Does an officer really become corrupt just because he takes a free cup of coffee? According to the theory of the slippery slope he does. “O.W. Wilson, Patrick V. Murphy, and many other experienced officials have contended that the slippery slope of corruption begins with any gratuity.” (Delattre, 2011) You may find yourself wondering what the slippery slope is in the world of criminal justice. We can define the slippery slope as “a process or series of events that is hard to stop or control once it has begun and that usually leads to worse or more difficult things.” (Merriam Webster, 2014) One may find themselves dancing on the edges of corruption by accepting half priced or free meals, tickets to theme parks and football games, and free hotel rooms while vacationing. It is a view that officers accept these “gifts” as a monetary gain; the root of all evil. These gratuities are generally offered by citizens of the community that you serve and many times it is offered in appreciation of a job well done. Sometimes, these gratuities come with strings attached like, “remember me when I accidentally run that red light, or I am caught speeding the next time I am running late.” Often time’s officers find themselves with a soft spot and they extend a get out of trouble free card to the citizen that offered them the nice gesture and before they know it they have earned a membership in the slippery slope club. Although you would think that this may not make the officer corrupt, think about what activities the citizen can get away with later, simply by offering free goods and possibly even money to the criminal justice agent that we trust to uphold the law. Speeding and running red lights are only the beginning, what happens when they find themselves in a tough spot and they cause a much greater crime. They turn to the officer that owes them and has always been there to over look their unlawful behavior and ask that they help clean it up. So yes, the slippery slope is plausible and can effect just about anyone, simply because we live in such a sinful world. It is only human to be tempted and to choose the easier not so lawful road. Delattre goes more into depth in regards to police corruption in the following theories: Society-at-large hypothesis, structural or affiliation hypothesis, and the rotten apple hypothesis. We are going to look at each one in the body of this paper.
It is safe to say that everything comes with a price and that is the idea that the slippery slope theory defends. O.W. Wilson brought light to the society-at-large hypothesis when he did a study on the corruption in Chicago. His study focused on gratuities that officers received as a simple thank you and how they led to unlawful behavior such as bribes and scandals. “Wilson explained; truck drivers, for example would clip money to their driver’s licenses to avoid traffic citations.” (pg 79) This led to patrol officers making petty traffic stops just so they could pocket some cash. This example focuses on the role that society plays and how it molds the unethical behavior of the police officer, which is the society-at-large hypothesis. This hypothesis identifies the influence that certain people or groups have on police officers and officials. The community dominates by using gratuities to influence the behavior of the officer to handle or clean up issues that occur in the community, to alter reports, or to avoid arrest. In the society-at-large hypothesis the society is to blame for the corrupt behavior of a police officer or other official.
Arthur Niederhoffer first presented the structural/affiliation theory which upholds the idea that officers are who their superiors are. Officers do not start out corrupt, but they learn deviant behavior by observing the behavior of veterans and superiors. When a rookie comes aboard they are thrown in with a veteran for observing and training. They learn the behaviors and what is acceptable by the officer that is training them. If the training officer is corrupt and participates in unlawful behavior this will rub off onto the rookie and he will become just as corrupt. This is a never ending cycle, the rookie will become a veteran and one day will train a newbie and so the corruption will live on. Another important element to this hypothesis is the idea that the code of secrecy is how the corruption festers and breeds.
Last and most certainly not least is the rotten apple hypothesis. This theory supports the idea that police corruptions is the product of hiring individuals into the criminal justice field that already display behavior that is deemed corruptive. Fans of the rotten apple hypothesis believe strongly that corruption in police agencies is due to very poor hiring practices, inadequate training, and a lack of supervision that spills over and spoils standards set by the agency and spreads like a disease through the unit. (Delattre, 2011) In the eyes of the supporters of this slippery slope, corruption is second nature and is almost avoidable once one has opened the door to temptation, greed, and self indulgence.
No matter how honest you might be or you’re religious beliefs, or the promises that you have made to yourself, within weeks of being added to the team of the police agency you will find yourself falling down the slippery slope. The oath of upholding the law and swearing to tell the truth at all times no matter what goes right out the window once you take the your first “free cup of coffee”. It as if the lies and the deceit just start to poor out of every decision and step you take. You will start to believe that what is good for someone else is good for me and the only way to survive is to go along with your peers or to resign from your position. It is only a matter of time before all of our officers will disown the oath of the badge and catch themselves sliding down what we know to be the slippery slope. Avoid your lifetime membership to this corruptive club and pay for your next cup of coffee.
Delattre, E. J. (2011). Public corruption for profit. Character and Cops Ethics in Policing. (6th ed., ). Lanham: AEI Press.
slippery slope. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster. Retrieved June 8, 2014, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/slippery%20slope
Criminal Justice Ethics for Everyone. (n.d.). PoliceLink. Retrieved June 7, 2014, from http://policelink.monster.com/education/articles/103583-criminal-justice-ethics-for-everyone