By By Atty. Romulo P. Atencia
Noble cause corruption
posted 16-Jul-2015  ·  
4,894 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

In 1971, the year I graduated from Law School, came the movie “Dirty Harry” where Clint Eastwood plays Dirty Harry Callahan, a blunt-speaking, unorthodox detective on the track of serial killer Scorpio. Within the story, three central actions are highlighted: illegal entry, torture, and murder. Its box-office success led to the production of four sequels. It shows how police officers occasionally face problems in which they have to select between competing ethical codes. Often the choice is between legal means, which is playing by society's rules though dangerous offenders may go free, or extralegal means, which entails breaking the law to prevent truly dangerous offenders from committing additional crimes. This movie highlight scenes that seem to justify what later became known as noble cause corruption, which has been 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 police power, when officers do bad things because they believe that the outcomes will be good." In fact, there are studies which say that noble cause corruption has become a part of police subculture. This means that many police officers are doing it and they feel that they are right and that they are justified in their actions.

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When we think of police corruption, financial gain typically comes to mind because the police are exposed to great temptations in their everyday duty such as recovery of stolen or lost property, inducements or gratuities from restaurateurs and shopkeepers etc. The prevention of this form of corruption has been, to a degree, successful due to reforms, organizational policies and the selection procedures for recruiting potential officers. These have brought an unintended occurrence in that police officers are now recruited for their commitment to the noble cause due to their values which leave them vulnerable to the theory of noble cause corruption. Some people are now troubled that police officers might conceive of a goal or outcome that justified the use of questionable means, in particular, the use of force to obtain confessions. Police officers tend to see bending of the rules for the greater good as acceptable rather than defined as misconduct or as corruption. They can rationalize such behavior as part of the job they were paid to do and are what the public wants. It is seen by some in a utilitarian sense, to get the criminals off the streets, regardless of the means employed.

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The public is used to categorizing police officers into either good cops or bad cops. In theory, the differences may be clear. However, in today’s society, it is no longer that easy to classify police officers as some of them may start doing bad things for the good of the society. For instance, a police officer desires to make the streets safer. But he knows that he cannot catch all the bad guys in the streets since they are smart and they know how to dispose of any evidence against them. The police officer may start violating the law by fabricating or planting evidence on these persons for the purpose of ensuring their conviction. The police officer justifies his action by saying that he is only making the society safer. On the other hand, some police officers accept the reality that most of the bad guys they will catch will be able to escape conviction because they have deep connections with judges and prosecutors which make their jobs of enforcing the law very difficult. The really moneyed criminals can also afford good lawyers who can get them out of tight fixes. For this reason, the police officer may decide to disobey the law by executing (“salvaging”) the criminal offender. The police officer justifies his action by saying that he is only making the society safer from the society’s criminal elements. In the mind of these police officers, they have done nothing wrong. In fact, they are merely reducing the number of criminal offenders in the streets. This commitment to results permits a society to be protected through aggressive and illegal policing tactics.

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Noble cause corruption must be distinguished from traditional corruption. Traditional corruption is defined as the use of one’s official position for personal benefit and gain. Personal benefit and gain may refer to accumulation of more wealth or getting sexual pleasure or simply deriving pleasure from doing bad or evil things. Contrary to noble cause corruption, a person who is traditionally corrupt does things only for himself. He does not seek to achieve any noble purpose but only seeks to pursue his own interest.

The reason why noble cause corruption has become a practice among many law enforcement officers is that it is very easy to judge a person solely based on what he has done in the past. In today’s society there is a clamor for harsher punishment against criminal offenders. The public wants to get rid of the criminal elements. The public wants longer prison sentences or even death penalty. In the midst of the clamor the police officers are forced to engage in these actions. In one sense, it may be said that these actions are beneficial for the society since it gets the job done faster and easier. In contrast, however, engaging in these actions may get the police officer and the police department in trouble for violation of the rights of the criminal offender. Noble cause corruption is a violation of the constitutional rights of the offender. It does not matter whether he has a past criminal record -- the police officer has to respect his rights. Consequently, the courts have in a number of cases awarded damages against police officers who have willfully done acts in violation of existing laws. In many cases, distinguishing whether a police officer is engaging in noble cause corruption or traditional may be difficult because some police officers who have become used to committing noble cause corruption may be motivated by personal gain, anger, or hatred when they engage in these actions

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CONCLUDING THOUGHTS: The end does not justify the means. If one uses illegal means to accomplish a legal and even desirable result, the good result does not make the bad means used good. No amount of rationalization and justification can replace respect for the law and the constitutional rights of the accused. Crime is an evil that must be controlled but it should not be accomplished by sacrificing established legal procedures and cherished rights and liberties. Police officers should be the guardians of the law and the primary instruments to enforce the law. They cannot violate the law in the guise of common good.

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