Noble Cause Corruption Among Law Enforcement Officials

Corruption is a rampant evil affecting all sections of society. The word corrupt is a Latin word that gave rise to the word corruption; it means spoiled, broken, or destroyed. (Hodgson and Jiang, 2007) The Concise Oxford dictionary meaning of corruption in the social context means “to bribe” and corruption causes moral deterioration. Noted in all spheres of public and private organizations, it was defined as “the deviation from the normal duties of a public role for private gain” by a political scientist, Joseph Nye (1967 cited in Hodgson and Jiang, 2007).

Noble cause corruption is slightly different in that the gain is not private; it is believed to be for the good of society by the officers concerned. Law officers who misuse their powers to indulge in noble cause corruption may be justifying their actions by the “ends” perceived as being beneficial to the general population. Fitzpatrick (2006) describes the noble cause of crime-fighting as “the self-defined role of the police against a backdrop of a hodgepodge of rules and expectations that too often conflict with one another”.

Noble cause corruption

Noble cause corruption is a threat that is putting to shame the strong ethical standards and professional values of law enforcement (Rothlein, 2008). Corruption is the abuse of one’s rank and position for personal benefits; the gain could be economic or as sexual favors. Investigation and arrest of the guilty officers of the law follow. Noble cause corruption appears seemingly less obvious but it is a highly threatening frame of mind that indulges in this type of grave misconduct. Even the best officers have been prone to this. “Noble cause corruption is a mindset or a subculture which fosters a belief that the ends justify the means”. (Rothlein. 2008)

The main function of law enforcement is the mission to clean and make safe the streets and community. The officers who should be instrumental in cleaning society are indulging in crimes which they justify. They have allowed their moral turpitude to overcome them. Misguided thinking has caused the loss of their jobs, the facing of criminal proceedings, and without doubt damaging the reputation of the organization they belong to. With the express purpose of putting away a suspect, some officers have testified falsely in court. Planting evidence is another manner selected to put away a person, who may be a criminal, but who may not be guilty of whatever crime he has now been picked up for (Rothlein, 2008).

Falsifying reports is another technique. The officers may believe that these criminals had better be behind bars if society was to be free of their misdemeanors but they choose devious means to do this: hence the name “noble cause” corruption. This behavior is not justified.

The law officers are resorting to a philosophy that the people, who create situations that are against the law, have to be put away from society according to the “by hook or by crook” policy. It is morally wrong to imprison those who are a nuisance to law-abiding citizens without justice. On occasion when a previously convicted person on probation is found committing a small crime, the officer who captures him may have the urge to alter his evidence slightly so that the person gets thrown into prison (Rothlein. 2008) If the officer is truthful, the person may go free,e.

However, the thought that this man had better be off the streets prompts the officer to lie or exaggerate the truth to have him punished. Fabrication of evidence is one manner of getting the man they are looking for. A police officer was murdered by a man whom a team of officers was attempting to arrest from his home. On charging the arrested for murder, the investigation revealed that the affidavit for the search warrant initially filed was based on “false information and a fictitious format”. (Rothlein. 2008)

This was an incident of fabrication of evidence to pursue justice. The wrongful convictions of about 200 prisoners were exposed by the Innocence Project. DNA evidence overturned many of the cases. The prisoners had been in wrongful confinement. Many of these people had already been in prison for decades and some were on Death Row. The Noble Cause corruption was behind most of the convictions. (Rothlein. 2008)

Prevention of Nobel cause corruption

This can start in the academy where the officers have their training. The educators need to fully convince the trainees about the illegality of the noble cause of corruption. How it can destroy an officer’s career must be imprinted on their minds. Annual In-service ethics training is another forum for discussion. Civil rights violations and the significance of consequences followed by imprisonment need to be explained. (Rothlein. 2008) Soliciting the value-driven orientation rather than the rule-driven as the strength of the force is important. The exemplary officers must be rewarded. Most officers believe in the values and their behavior is guided by them.

Arrest quotas should not be given as this makes the officer’s lookout to see who they can arrest. Flimsy reasons may be made out for arrests just to attain quotas. Officers must remember that guilty subjects escape the penalty of law occasionally. They can become committed to general community projects where their leadership and supervision are necessary. This helps them respect the rights of ordinary citizens. The leader among the officers must be involved in making his subordinates toe the line where noble cause corruption is concerned. This evil must be removed from law enforcement officers. (Rothlein. 2008)

Even if someone argues that noble cause corruption is justified, it is still corruption as specific rules are being broken, sacrificing character and moral justification (Hodgson and Jiang, 2007). On moral scales, the act may appear smaller than the moral outcomes but corruption is illegal. Schindler’s noble cause was corruption when he bribed Nazi soldiers, the legal and moral rules were violated but the Nazi regime itself was not justified. The moral violation was for a greater moral cause. (Hodgson and Jiang, 2007).

21st-century challenges

The police in America are facing several challenges in the 21st century. Following the September 11 tragedy, local state and federal police agencies are working closely together in a collaborative manner. Nonpolice agencies are also working with them to protect the citizens from terrorist attacks (Fitzpatrick, 2006). Preparation for any ultimatum is the principle behind the moves of the criminal justice department: be it chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or explosive attacks.

The sharing of counter-terrorism information among all the various sections working for the safety of the country is a necessity. The police are incorporating many new techniques for their work and leaving old ones aside. However, the multicultural diversity of the changing populations adds to the complex inter-relationships. Public intolerance of the incompetence of the police is obvious. The police need to change their style of functioning if their credibility is to be saved. (Fitzpatrick, 2006) Community-oriented policing has grown insignificance. The police officers are accountable to the people and come under the eyes of the judiciary and the legislature.

They have bestowed the authority and duty to enforce laws for the “protection and safeguarding of individual and collective rights and liberties” (Fitzpatrick, 2006). Basic human rights are protected by them. The public expects law enforcement to be the biggest priority in a police officer’s job. However, this is now not a priority in a police officer’s job. 90% of officers are involved in social work: providing services and maintaining order.

Working in traffic for directions, helping the mentally ill, interacting with the community, searching for lost children, providing first aid, providing security at large public functions, and investigating noise complaints constitute the other jobs. Rarely willful criminal conduct concerning the police will be reported in the press. Misconduct and civil rights complaints occur due to the dilemmas encountered. Moral failures of the police include drunkenness, racism, sexual misconduct, harassment, and unreflective enforcement.

These incidents bring down the police reputation in the eyes of the public (Fitzpatrick, 2006). The challenges are so great that occasionally they feign to indulge in noble cause corruption. The policeman must be feeling justified in his action as his aim was noble. Flattering self-appraisal and failure of the nerve are two types of noble cause corruption.

Ethical dilemmas need more than the legislation and the authority of the police.

Inarguable and fundamental principles must be applied to resolve moral conflicts.

Four principles have been indicated by Cohen and Howard (1991 cited in Fitzpatrick, 2006). The principle of Fair access tells that all people require the protections and services of the police. Even the wrongdoers have the right access to them. No one can say that some people do not merit the full protection accorded to others. Anybody who’s security is at stake can go to the police. The principle of Public Trust has originated from the social contract theory and is historically related. Police work is considered a public trust.

The police officer takes an oath that says that the police will not abuse the trust that the public has placed in him. The badge, gun, or baton will be wielded only for defense purposes. Truth in reporting and while providing testimony is maintained. When giving evidence against other policemen, their moral courage is admirable (Fitzpatrick, 2006). All the actions taken, power exercised, and decisions made are performed in the public interest.

Public scrutiny must be withstood. The principle of objectivity requires the police to set aside their preferences and act only in the public interest. The tendency to use their office for their interests at the expense of the public interest invites punishment. The Principle of Safety and Security is similar to the principle of Public Trust. The use of police powers is better delineated here. The police are to practice good judgment when they arrest or stop a person for questioning or searching or other purposes. They are never to be coercive in the enforcement of the law. A good reason must be behind the enforcement.

Violations of this principle can be questioned (Fitzpatrick, 2006).

An address by Mr.David Burns, the Director of Policy Studies at Massey University, just before he died unexpectedly, highlights the passion with which he observed the police behavior in New Zealand. By dishonoring or disregarding the faith the police become more dangerous than any criminal they would ever meet. He tells the police officers that the uniform they wear and the commission they carry are symbols of public faith (A case, GRC-RCMP)

Noble cause corruption has been described by Pollock as a dangerous concept because it ratifies illegal behavior on the part of officers. (2008) It is another name for perjury that comes under the list of serious crimes. Justice cannot be divided into means and ends as the corrupt officers believe. These officers are guilty of immorality.

Monitoring and punishment will have no effect as the purpose is not selfish. The police culture of catching the criminal by whatever means is a wrong policy. The officers’ unethical behaviors are usually accounted for by the excuse of a noble cause. Researchers have defined noble cause as the “utilitarian value of the approving of illegal means to convict criminals” (Pollock, 2008). In a study of sheriffs’ deputies, researchers discovered that there were many reasons for the support of the noble cause. Adherence to the noble cause did not appear to be related to any level of crime (Crank, Flaherty, and Giacomazzi, 2007).

Future researches could validate the concept of a noble cause and test hypotheses for its relationship with various factors including the perception of crime as a problem. (Pollock, 2008) Noble cause misconduct can occur in instances where the undercover agent does not reveal his identity for long when methods of questioning go too far when police officers protect the informant at the risk of justice for his victims.

The question of whether an act is acceptable under an ethical system or if utilitarianism is the only reason quotable arises here. Reactive investigations are done after a crime. If the investigators have decided on the guilty person, they do not look at all evidence carefully. they tend to select evidence that would incriminate their “guilty person”. They may ignore essential evidence or refrain from fully questioning all people involved due to preconceived notions. Athe s proper protocol is not observed, the investigating officers are guilty of noble cause corruption and the real criminal may be missed. (Rossmo, 2008) Even laboratory examiners could toe the line of biased investigators. Proactive investigations with the noble cause concept find investigating officers using different kinds of lies to maximize the output of evidence from those investigated.

Blue lies and police placebos are used conveniently so that the other is not harmed or hurt but makes the investigation easier. Undercover investigations and sting operations where lies are used for a legitimate purpose and the need for deception is termed accepted lies. (Barker and Carter, 1994 cited in Pollock, 2008) In certain situations, the police may assume a less harsh treatment but will profess that the harsher one is being meted out; this is tolerated lies. Deviant lies are used in the courtroom to cover up for certain actions. Occasionally the police put out fake enticing materials to find out who could commit a crime. An innocent person who thus gets enticed by the police is actually “entrapped “ in legal terms.

This person would not have committed a crime otherwise. Covert surveillance of groups who are against the government is considered to be a threat to liberty. This could come under noble cause corruption. Arguments for noble cause corruption claim that the noble cause is a commitment to ensuring that the world is a safe place (Crank and Caldero, 2000 cited in Pollock, 2008). The Rodney King incident where police officers were seen brutally hurting Rodney King caused a national outcry against discriminatory enforcement. Following this incident, the police training has changed its curriculum in ethics.


Policing is undergoing a critical phase at the moment with the scope and complexity of the expectations so unprecedented. Officers face enormous difficulties in the discharge of their duties daily, their decisions involving the personal lives of American citizens. The social, political, and legal problems that they handle are issues ill-prepared for. Relying on noble causes and excuses for failure does not work anymore.

The noble cause of corruption among police officers has turned out to be an evil in society and abuse of power which violates the freedom of individuals. The criminal justice system is the best way to maintain law and order but noble cause corruption is its Achilles heel. The four principles provide a theory of ethics that can be used by the criminal justice system. Police culture must integrate these principles if the police in America is to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The latest enemy is terrorism. Dilemmas could arise in the war on terrorism and the next problem would be how the dilemmas in counter-terrorism are to be resolved.


A case for proactive management of ethics in the New Zealand Police. 1998. Web.

Crank, J., Flaherty, D. & Giacomazzi, A. (2007). The Noble cause: An empirical assessment. Journal of Criminal Justice, Vol. 35, p. 103-116.

Fitzpatrick, D.P. (2006). Moving beyond the noble cause paradigm: Providing a unified theory for ethics for the 21st century American policing. Forum on Public Policy: A journal of the Oxford Round Table.

Hodgson, G.M. & Jiang, S. (2007). The economics of corruption and the corruption of economics: An Institutionalist Perspective, Journal of Economic Issues, Vol. 41, No. 4, Association for Evolutionary Economics.

Pollock, J.M. (2008). Ethical dilemmas and decisions in criminal justice. 6th Edition, Published by Cengage learning.

Rossmo, D.K. (2008). Criminal Investigative Failures. CRC, Pr I Lic. , Barnes and Noble.

Rothlein, S. (2008). Noble causes corruption. Public Agency Training Council. Web.

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