Subordinate and junior police officers have the most ability to create an integrity-based culture

Dear Editor,

In Guyana corruption is a good word to start a conversation with or even better to initiate an argument. Many persons have descended on the topic positing their views in the print and electronic media and elsewhere. Recently, Sir Kevin Barron, Member of Parliament in the UK Parliament conducted an anti-corruption seminar at the Marriott Hotel. Among the participants were members of the local parliament and diplomats. Many boards of inquiry and audits have found evidence of corruption in government departments and agencies. The number of reported cases of corruption in government and non-governmental organisations is alarming.

The police in Guyana are more closely scrutinised and subject to uniformed, biased criticism than any other occupational group. The average cop is expected to conduct his or her personal and professional life with more integrity and decorum than most other citizens, however unrealistic and difficult it may seem at times. One area in which police conduct may be called into question is whether or not they accept gratuities. A gratuity is defined as a favour or gift, usually in the form of money, given in return for service; for example money given to buy juice on a hot day; money given to process a firearm or dance application; money given to buy beers for the boys; money given to buy a gift for the birthday party of the boss. Whether or not it is ethical for police ranks to accept gratuities is controversial. Differentiating between gratuities and corruption is not a clear concept. There are many views for and against accepting gratuities. Gratuities help create a bond between officers and the public, thus fostering community policing goals; they represent a non-written form of appreciation and usually are given with no expectation of anything in return. Most gratuities are too small to be a significant motivator for actions. The practice is so deeply entrenched that efforts to root it out will be ineffective and cause unnecessary violations of the rules. A complete ban makes officers appear as though they cannot distinguish between a friendly gesture and a bribe.

However, in opposition to this is the view that accepting gratuities violates most departments’ policies and the law enforcement code of ethics. Even the smallest gift creates a sense of obligation. Even if nothing is expected in return, the gratuity may create an appearance of impropriety. Although most officers can discern between friendly gestures and bribes, some may not. It is unprofessional.

Many contend that accepting gratuities is often the first step to officers engaging in unethical behaviour, and from there descending into actual corruption. In many cases whenever the ‘freebies’ are not readily available some officers will resort to demand and more so to demand by menace. Most scandals start with one employee doing relatively small unethical acts and grow to whatever the leadership allows it to be. Remember the majestic greenheart tree was once a small seed.

The key elements of corrupt behaviour are firstly, that the conduct is prohibited by rule or law; secondly, that it involves misuse of position and power; and third, that it involves a reward or personal gain for the officer.

Rothlein (200) cautions: “Corruption is a corrosive element that will spread like rust if it is not contained or eliminated.” He further argues that 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 the behaviour by the community; socialising from peers and/or the organisation; inadequate supervision and monitoring of behaviour; lack of clear accountability of employees’ behaviour; and no threat of discipline or sanctions.

Sherman’s “Slippery Slope Of Corruption” posits that police corruption begins with a lowering of ethical expectations and values to attain a gratuity of minor value, for example, accepting a free cup of coffee. I could add, free tickets for a show at the Providence National Stadium, a few bar-b-q tickets, or some gas money or a free  lunch. Although the action in itself is most likely harmless and inconsequential as a corrupting force, it may over time produce a snowball effect, leading an officer to accept gratuities of larger magnitude. This may put an officer on a slippery slope, leading to corruption and major crimes.

All is not lost. McCarthy (2000) presents seven steps that can prevent unethical and corrupt behaviour:  “(1) Recruit with great care. (2) Establish appropriate policies and put them in writing. (3) Adopt a good employee evaluating process. (4) Make sure your sergeants share management’s value 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.”

Being futuristic, the Force may have to focus on two groups of police ranks who have the most ability to create an organisational culture based on integrity and ethical behaviour. They are the corporals and sergeants, and inspectors, cadet officers and assistant superintendents. True, the subordinate officers, more so those in charge of stations, may not be able to change the department but they can change their squads. The inspectors and junior officers may not be able to change the department but they can change the large number of ranks under their command, particularly in the divisions and branches. In time to come those subordinate officers and junior officers will become the senior superintendents and assistant commissioners ‒ the divisional and branch commanders who may be able to change the department.

Yours faithfully,

Clinton Conway

Assistant Commissioner of Police (rtd)

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