High-level corruption in any country poses the greatest possible threat to the rule of law. Illegal use of high office for personal or political gain by national leaders is not only considered a crime in many places but, when endemic, can have serious social, economic, and institutional repercussions. The presence of high-level corruption creates barriers to effective reform among police and other justice sectors. There are several actors and organizations with the purpose and authority to both investigate and curb high-level corruption. The police are one of those actors. In many countries, however, police are not involved in anti-corruption efforts and investigations. Possible reasons include a misperception that corruption is a special category of offense that police are ill-suited to tackle. It is also often the case that police officers in corrupt societies are themselves part of the problem.
How police can effectively contribute to efforts to combat high-level corruption is the subject of this final report in a series of five reports which all devoted to the same general question: What is the best evidence to advance reform in the global security and justice sectors? This study was carried out at the request of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) which provides foreign assistance to and supports capacity building for criminal justice systems and police organizations in approximately 90 countries. As part of its efforts to distill available knowledge and improve its programs, INL engaged the Committee on Law and Justice of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to convene this ad hoc committee to review, assess, and reach consensus on existing evidence on policing institutions, police practices and capabilities, and police legitimacy in the
international context. A committee of professionals was assembled with expertise in criminology, economics, international and organized crime, law, policing, and political science. The committee was tasked with producing five reports, addressing questions of interest to INL and the State Department. This report, the fifth and final in this series, is in response to the question: What are the systemic features needed to effectively control high-level corruption, and how can police effectively contribute to efforts to combat high-level corruption?
The extensive research needed to answer that question with precision requires a long-term investment over many years to come. This report is the first step on that journey. The best opportunity to begin to learn how police can protect the rule of law against high-level corruption lies in case studies—detailed descriptions that can generate hypotheses for discussion and further research. The best case studies for these purposes would provide sufficient detail about policing roles and strategies that were intended to gather legal evidence to help combat high-level corruption. While no case studies are presently available in that level of detail, many examples can be identified as targets for further research.
The report provides an overview of some examples of anti-corruption efforts. Yet it also provides repeated cautions about the difficulties of discerning the difference between police acting independently to uphold the law versus police taking sides with one faction that uses the law to take power away from a competing faction. Further cautions concern the generalizability of even clear-cut successes to other countries with different cultures, legal systems, and traditions. Our advice is to proceed with caution but to persist in assembling data to generate knowledge of how police have succeeded (and failed) to support efforts to combat high-level corruption and launch an important line of research. The committee’s conclusion and recommendation are presented here and discussed further in Chapter 3.
CONCLUSION: Currently available evidence is inadequate to answer the critical question of how police can contribute to efforts to combat high-level corruption. Useful evidence cannot be developed without comparisons across countries that draw on a compilation of case studies using a standard coding framework. Yet funding such a compilation is a realistic and feasible goal for foreign assistance donors. In order to build a robust evidence base, the following actions could be undertaken:
- Creation and continuous update of a database comprising a comprehensive set of case studies of successes and failures in police efforts to guard the rule of law against threats by national or local governments.
- A variety of independent analyses, engaging multidisciplinary research teams across multiple countries, to examine the proposed database for key predictors of success. With sufficient time and accumulation of cases analyzed, multivariate analyses can at least develop correlations that could be useful as guides to planning, training and policies.
- Bringing together analysts of the database with supported program developers and trainers working in specific language groups and regional clusters. These partnerships should then develop and test programming for police leaders that can be tailored to local contexts.
RECOMMENDATION: INL should commission the development of a political economy analysis guidebook for anti-corruption work by a team of expert assessors, anti-corruption experts, and policing experts. The guidebook would be a tool to be applied to individual country assessments to inform understanding of the local dynamics affecting the integrity of the rule of law. While it would not specifically recommend specific courses of action, it could help to shape the discussion about what those choices might be.
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