itself is most likely harmless and inconsequential as a corrupt force, it may over time produce a snowball effect, leading to an officer accepting gratuities of larger magnitude. Furthermore, such practices also lead to those providing the “ freebies” to expect preferential treatment by recipient officers. Sometimes, when “freebies” are no longer readily available, officers may demand and even demand with menace. Strasberg (2000) notes: “Corruption takes on many forms, and something seemingly insignificant can put an officer on a slippery slope, leading to major crimes.” Research repeatedly confirms that most scandals start with one employee doing relatively small unethical acts and grow to whatever level leadership allows.
Swope believes that an officer’s behaviour is influenced more directly by actions or lack of actions in response to ethical shortcomings of his superiors than by stated directives or written ethical code of an organisation. Corrupt police are made, not born.
As Rothlein cautions, “Corruption is a corrosive element that will spread like rust if it is not contained or eliminated… The causes of corruption are complex. Many factors can contribute to corruption, including greed; personal motivators such as ego, sex, or the exercise of power; tolerance of behaviour by the community; socialisation from peers and/or organisation; supervision and monitoring behaviour; lack of clear accountability of employees’ behaviour; and no real threat of discipline or sanctions.”
Perry (2001) contends, “Those who serve the public must be held at a higher standard of honesty and care for the public good than the general citizenry. A higher standard is not a double standard. Persons accepting position of public trust take on new obligations and are free not to accept them if they do not want to live up to the higher standard. Leaders must examine their department and find ways to promote integrity and ethical behaviour that adheres to this higher standard.
All is not lost. There is hope. A good starting point, to promote ethical behaviour and integrity, according to Pedersen (2001) is to eliminate the code of silence: “The code of silence encourages people not to speak up when they see another officer doing something wrong.” Fulton (2000) stresses: “Police commanders must exemplify the honesty and integrity they seek in their subordinates.” In addition: “Ethical mentoring and role modelling should be constant, frequent and visible.
McCarthy (2000) presents seven steps that can help prevent unethical behaviour: (1) Recruit with care. (2) Establish appropriate policies and put them in writing. (3) Adopt a good employee evaluation process. (4) Make sure your sergeants share management’s values and philosophies. (5) Develop operational controls. (6) Perform regular anti-corruption inspections and audits. And (7) implement ethics and integrity training into every training activity.
Leaders must concentrate on the long-range importance of developing personnel. Developing individuals and team players is a sine qua non because most law enforcement leaders will come from the lower levels of the organisation. According to Swope (2002), the group of people that have the most ability to create an organisational culture based on integrity are the sergeants and junior officers. A sergeant may not be able to change his department but he can change his squad. A junior officer may not be able to change his department but he can change the large number of ranks under his command. Fast forward! At some point, these junior officers and sergeants will be the senior commanders where they may be able to change the department.