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Noble Cause Corruption

Noble Cause Corruption

Spring 2019



Noble Cause Corruption

Noble cause corruption is defined as corruption committed in the name of good ends, corruption that happens when police officers care too much about their work.

It is corruption committed in order to get the bad guys off the streets.

The corruption of power, when agents do bad things because they believe that the outcomes will be good.

2 Examples of noble cause corruption are, planting or fabricating evidence, lying on reports or in court, and generally abusing police authority to make a charge stick.


Noble Cause Corruption

The public service arena attracts, among others, a certain type of individual: authoritative and responsible, one with leadership skills, who acts on behalf of others, with a high disregard for his or her own well being.

Some academics suggest candidates have a preconception of the profession-the noble cause-that makes them stand out as promising prospects.

This preconceived notion is a profound moral commitment to make the world safer


Noble Cause Corruption

  • Public Service corruption, traditionally, has been defined as the following:
  • “a misuse of authority by an agent/officer for personal gain,“
  • “accepting money or money’s worth to provide a service they are duty bound to   provide,” or
  • “physical, psychological or legal abuse used by agents/officers.

A recent survey demonstrated that officers felt corruption for personal gain was a much more serious charge than engaging in corrupt behavior that appears “to benefit society at large.”7 This sub cultural value system rationalizes constitutional rights violations.


Noble Cause Corruption

Officers do not normally define “a bending of the rules for a greater good” as misconduct or as corruption; rather, they rationalize that such behavior is part of the job description, in a utilitarian sense, to get the criminals off the streets, regardless of the means.

When this passion for a safer society goes unchecked, it often leads to crime and civil rights violation.

This passion-laudable in itself-can cause good officers to overzealously execute their duties, ignore the basic constitutional guidelines their profession legally demands, and expose their agency to legal liability.


Noble Cause Corruption

Officers rationalize this misconduct because cynicism has built up, the department lacks morale and leadership, and the individual lacks faith in the criminal justice system.

For example, a department’s sub cultural values may dictate always arresting “the driver” in a possession of stolen motor vehicle case, with anything less considered poor police work.

In their attempts to make charges stick, officers may resort to “massaging” facts in order to get a felony warrant.

As written, supervisors would have no reason to question the officers’ veracity and, indeed, would applaud the arrests. Ostensibly, this appears to be good police work: a recovered stolen auto, drug dealers or users off the street, and society better off for it. However, the lies in the police report, and subsequent perjured testimony in court, are both felonies and, as such, are crimes unique to the police. When uncovered, these lies will taint previous-and valid-legal arrests made by the same officers or any assisting officers involved in the foot chase and apprehension.


The Rationalization Defense

  • Shortcuts taken in procedures and investigations in everyday misdemeanor events/arrests are a large part of noble cause corruption.
  • Testimony affirming that specific policy and procedures were followed, when they were not, is a crime, especially when confronted with probable cause issues in pretrial motions.

Rationalizations, such as the “citizen is so drunk he won’t remember what happened,” may lead to officers’ skipping the field sobriety tests or the breath tests, while reporting that they were performed. Before performing a breath alcohol test, officers must read specific constitutional rights to the citizen informing him or her of his or her right to refuse the test and informing the citizen that this refusal, alone, may result in a suspended driver’s license.

An officer may perform a valid traffic stop, but if the citizen is belligerent or disrespectful, chances are that person is going to jail. In this same vein, officers may issue “sewer tickets”-that is, write a ticket but instead of giving it to the citizen throw it in the sewer-causing a failure to appear in court, a warrant to be issued, and several future problems for the citizen.

Intentionally tainting a police photograph array for identification is another form of noble cause corruption. For example, when a community suffers a rash of armed robberies, detectives often have an idea who might be the perpetrator. Detectives provide a recent booking photograph of this person for patrol officers to carry as they attempt to locate the suspect. When the next robbery occurs, the patrol officer shows the single photograph of the suspect to the victims, who state they believe that the photo appears to be the assailant. A warrant is obtained based on this eyewitness identification, and an arrest made.


Systemic Arrogance

  • Systemic Arrogance Contributes to Corruption
  • When officers and administrators believe that the ends justify their means, such as illegal searches, “articulation” in report writing, illegal arrests and “testilying,” they corrupt their own system.

Arrogance has no place in policing, and agencies that have a culture of arrogance will only foster allegations of organizational tolerance for noble cause corruption and betrayal of the public service philosophy

Noble cause corruption is rooted in this sense of arrogance, in which officers will rationalize constitutional violations for their own perceived greater good: a safer community. Middle managers, then, engage in a supervisory logic of good faith based on the belief that subordinates always tell the truth and follow the law as their training dictates.10

When internal red flags surface-such as multiple citizen complaints for one officer, or subordinates who ask not to have to work with that officer for no specified reason-supervisors must look deeper into the reasons for this sudden turn of events. It may be personal in nature, but it is the duty of the supervisor to make reasonable inquiries into the cause.

Sometimes, supervisors may even refuse to acknowledge subordinate misconduct when reported.11 Frequently, top police administrators become aware of police misconduct only when the media has reported such patterns and practices. The immediate but reactive promise of transparency, training reforms, and internal investigations by this time is too late- the damage has been done, the lawsuits filed, and the agency’s image tarnished. Law enforcement executives must establish early warning systems and ensure proper internal accountability measures are in place to avoid developing illegal patterns and practices.


Supervisory Cowardice

Along with arrogance, supervisory cowardice reinforces organizational tolerance of noble cause corruption.

Cowardice in this sense is the inability of supervisors to make the difficult administrative decisions that relate to subordinate misconduct.

Administrators must struggle with misconduct cases and weigh the pros and cons of the appropriate disciplinary actions.

Supervisors must openly investigate allegations of scandal or politically motivated service actions and disregard their own occupational survival in this role.


Measuring Productivity

Traditional policing is often seen as a numbers game that places undue pressure on officers to produce high numbers of arrest and citations.

This pressure may lead to situations where officers feel they must engage in acts of noble cause corruption in order to produce the arrests and clearance rates that are the tools politicians use to measure police productivity.

Historically, too much emphasis has traditionally been placed on such statistics, and not enough focus has been placed on the professional aspects of service-oriented policing.


Transparency and Accountability

Transparency and accountability require administrators to establish internal procedures so that allegations of misconduct and cover-up will not occur.

This transparency preserves all the departments public image.

Failing to implement a thorough and professional internal investigative system of accountability becomes very costly in litigation.

Administrators must be fair, but vigilant, in their efforts to combat noble cause corruption in order to defend their agencies against allegations of organizational tolerance for misconduct in court.


Shared Values

The key to professional public service and avoiding allegations of corruption is adhering to the profession’s values.

Research suggests training that continually emphasizes an agency’s mission statement and articulates the chief executive’s values results in a professional socialization process that rookies, officers, and middle managers can rely on throughout their careers.

Departmental values shape professional norms and lay the foundation for the discretionary judgments necessary for effective policing.

Officers, as well as first line supervisors, often lose their perspectives on constitutional policing when these values are not reinforced.

Values such as listening, communicating, impartiality, accountability at every level, humility, and honesty all make up the profile of a professional police administrator. The challenge for police chiefs today is to exhibit these values day in and day out, in every decision-making process, in order to demonstrate a habit of commitment to professionalism and to maintain their subordinates’ trust.


Training and Noble Cause Corruption

  • How does ethics training translate into reducing civil and criminal litigation?
  • Noble cause corruption, when uncovered, can give rise to allegations of organizational tolerance or the civil cause of action for deliberate indifference

Police chiefs must commit to annual ethics training to define noble cause corruption, reduce the potential for police criminality, and avoid the costly lawsuits and citizen distrust that are all directly related to this subtle police abuse of authority. Regular ethics and liability training provides the tools necessary to reinforce democratic policing philosophies and to properly defend against lawsuits alleging constitutional rights violations and deliberate indifference.

A comprehensive ethics-training curriculum that addresses the nuances of noble cause corruption in policing is mandatory in police administration today.


Leadership Component

  • The duty to train begins at the top and a mission statement committed to constitutional related interactions sends a message to sworn personnel, and the public, that corrupt public service agents/officers acts will not be tolerated.
  • Identifying risks and minimizing the costs of litigation have become part of the public service profession.


Oath of Honor


Call to Action

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