Corruption is a problem that all major institutions around the world confront. But in the case of police forces, it is often rather difficult to get the full picture of what is going on. After all, being in a law enforcement position, powerful interests exist not to publicize details of bribery and other corrupt practices engaged in by officers. Some forces also operate an informal code of silence so that nothing that goes on behind the scenes should be released to the general public.
Nonetheless, it is possible to get an idea of which countries have the most corrupt law enforcement agencies. Along with researchers working to uncover reports of wrongdoing, major scandals occasionally break exposing the inner workings of the police. In addition, officers sometimes emerge with the determination to reveal what is taking place.
The consequences of widespread corruption within the police are extremely debilitating, as it is in any organization. Since they have so much power to act in the name of the law, corrupt practices pose a grave danger to the rights and freedoms of the entire population, for example if an investigation is halted or an individual is arrested unfairly. It can also leave the police open to being infiltrated or influenced by criminal elements, as a famous 2002 report produced on the British Metropolitan police force demonstrated. In it, the authors found that corruption was so bad in Scotland Yard that outright criminals could gain access to it by bribing corrupt officers. The following are ten of the most corrupt police forces from around the world.
10 United States
While it’s been the frequency of shootings by US law enforcement officers that has caught the headline news recently, it’s important not to overlook the large number of corruption scandals that have emerged across the country. One of the most notorious was the rampart scandal involving the LAPD, where at least 70 officers active in the anti-gang unit in Los Angeles in the late 1990s, were found to have planted false evidence, shot individuals unnecessarily, dealt in drugs and carried out thefts. More recently, a drugs ring within a Texas police force was uncovered in which officers had made hundreds of thousands by using their authority to confiscate drugs and cash from dealers and runners and selling the narcotics to their contacts.
The police force in Rio in particular has been a notorious source of corruption over the years. Investigations have shown that it worked closely with the city’s drug traffickers, accepting bribes from them in exchange for allowing the drug gangs to operate unhindered. Other reports have identified officers operating like private businesses by charging individuals and companies a monthly or weekly fee to protect them from criminal investigation or prosecution. Large numbers of officers have been arrested for their corrupt practices, including over 60 in 2012 and over 20 last September. This crackdown is part of Brazil’s attempt to clean up its policing image before it hosts the Olympics next year.
In 2010, figures suggested that more than two thirds of the Russian population feared rather than trusted the police. They are notorious for fraud and corruption, with reports of businesses being confiscated and hostages taken by officers. There are various methods employed by the police to maintain the loyalty of officers by increasing their income, including additional payments to secure a police escort or even a thorough investigation. Allegations have also been made that the police sell sensitive information to third parties. Some officers operate privately alongside their public service duties, sometimes being hired by businesses to raid their competitors. It is also an open secret that high up jobs within the force can be bought and are regularly traded for profit.
Surveys show that virtually everyone in Pakistan considers the police to be corrupt. A Transparency International survey found that 100 percent of respondents thought the police were corrupt. In Transparency International’s global barometer of corruption for 2010, the Pakistani police were found to be the leading recipient of bribes. Officials are widely believed to be engaged in criminal activities to fill their own pockets, including deals with drug mafia organizations and other criminal groups. Making things worse, the judiciary is almost as corrupt as the police, meaning that securing a fair trial is extremely difficult.
The brutality of the Kenyan police came to International attention recently, after a video leaked online showing them use tear gas on school pupils protesting in a playground. But their corrupt practices are just as bad. Over 80 percent of Kenyans see the police as corrupt, the highest score for any institution in the country. They are prepared to use extreme violence to get their way, with a report from the capital Nairobi last August suggesting that someone had been shot to death by police officers after refusing to pay a bribe. Evidence indicates that such activities are not simply the work of loan cops, but are actually ordered by senior commanders higher up the chain, supposedly in order to send a message to criminals.
In a study describing the horrific treatment of civilians by the Nigerian police, Amnesty International pointed to the practice of officers detaining people who have committed no crime to obtain bribes from them for their release. Often accusations of loitering or robbery were used to take someone into custody, and if they were unable or unwilling to buy their way out of jail, torture was used to extract confessions. Because there are virtually no mechanisms within the police to hold offending officers accountable, such practices are able to continue unchecked. Outside of the police, their corrupt activities are rarely criticized by the government, creating a culture of impunity that encourages further offences.
Somalia has been racked by conflict for over twenty years, with resources lacking for the basic functioning of society. The police force is riddled with corruption, as shown by the comments of some officers on an attack by an Islamist militia on a court in the capital Mogadishu in 2013. The officers stated that it was impossible for them to decide who the enemy was and who the police were, because the security forces had been infiltrated by the militias. It also reflected the widespread practice of the poorly paid security forces selling off their guns and uniforms to make additional money. A further problem is that virtually none of the officers have had proper police training, but rather were schooled by one of the competing militias in the civil war.
The police in Mexico, particularly in the northern border areas with the United States, have been suspected of involvement with drug gangs for years. In some areas, hundreds of officers have been removed or redeployed due to their corrupt relations with such criminal organizations. According to research by the Mexican government, drug cartels pay corrupt police officers a staggering $100 million per month across the country to protect their illegal businesses. The close collaboration between police and the drug cartels was shown in the state of Guerrero last September, when 43 protesting students disappeared and were later found dead. It is believed that the police handed them to the drug gangs for execution.
A report by a British think tank on reforming the Afghan police published in 2009 labelled them as “ineffective, unprofessional and corrupt” and there are few signs that things have changed drastically since then. There are wide suspicions that police are involved in the drugs trade, which makes up a significant part of the Afghan economy. Units have also been known to seize opportunities to steal for their own profit, taking advantage of the confusion created in conflict situations. Bribery is a way of doing business within the force, with money payments being made for recruitment, to obtain certain assignments, and even by criminals and members of the public to prevent charges or investigations being taken further.
Acting with impunity, Iraqi police and security officers regularly arrest individuals who have committed no crime, fabricate charges and then extort money from friends and family members for their release. To increase the pressure, police frequently resort to torturing prisoners. In turn, the proceeds gained from this brutal practice are frequently used to bribe politicians so that a senior officer can gain the right to control law enforcement operations in a particular area. There are examples of individuals who have confessed to crimes under torture buying their freedom by paying bribes, and it has also been reported that some people have been arrested repeatedly because officers know that if a family has paid up once to have them released, they are more likely to do so again.