This article is written by Anwesh Panigrahi pursuing LLM from Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology. The article has been edited by Smriti Katiyar (Associate, LawSikho).
Police as a law enforcing agency is an important institution for social control which exists in some form or the other in all societies of all ages. Police are an integral part of present-day society. A society in the present set-up, cannot live and progress without an effective, sincere and honest police force. Corruption exists in one form or the other in the police system. Corruption has infected every sphere of modern life. It has vitiated the moral values of society and the police force is not an exception. In fact, corruption of the police force is not a new phenomenon, but the irony is that the issue has seldom been seized by the organization with a sense of seriousness. In this article, I have discussed the types of police corruption that exist, the reasons for corruption and certain remedial measures to curb police corruption. The basis of the article is from secondary sources like police commission reports, e-books, e-magazines, articles and other sources.
Police corruption is the misuse of police authority for personal gain. Examples include extortion (for example, demanding money for not writing traffic tickets) and bribery (for example, accepting money in exchange for not enforcing the law). Police corruption carries high costs. First, a corrupt act is a crime. Second, police corruption detracts from the integrity of the police force and tarnishes the public image of law enforcement. Third, corruption protects other criminal activity such as drug dealing and prostitution. Protected criminal activities are often lucrative sources of income for organized crime. According to the rotten apple theory, corruption is the work of a few, dishonest, immoral police officers. Experts dismiss this theory because it fails to explain why so many corrupt officers become concentrated in some police organizations but not others.
It can also be noticed that unenforceable laws governing moral standards promote corruption because they provide criminal organizations with a financial interest in undermining law enforcement. Narcotic corruption, for example, is an inevitable consequence of drug enforcement. Providers of these illegal goods and services use part of their profits to bribe the police in order to ensure the continuation of criminal enterprises.
Types of police corruption
Essentially, police corruption falls into two major categories–external corruption, which concerns police contacts with the public, and internal corruption, which involves the relationships among policemen within the workings of the police department.
The external corruption generally consists of one or more of the following activities:
- Payoffs to police by essentially non-criminal elements who fail to comply with stringent statutes or city ordinances; or, payoffs by those in particular need of police protection, who are willing to pass money to individual officers or groups of officers.
For example, businessmen dispensing liquor, businessmen located in high crime areas, individuals operating any type of business requiring a license, automobile towing operations, attorneys who represent those guilty of minor violations of the law where police testimony constitutes most of the state’s case, and individuals who repeatedly violate the traffic laws).
- Payoffs to police by individuals who continually violate the law as a method of making money. For example, prostitutes, narcotics addicts and pushers, and professional burglars.
(3) “Clean Graft” where money is paid to police for services, or where courtesy discounts are given as a matter of course to the police.
These manifestations of external corruption often follow the established hierarchical structure of the police department. For example, a liquor shop owner who wishes to avoid arrest by members of police investigating violations of the liquor laws must be assured that his payments to a single officer will guarantee that the recipient either has the power to direct other officers not to bother the shop owner or shares the money with those who have command responsibilities. For this reason, the payment of money to the police by businessmen, who are particularly vulnerable to arrest for minor statutory violations, generally assumes a highly organized structure of distribution.
Where the method of distributing the proceeds of the collection becomes too burdensome, a more sophisticated method may develop. A commander of a district, who knows that collections can easily be extracted from liquor shop owners, may simply charge an officer who wants to be assigned to the police squad a fixed fee per month regardless of the amount actually collected. Similarly, those in charge of appointing commanders of districts may extract a monthly charge in exchange for awarding that position. Sophisticated methods of corruption also exist where the police receive money from organized crime. Because large scale bookmaking, narcotics peddling and other forms of organized criminal activity are highly structured, payments to the police tend to be highly organized. Thus, protection for a syndicate’s numerous wire rooms in a district might require payments to the commander who will direct his subordinates not to harass certain establishments. The commander will either have to pay his officers or allow them to keep a portion of the proceeds which they collect. In all cases of external police corruption, protection is the service bestowed, either in overlooking violations of the law or in providing some additional police aid or assistance. Because the police have broad discretion in enforcing the law, the establishment of an organized system of corruption does not require extensive covert activity. As those who pay are satisfied with the service, exposure is unlikely.
Internal corruption exists as a result of a desire of individual officers to improve their working conditions or to achieve higher status in the police department. It may include:
(1) Payment of money to join the police force.
(2) Payment of money to higher-ranking officers for better shifts or assignments.
(3) Payment for choice vacation time.
(4) Strict adherence to a code of silence concerning external police corruption.
(5) Payment for promotions.
(6) Payment for an assignment that will yield lucrative kickbacks.
Most types of internal corruption seldom are publicized and usually are not the subject of federal prosecution. However, because they are often interdependent, the elimination of external corruption may have the effect of eliminating many forms of internal police corruption. Thus, widespread investigations and prosecutions of external police corruption may have a potentially significant impact on all aspects of police corruption.
Reasons for police corruption
The historical analysis of police working has shown that corruption among the policemen in British India was widespread. The reasons may be different. In India, the recruitment policy of the government is defective. The first-rate person did not like to join in the initial stage of its development. The salary structures, nature and hours of duty, accommodation problems and certain administrative and organizational problems are the other factors responsible for police corruption. It is also due to the growing influence of unscrupulous public men and politicians.
According to a report, “the strength and the quality of the policemen have not kept pace with the demands of a rapidly expanding economy and administration. This has resulted in supervision becoming low and ineffective and in enlarging the scope of corruption proportionately”. Police have many limitations on the effective enforcement of legislation. The ambiguities in many of these legislations, coupled with the police discretion “to act or not to act” in respect of certain offences under them give ample opportunities to the personnel to resort to corrupt practices during the enforcement of such acts. For example, police discretion would prevail upon all other factors when a question is to be decided whether the provisions of the ‘Prevention of Sati Act – 1987’ can be brought against the relatives of a widow who committed Sati at her own will. The same is the case with a number of other offences like child labour, untouchability, immoral traffic on women, indecent representation of women, etc., which are brought under the ambit of a plethora of social legislations. An equally disturbing trend is the mounting incidence of corruption in police while dealing with gender issues like dowry deaths, exploitation of women, etc. Hundreds of unnatural deaths, which fall under the above categories, are closed without proper investigation. For instance, out of 714 unnatural deaths of married women below the age of 40 reported in Bangalore in 1997, 455 were deaths by burning. These cases were routinely classified as ‘stove burst’ or ‘kitchen accidents’ and subsequently closed as accidents without investigations.
The major source of corruption in the police is the vast power vested in a police officer in a day to day working. Today police corruption is a common feature in all situations where they have discretion and where they are in a position to use that discretion. One such example is the enforcement of prohibition laws. As the popular adage goes that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” two cognitive features of police viz. power and discretion give ample scope for the police personnel to indulge in corruption. They enjoy wide powers while discharging the core functions of police viz. maintenance of peace and order and prevention and detection of crime and criminal activities. Similarly, police discretion is a double-edged sword that can be used or misused by the personnel on the mosaic of law and order situations. Though the personnel are bound to exercise these unique features strictly in accordance with the procedures that lay down processes and formalities, those intoxicated with tremendous powers and dominated by selfish motives can misuse them with a view to attaining private gains. Such “deviant behaviour” of the personnel appears in different forms in many areas of policing. Payments of bribes for postings and promotions are a well-known phenomenon in the Police department. As a result, the Policemen who have paid their way through try to recover the amount as soon as possible and corruption become a tool for getting a better return on “investment”. Corruption seems to have become a way of life in the country. Though the quantum of corruption in police is not as high as that in several other departments, its extent is quite widespread and the consequences are more serious.
The cancer of corruption in the police very often jeopardizes constitutional governance and acts as a catalyst in the violation of the Civil and Human rights of the citizens. The fact that bribe giver is often in distress and the capacity of the personnel to use or misuse their powers and discretion to extort bribes leads to the widespread propagation of the image of police as the most corrupt wing of the State. The lack of consonance between the empirical existential reality of police and its cognitive perceptions in the public mind also contributes to the crystallization of such an image, which to a great extent is the product of hearsay and media built stories. A police force whose image is corrupt and partisan is bound to evoke negative feelings among the public and cannot effectively enforce the role of the law in a democratic set-up.
Suggestions for controlling corruption
The corruption in the police can be controlled through the following ways:
Local policing : more responsive and accountable enforcement
There are several policing functions that concern the day-to-day life of common citizens and are very local by nature e.g. patrolling, traffic regulations, prosecution for offences like a public nuisance or eve-teasing. The enforcement of the law for these cases could be entrusted to a local force accountable to panchayat or citizen committees. This local force will have a small area under its jurisdiction, resulting in better interaction and involvement with citizens.
Making transfers and promotions transparent
Payments of bribes for postings and promotions is a well-known phenomenon in the Police department. As a result, the Policemen who have paid their way through try to recover the amount as soon as possible and corruption become a tool for getting a better return on “investment”. Also, transfers are also commonly used as a retribution tool against officers as a pressure tactic. However, if a system could be designed where postings are automatically generated by software after a given time interval for each employee, a big chunk of corruption can be eliminated. Similarly, the objective criteria for promotions could be articulated and publicized so that individual judgment plays a limited part in promotions. This will reduce the need for bribes in order to get promotions.
Use of information technology
Non-registration of complaints is the most common grievance of citizens interacting with the Police department. Since the registration of a complaint or FIR is the first step in justice delivery, citizens are forced to pay bribes. The use of technology for reporting and handling cases can play an important role in arresting corruption. Filling of cases could be done through the internet and if required, detailed information can be given later on. Case status could be made available online to bring in more transparency and make the Police force more accountable. FIR could be registered/ receipt issued through check posts or mobile vans.
Establishing a system for monitoring the performance of Police can substantially increase the accountability of the force. Objective performance and efficiency indicators can be chosen and tracked to monitor the performance of the Police force. This will lead to having clear improvement goals for the force on objective and measurable parameters.
Minimizing political interference : greater functional independence
As advocated by the National Police Commission a Chief of Police of a State should be given a fixed tenure of office so as to encourage functional independence. It has been commonplace in India for transfers and postings of officers to be used as a kind of reward and punishment, as a result of which, many chiefs of police have had allegiances to political parties. Also, the selection of Police Chief could be entrusted to an expert committee (maybe headed by UPSC chairperson). The committee may be given a pre-specified number of candidates, decided on the basis of seniority, to choose from.
Introducing greater accountability
In today’s scenario, there is very little accountability of the Police to the citizen with regard to satisfactory delivery of services e.g. if a Police officer refuses to register a complaint. Unlike in other services like electricity or telecom, where if a citizen is not satisfied with the complaint redressal by the department, it has the option of going to the independent regulator, there exists no such mechanism in the case of Police. It is very essential that the accountability of officials at different levels be defined and a degree of immediate proximity to the people and third party intervention introduced. Public hearings could be an effective tool for this purpose, as shown in experiments with other services. A system could be introduced where; a few complaints against police are picked up every month (or some pre-decided time interval) for public hearing. The public hearings could be conducted by a panel of retired judges and prominent citizens.
Unlike the other executive wings of the government, the police, which has maximum visibility in the society, their omissions and commissions rapidly attract public attention and spread like a wildfire through gossip and hearsay. As the police wear a mantle of defensiveness and many of their functions are shrouded in secrecy, there is a tendency to mythicise or sensationalize such lapses like corruption. The image of police so created in the minds of people always remains poor and sullied. No doubt, public awareness of policing has risen tremendously, but issues like corruption are such hidden areas were facts, fiction, myth, perception and reality are very intricately interwoven. The defaulting policeman becomes a symbol of the entire organization and his misconduct would be used as a powerful weapon to tarnish the image of the force. Thus the major task of the police in the new millennium is to refurbish its image for which reforms at and personnel levels are imperative. Ronald Segal aptly said that “Corruption like a sacrifice, starts at the top & percolates down, colours the whole society”. Hence, nationwide determination to combat corruption and a strategy of well-designed action and follow-up is needed to control the menace of police corruption in India.
- Ravikanth B. Lamani and G. S. Venumadhava, “Police Corruption in India”, International Journal of Criminology and Sociological Theory, Vol. 6, No. 4, December 2013, 228-234 228
- Afzal Qadri S M, “Police Corruption: An Analysis”, Indian Journal of Criminology, Vol.22 (1). Pp.5-8, 1994.
- National Commission Report, 1980.
- Thomas, “Corruption in Indian Police”. Available at: http://www.svpnpa.gov.inhtmlpublications (2004)OldJournalsupload Journals2004janjun.pdf.
- Deccan Herald – July 9, 1999.
- Rajan V N, Administration of Law and Order, Indian Institute of Public Administration, Jaipur. 1979.
- (CMS Study 2005). India Corruption Study 2005. VOL. 9, ‘Corruption in the Police Department’. July 28, 2005. Centre for Media Studies. Transparency International India. New Delhi
- “Herbert Beigel”, “The Investigation and Prosecution of Police Corruption”, The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1973-), Jun. 1974, Vol. 65, No.2 (Jun. 1974), pp. 135-156
LawSikho has created a telegram group for exchanging legal knowledge, referrals and various opportunities. You can click on this link and join: