Monday, May 15, 2006

Corruption and the "detectives"

Some people like analytical definitions; they want to know absolutely what a thing is and what it isn't, in what partcular context it should be considered and "is this a lexical or a conceptual definition", before they comment on it.

For me a corrupt action is any act that involves the use or abuse of authority - power - to further private or institutional advantage.

OK, we could add that it may be "internal" as well as "external", ie it may simply involve a couple of police officers covering up a piece of evidence; it may be a backhander from a contractor to a hospital administrator, or an extra-marital liason between a cabinet minister and his secretary.

And it need not involve illegality: corrupt acts may be approved at a higher level or even tacitly encouraged.

I repeat: a corrupt action involves the use or abuse of power to further private or institutional advantage.

That's the concept.

So let's look at some lexical definitions.

Morally depraved; wicked. Yeah, true: an act that causes or ends in an unjust effect is morally reprehensible.

Influenced by or using bribery or fraudulent activity. Yup, that's a common or garden one.

Harmed (esp. made suspect or unreliable) by errors or alterations.

Now I like that last one; it expands our concept somewhat, enabling us to say that corruption isn't just about people in positions of power lining their own pockets or bending the rules to make their organisations appear more efficient; it introduces incompetence into the picture.

In the UK, where ostensible bulwarks between Law and Government are in fact hegemonic myths, the Law has a hell of a lot of power, and where there is power you will also find corruption (malpractice, incompetence, whichever most aptly correlates to the base concept).

That police corruption is an institutional reality and not merely a matter of a few rotten apples in an otherwise sterile basket is backed up by eleven key findings in a 1999 academic paper commissioned by ACPO.

The first is that police corruption is pervasive, continuing and not bounded by rank; numbers ten and eleven testify that reform tends not to be durable, and that continued vigilance and scepticism is vital.

That's the word from the police horse's mouth: police corruption exists in the UK and they need watching.

However, whilst this blog is concerned with law enforcement agencies (globally), how they work, when they get it wrong and when they get it right (oh yeah, good cop / bad cop - I mean, let's be fair, right?) Watching the Detectives is not only about cops.

The "detectives" are also the politicians and the bureaucrats who determine law and order policy (worldwide) and the judges and lawyers who apply it in the courts.

And they are the managers and rank and file staff of the so called "public services"; the administrators of health trusts and education authorities; the CEOs of the big corporations; the doctors, teachers, social workers.

Finally, but by no means of least importance, they are those who own and control the media.

Watching the Detectives is not exclusively a "big issue" platform.

Small injustices, fed by corruption, malpractice or incompetence, often the result of bad government at a ministerial level, occur evey day.

Fathers are denied access to their children, mothers are denied financial support from errant fathers, abused children are denied their rights as members of a so called "caring society" due to incompetent, uncaring or simply overworked social workers, children with behavioural problems are excluded from school instead of being given the help they need, men and women fall foul of the system simply by defending themselves and their own when the law fails them...

The list goes on, and it's often in the smaller stories that the big picture comes into focus.

So if you've suffered an injustice at the hands of the police, an employer, a council or corporation or any powerful oprganisation, or you know of a story that you think should be published, email me using the link in the sidebar.

Meanwhile I'll keep on watching the detectives.

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