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The purpose of this review is to provide examples and experience of how others in this sector have reduced the damaging impact of corruption. The sector-specific information is relevant for politicians, leaders, managers, civic groups, company executives and others. We hope it will bring both knowledge and inspiration.



Read the whole review below or jump to any section using the main headings below and the sidebar on the left. Or you can download a complete copy of this sector review as a pdf document to read separately.

  1. Police-specific corruption issues
  2. Reforms and experience in policing
  3. Developing an overall approach
  4. Transnational initiatives in policing
  5. Ask & Connect
  6. Reading and Bibliography


‘Police work imposes a seemingly unique combination of pressure and temptations towards highly diverse forms of misconduct …even relatively mature democracies continue to struggle to control police conduct’. These words, from two eminent experts on police corruption (Porter and Prenzler 2016, p370) demonstrate the importance of continuous attention to corruption in policing.

Police corruption is routinely found to be among the most prevalent forms of corruption in societies. Citizens rate police corruption as one of the top three corruption concerns in all parts of the world except Western Europe: see the Figure below, extracted from Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer (Pyman et al 2012), showing how highly people rate police corruption in their country, compared with other forms of corruption.

Source: Pyman et al (2012) based on data from TI’s Global Corruption Barometer

Only in Western Europe is policing not among the top three corruption issues but is still significant. For example, the UK has headlines such as The shocking truth about police corruption in Britain; It’s a growing problem, but they’re hunting whistleblowers instead (Darbyshire 2015). In its latest Anti-Corruption strategy, identifies corrupt insiders in the police, along with borders, customs and defence, for attention (UK Cabinet Office, 2017). Deficiencies in European policing are, however, well known to police authorities: See CurbingCorruption’s 2020 blog “Europe’s Law Enforcement Agencies have failings of Professional Standards and anti-corruption” by Matt Gardner  Here

Australia, too, is familiar with police corruption. Here is an extract from the conclusion of a Supreme Court judge in Australia chairing an enquiry into police misconduct: ‘The Police Force is debilitated by misconduct, inefficiency, incompetence, and deficient leadership. The situation is compounded by poor organization and administration, inadequate resources, and insufficiently developed techniques and skills for the task of law enforcement in a modern complex society. Lack of discipline, cynicism, disinterest, frustration, anger and low self-esteem are the result. The culture which shares responsibility for and is supported by this grossly unsatisfactory situation includes contempt for the criminal justice system, disdain for the law and rejection of its application to police, disregard for the truth, and abuse of authority’ (Prenzler 2009, p592).

The murder of George Floyd on May 25th, 2020 in the USA threw open the integrity of policing services to public scrutiny, not only in the USA but worldwide. The outrage – at brutality, at racism, at impunity, at toxic cultures – led to calls for new laws, perhaps some immediate improvements, and a formal follow-up inquiry. But the historical record is that most such policing reforms fail, for reasons that are specific to the unique characteristics and obligations of policing. Some reforms do succeed, but they take 5-10 years of sustained effort, whether incremental or radical.

The failure trajectory goes like this. A terrible event happens that exposes deeper problems in the way the police service operates; immediate actions are taken, a Commission of Inquiry is established, it starts out well-intentioned, does an extensive analysis, runs for several years slowly losing momentum, then fails. Such Commissions may fail for any number of easily understood reasons – the difficulty of the task, funds running low, becoming mired in partisan politics, political attention moving elsewhere, police distrust of the reforms – but more commonly they fail for a more fundamental, police-specific reason: arguably the best qualified people competent to investigate the police are usually current or former police investigation officers. If you use them as the main resource for investigating improper behaviour, you risk protective police self-interest. If you don’t use them, then you don’t have the necessary expertise to sustain a proper investigation. For more, See Mark Pyman’s blog on Trusted Policing here, and Policing after the death of George Floyd – a police disciplinary view, by CurbingCorruption’s Matt Gardner  Here.

With the increasing focus of donors on fragile states and insecurity, police corruption and the effectiveness of reforms is seeing more attention. Ironically, the most recent is from the US, where the Bureau of International Narcotics and law enforcement (INL) has completed a major study of police corruption reforms around the world. Though the study is not public, they do discuss some of their findings – such as that raising police salaries can backfire, that raising awareness of police corruption can backfire, and that some mechanisms for measuring police accountability have proved useful. For more, see their blog in the 2021 Corruption in Fragile States blog series here.


The originating author of this review is Mark Pyman, who is the managing editor of CurbingCorruption. Additional contributions were made by Paulo Costa of DCAF and Wilf Dunne.

1. Corruption issues in policing

FOCUS on the specific corruption issues - Guidance summary

Most of the analysis of police corruption and corruption types originates from Public Commissions of enquiry that have been held since the 1970s in the USA, UK and Australia and other anglophone countries. Since then, attention from police academies, university academics, think tanks and NGOs, as well as more attention from police forces themselves, has contributed to a much better knowledge of the different sorts of corruption in policing, and mechanisms for addressing them. Now there are good typologies of the different sorts of police corruption that you can use and adapt.

1.1 Early analyses of police corruption

In the early twentieth century, claims of corruption within forces were generally dismissed as the bad deeds of ‘rotten apples’, whose removal would leave the rest of the department clean. The early commissions of enquiry that arrived at these conclusions tended also to be under-equipped, wield insufficient legal powers, and were incapable of forcing long- lasting reforms (Prenzler 2002).

By the 1970s, however, political developments 
and public pressure, voiced through the media, contributed to the creation of strong commissions with the power to enact change. The most famous was the Knapp Commission in New York City between 1970 and 1972. It quickly became apparent, not just to the investigators and the commissioners, but to the world’s public – particularly through mass-distributed films like ‘Serpico’ – that the New York Police Department (NYPD) contained widespread corruption. Networks of corrupt and criminal activity permeated the department, protection rackets systematically extorted bribes from businesses, officers actively sought corruptible assignments in vice areas like prostitution and gambling, and law enforcement was widely discriminatory.

More on the history of tackling police corruption

1.2 Police corruption typology

Since the US Police Commissions of the 1970s, many experts and practitioners have produced lists of corruption types in policing, called a ‘typology’. These typically show 20-40 different specific policing corruption issues. The typology that we recommend you use as your template comes from Transparency International (Pyman et al 2012 Arresting corruption in the police: the global experience of police corruption reform efforts) and identifies 34 types of police service corruption in five categories, from strategic level political corruption through to ‘on the beat’ corruption in operations.

Here is the one-page pictorial summary of the corruption types, which is the easiest way to communicate the corruption types to an audience:



Full description of the 34 police corruption types

1.3 Other typologies of police corruption

Several other writers have also produced lists of police corruption issues, and they may also be based on the legal definitions of corruption, where these are suitably phrased. Some of these lists may be more attuned to your needs than the one above. Four more such typologies are shown below.

Additional policing corruption typologies

1.4 Do your own diagnosis

Whatever the original impetus for instigating reform of police corruption, the starting point is to do a diagnosis of the problem, then determine its extent and characteristics.

Sometimes you may think you don’t need to do this analysis stage, that you already know the corruption problems. But this is not a safe way to proceed: there may well be corruption issues that are not high on your radar but are even more important – or aggravating – than the ones you are most aware of. Furthermore, many of the analyses done in the last few decades have led to the realisation that the issues uncovered were not just the work of a few corrupt officers, revealing more deep-seated problems such as poor hiring, relaxed supervision, lack of investigations, collusion with criminals, and so on. Here is guidance on how to organise a simple analysis:

  • Your own staff are usually well aware of the corruption issues. You can ask a group of them to develop the spectrum of the problems and their relative importance. They can use some of the guidance available in this website.
  • There are likely to be good groups in your country who can do a diagnosis of corruption vulnerabilities in your Police Service and/or Ministry: commission one of them
  • Review the available data on police corruption offences and surveys on perceptions of police corruption
  • You may have specialist groups with extra knowledge, like internal audit, internal affairs units, and staff at your College of Policing. External groups often have relevant knowledge, e.g. civil society groups, police complaints commissions, ombudsman
  • Internal affairs units and inspection directorates of police services in other countries or forces may be willing to assist you.
  • NGOs in the country that specialise on police issues are likely to have information that will inform your diagnosis. For example, the NGO Corruption Watch in South Africa receives reports of corruption from citizens across the country, which it collects in person, or more frequently by means of telephone, e-mail, regular mail and social media platforms. According to its 2017 annual report, Corruption Watch received 2,700 reports of police corruption between 1 January and 30 June 2017 (Quoted in Peiffer et al 2018).

If you are working in an environment of endemic corruption, there may be a stronger political angle to the corruption, with elite groups taking advantage of the financial and patronage opportunities available in the police service and the MOI. In which case you may also need an analysis of the political economy of the police service and the Ministry. See here in the website for how to do this.

Asking around, or looking for local data yourself

Nowadays there is a lot of research and surveys in corruption, and it may be that others can point you towards it. For example, recent re-analysis by researchers of global data from Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer is showing up country specific and sector specific trends in corruption. You may not know about such analyses yourself, but if you ask around in the sector, or ask us at CurbingCorruption, you may find useful material. For example, researchers recently used the TI data to rep-examine police-related bribery in South Africa. They found that in one province, Limpopo, bribery reduced by almost 15% between 2011 and 2015, while the rate in the rest of the country reduced by on average less than 4% (Peiffer et al 2018). (There is in fact an important story behind this data, of unexpected consequences. To read more, see Step 2 Analyse reform measures).

More formal approaches

If you are setting out to do a fuller analysis of the problems of corruption in your police services, we suggest you first consult with people who are deeply familiar with the problem and have a good knowledge of how such formal analyses and investigations might be structured and established. There are several groups worldwide with such knowledge: see Section 4 of this review for more details.

2. Reforms in policing

Specific Reform Measures - guidance summary

2.1 Functional reforms in policing

This is a large category, including organisational reform, policy reforms, reforms to systems and technological reforms. There are usually more reform measures in this category than you can  accommodate. The question is one of prioritising for impact, feasibility and risk of slow implementation.

2.1.1 Gradual institution strengthening

Systems that are functional are usually improved by a non-stop process of small improvements, typically following audits and investigations. The classic example is the international air transport system, which improves by rigorous analysis and follow up to every situation where something has gone wrong. The review by Transparency International (Pyman et al 2012) summarises the various forms of institutional and policy reforms in the police:

  • Structural changes: Separation of powers (e.g. in Georgia), Flattening of hierarchy (e.g. in New South Wales), Rebranding (e.g. in Georgia), Wage increases (e.g. in Venezuela, Georgia)
  • Recruitment and training reforms: More rigorous police recruitment processes (e.g. in Kenya, Singapore), Ethics and integrity incorporated in training (e.g. in New South Wales, Singapore, Venezuela), Police Education and Training Reform (e.g. in Serbia and Montenegro).
  • Rule of law reforms: Policy reforms; Legislation reforms; Reforms that address impunity to prosecution/ investigation of elites; Reforms that limit the problems of city officials, MPs and other elected officials abusing power; Reforms that increase the use of administrative sanctions, disciplinary measures, and other non-judicial dissuasive mechanisms.
  • Public administration, systems and other functional reformsImproving recruitment and training criteria and processes; System improvement of finances and accounts; Improved MIS for transparency and to identify anomalies; Systems’ improvement – open procedures; Whistle-blower/ complaint procedures. At the more extreme end, re-branding of the police service, reducing the size and scope of the Service, disciplining or firing and selectively re-hiring whole divisions within the Police Service
  • Transparency and accountability improvements: Transparency – suggesting how transparency of policy, of process and of practice and open publication of policies, standards, plans, budgets, results and reports might contribute to reducing the corruption; Stronger recording and scrutiny of data; More robust information and management systems; Positive response to right to information requests.

Example: Police reform in Jamaica. The number of proactive corruption cases being worked on by the Jamaican police Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) went from 41 in 2008 to 195 
in 2011.The ACB also had success in carrying these out effectively, with 41 officers being criminally charged and 85 removed from the force between 2010 and 2011. The establishment of an anti-corruption hotline was a successful addition to the ACB’s work. Read more

2.1.2 Radical institutional reform

There are many environments where police corruption has been a large scale, endemic issue and it has been tackled directly and energetically. This has been true in both developed countries such as the USA (in major cities) and Australia (in the States), and in developing countries. In the developed countries, the normal approach has been for an initiative to follow one of the Police Commissions mentioned above; some of the follows up were successful, most were not. In developing countries, notable efforts, with some success, have been made by China, Georgia, Serbia, Singapore and Slovenia. Some countries have had partial success, such as finding an innovative way to improve the credibility of the police complaints hotlines.

Example: Radical police reform in Georgia Saakashvili’s first waves of reforms in 2003 and 2004 were swift and decisive. 16,000 police of officers were dismissed in retribution for widespread inefficiency and corruption. Salaries were increased substantially. A thorough ‘rebranding’ exercise was undertaken that gave the police force a new name, new cars, and new uniforms in order to create a ‘clean slate’ effect and persuade the public that real change was happening. Read more

Example: Police reform starting in Afghanistan, after many failed attempts

Example: Failed police reform in Burundi

Example: Police reform in Queensland, Australia. This was one of the largest police reforms in developed democracies, after the pioneering reform Commissions in the USA in the 1970s. There has been extensive analysis of how fundamental reforms were subverted. For more detail, see Prenzler 2009 and 2011 which are well worth reading.

2.1.3 Increased community policing.
Community policing represents a widely-attempted anti-corruption method designed to better align the police with local communities
in order to prevent crime and corruption. Bracey (1992) highlights the method as an effective way
to combat the likelihood of corruption, as was witnessed in New South Wales after the Lusher Inquiry (1981). Mobekk (2003 Chapter 11) agrees that community policing can overcome obstructive mistrust of the police service among the public but stipulates that community-oriented projects must be combined with education of both the society and the police force. They must be a model of policing tailored closely to its environment rather than a template or model imposed by an external or international organisation, as is the case with a reform or development project.

However, the model has run into some challenges. Notably, there are multiple models of community policing and not all practitioners agree as to
 the appropriate definition. Thus, if a community policing programme is being championed, all stakeholders involved must first be consulted and agree upon what they mean by the term. Second, it needs to be re-emphasised that the public as well as the police need to be educated as to what community policing implies and what their roles
are in the model. For some populations emerging out of a totalitarian state, the notion of community policing can imply neighbours spying on each other for the state.

Example: Bolivia. Set up in 2009 also in response to the Conarepol reform suggestions, the Policía Nacional Bolivariana (PNB) constitutes a new national police service designed to work in closer collaboration with the community, through local communal councils overseeing units of up to 400 families. The new force has also been granted a 318 per cent wage increase over the previous force. At least in theory, it is plausible that better working conditions for police officers would encourage greater service and limit the temptation to accept bribery or become involved in criminal activity. However, the former head of the investigative police’s anti- kidnapping division has stated that corrupt police are involved in 8 out of 10 kidnappings and since money is the principal lure behind these activities it seems unlikely that the wage increase has drastically reduced corruption; at least for the time being (Extract from Pyman et al 2012).

2.2 People-centred reforms in policing

Since 2000, there has been a lot of attention paid to how police leadership can sustain a leadership style that has an overt atmosphere of integrity. From the UK, here is the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police on the subject in 2009: “I believe that we need to demonstrate stronger leadership and supervision at all levels. This is why I have demanded ‘intrusive supervision’. There are, in any organisation, supervisors who sit back and do not confront or challenge poor performance. I want to see more active supervision, by sergeants of often young PCs, by inspectors and superintendents of the officers they lead, and by more senior officers” (Quoted in MacVean et al 2009, p195).

Why did Singapore’s reforms succeed? Singapore was under the colonial rule of the British Empire until 1963, during which time the Singaporean Police Force (SPF) was rife with corruption. Measures to tackle corruption in the police force were introduced as early as 1952, when the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) was established. Since then, a myriad of reforms has reduced corruption within the SPF and given it a role model status for change. The CPIB was granted extensive legal powers, 
the salaries of police officers were improved, and the recruitment and training process redesigned to focus comprehensively on ethics and integrity in policing. The city-state has long been admired as a prime example of reforms that can extinguish corruption within the police force, and there is considerable evidence of its successes.

More on Singapore's police reforms

2.3 Monitoring reforms in policing

Independent scrutiny is key to reducing corruption. Sometimes, for exactly this reason, independent scrutiny bodies are under-resourced, or populated with low-grade staff, or denied access to key people and records, bribed or threatened, and otherwise marginalised. Finding ways to get multiple forms of independent scrutiny into effect is a core part of almost all anti-corruption strategies, especially in policing, where these calls for external monitoring reflects one of the other routine findings of Police Commissions: the ‘abysmal record of police internal investigations’ (Prenzler et al 2013, p155).

2.3.1 Regular auditing and analysis

Regular auditing and analysis of the status of integrity and anti-corruption controls is vital. An worth examining is the audit of police corruption across England and Wales in 2015 by the national police inspectorate, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC (2015).) HMIC first did the analysis of complaints about corruption and the related issues such as use of force, breaching of confidentiality and discreditable conduct. Then they analysed how each case was pursued through to completion. Then they analysed how many professional staff in each of the 43 police forces in England and Wales were assigned to the anti-corruption teams.

HMIC (2015) first did the analysis of complaints about corruption and the related issues such as use of force, breaching of confidentiality and discreditable conduct.

Then they analysed how each case was pursued through to completion:

Then they analysed how many professional staff in each of the 43 police forces in England and Wales were assigned to the anti-corruption teams:

Then, finally, they follow up with an assessment of the relative efficacy of each of the police forces in tackling police corruption.

2.3.2 Establish a Commission of Enquiry

Source: Bayley and Perito (2011)

There have been thirty-two such Commissions in English-speaking countries that have investigated police corruption in ten countries (see list on the right).

In a review of these, Bayley and Perito (2011) found that the main proposals were remarkably common from all the Commissions and consisted of the following six measures:

  1. Creating external oversight over the police with a special focus on integrity
  2. Improving recruitment and training
  3. Leadership from supervisors of all ranks about integrity
  4. Holding all commanders responsible for the behaviour of subordinates
  5. Changing the organisation’s culture to one with lower tolerance of misbehaviour
  6. Instituting a wide-ranging audit of corruption in the police

For example, there have been major changes to Australian police forces (in new South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia), including the establishment of an independent ‘Police Integrity Commission’ in New South Wales. Bayley and Perito also found that most of the articles on police anti-corruption reform tended to be based on recycling of these Commission findings.

Example: Commission of enquiry into corruption in the police in New South Wales, Australia, 1995-1997. The Wood Royal Commission exposed acts of bribery, drug trafficking, money laundering and instances of evidence fabrication numbering in the hundreds. Read more

Yet, ten years after the Wood Report, the 2005-6 report of the Police Integrity Commission, which detailed 21 major investigations, suggested that corruption remained rife in the New South Wales Police. An audit of the reform process over a three-year period accepted the police executive’s use of ‘reform contractors to agree appropriate measures of reform performance’, but criticized its focus on a business-like approach, stating that if ‘the Executive continues to divert attention from reform towards continuous business improvement, it will defeat the purpose of securing this Reform Contract’. Dr Michael Kennedy, an ex-policeman and now university lecturer, has similarly blamed an inappropriate ‘business model’ applied to policing, with an emphasis on productivity that is at odds with the proper aim of policing.

Holmes blames flaws in the judicial system itself for ‘disillusionment’ amongst the police force leading to ‘noble cause’ corruption: a widespread perception of magistrates being too ‘soft’ on criminals can lead to an ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ attitude among officers. Holmes also states that ‘greater dialogue’ is needed between the police and the judiciary to align their attitudes more closely and reduce the possibility of disillusionment leading to corruption – this can be done through direct interaction in workshops and seminars. Any attempt to change the processes of a law enforcement body should also examine the processes of its colleagues.

Example: How Commissions of Enquiry can have other benefits in making the corruption a more public topic of discussion, even when the outcomes are not robust, in countries where the rule of law is weak, such as Uganda. Read more

2.3.3 Balance between internal and external monitoring

One of the major lessons of police reform over the last 20 years has been the inability of the police to police themselves, and therefore the need for external oversight. This can mean that there are a multitude of forms of oversights, both internal and external, many of limited value. The diagram below, from Kutnjak (2013), illustrates this well.

Source: Slide given to author by Professor Kutnjak Ivkovich, from presentation at the First international conference on Police Internal Affairs, Mexico 2013.

There is also guidance on getting a good balance between internal and external controls from Prenzler (2016), in Managing police conduct: finding the ideal division of labour between internal and external processes’.

If this is your situation, then a good first step might be to do a review of all the existing oversight mechanisms and their effectiveness.

2.3.4 Pro-active use of controls

Kutnjak and her colleagues have explored for many years how police organisations can take a pro-active approach, investigating the predisposition for corruption within police departments. The mechanisms vary from random integrity testing, to citizen reviews and through to undercover operations. These mechanisms form the base methodology of operations of Police Internal Affairs Departments.

2.4 Integrity reforms

The recognition of a systemic problem can actually be a great motivator for integrity-based approaches to solving the problem. A well-developed holistic approach to professionalisation can encourage department leaders in the police to participate in reform programmes because it avoids the impression that a personal witch-hunt is the aim.

Source: Kutnjak and Haberfeld (2015)

2.4.1 Regular integrity testing of police officers

Because it can be tricky to measure corruption in the police, one useful approach has been to measure the opposite – police integrity. Kutnjak and her colleagues have done this over two decades and the methodology is now quite mature. Police integrity is defined as ‘the normative inclination among police to resist temptations to abuse the rights and privileges of their occupation’.

The methodology uses eleven hypothetical integrity scenarios, of which nine relate to corruption; and each scenario is followed by a number of questions.

This methodology has now been applied in many countries: Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bosnia, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Eritrea, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, the UK, the USA. Probably the most relevant recent reference to this body of work and the international comparisons of the results is Kutnjak and Haberfeld (2015).

Here on the right is the set of sixteen scenarios that they use.

There is also a useful briefing paper on integrity testing in the DCAF (2012) Toolkit, pp175-177. In this paper, they give the experiences from Australia, USA, Hungary, Romania and Moldova.

2.4.2 Awareness raising, capacity building and education

DCAF, the ‘Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces’ assists partner states, and international actors supporting these states, to improve the governance of their security sector through inclusive and participatory reforms based on international norms and good practices. DCAF creates knowledge products, promotes norms and good practices, provides policy advice, and supports capacity building of non-governmental security sector stakeholders. DCAF currently has operations in some 70 countries world-wide, and especially across the Balkans and North Africa. DCAF have two main handbooks related to police integrity, and their websites are also well worth reviewing for more detailed experience:

Here is their general approach to police integrity building work:

DCAF’s sister organisation, the International Security Sector Advisory Team (ISSAT) also provides support to the international community to reinforce and strengthen their individual and collective efforts to improve security and justice, primarily in conflict-affected areas and fragile states. They have a good website with lots of real examples.

Example: Venezuela. In 2008, the ‘Organic Law of Police Service and National Police’ (Ley Orgánica del Servicio de Policia Nacional) was passed. The National Experimental University for Security was created
to run a five-year training programme with a strong emphasis on the ethics of policing. The curriculum includes specialist training by advisors from Cuba and Nicaragua (both with homicide rates among the lowest in Latin America) in ethics and community-based policing.

2.4.3 Internal integrity reform initiatives

Police departments can themselves reform, despite the many that fail. Here, for example, is a summary of several such cases from Prenzler: A small number of police departments are on the record in demonstrating large improvements in measures of ethical conduct, with lessons that have wide application. For example, in New York City, the introduction of a “courtesy, professionalism and respect policy” in two Bronx precincts in the 1990s led to reductions of 54% and 64% in complaints against the trend of increasing citizen complaints during the alleged “zero-tolerance” crackdown on crime. In Tasmania, Australia, police generated an extraordinary 87% reduction in citizen complaints over a decade through a combination of complaint pro ling and early intervention and complaint analysis and modified procedures and training. The main contribution of the Tasmanian Ombudsman was to verify the strategies and data. In both the Bronx and Tasmanian cases, reductions in complaints were achieved along with reductions in crime. Prenzler, Porter, and Alpert (2013) also reviewed case studies of successful force reduction in policing, using a range of measures including complaints, police and citizen fatalities and injuries, and use- of-force reports (Prenzler 2016).

2.5 Whistleblowing reforms in policing

If there has been one ‘constant’ in tackling police corruption, it has been resistance by police services to external oversight and involvement in their complaints and disciplining systems. Over time, a number of models have evolved for such systems. Most of the research on this topic has been from the US (Kutnjak and colleagues) or from Australia (Prenzler and colleagues). Prenzler has a simple three-part summarisation of the different models – internal affairs, civilian review, and civilian control – which cover the range from in-house systems to fully developed independence models. The three models are summarised here (adapted from Prenzler 2016):

Model 1 – Internal Affairs

Internal affairs is a traditional American term for integrity units within police departments—what have also been called “internal investigation divisions” or “units” and are now normally referred to as “professional standards units” or similar. For much of the history of policing, complaints and discipline were managed in-house. Cases were assigned to supervising officers of different ranks, depending on seriousness. Corruption scandals and a high volume of complaints prompted larger police departments to create specialist units to investigate and adjudicate allegations and, to a lesser extent, initiate prevention programs. e system was meant to ensure department-wide consistency and some independence from local affiliations. Usually, there were direct lines of reporting from the internal affairs unit to the police chief or commissioner.

Read more about Model 1

Model 2 – Civilian review

In response to recurring misconduct scandals, cover-ups, and inaction, a number of governments reluctantly introduced civilian review agencies. Civilian review takes diverse forms, but the principal idea is to provide an independent check on bias without excessive interference in police management. A review agency usually consists of a government-appointed citizen board, reflecting community interests and professional skills, with an executive arm, including a director, usually with legal qualifications, and civilian staff.

Typically, police will carry out investigations and apportion discipline, with the external agency taking a monitoring role. is normally involves paper-based audits of complaint investigation les and responses to appeals by complainants, with a capacity to criticize police work and recommend alternative findings and outcomes. This is a minimalist model, with scope for some enlargement of authority, such as the capacity to conduct independent investigations of serious matters and appeal disciplinary decisions to a mayor or a tribunal, police commission, or board.

Read more about Model 2

Model 3 – Civilian Control

Although civilian control is used to describe a type of agency within a police “oversight” system, it implies much more than is suggested by the term over­ sight. Civilian control takes the problems of real and perceived internal bias and takes them to their logical conclusion: Police should not investigate nor adjudicate complaints against their own. This basic principle is increasingly being applied to organizations out- side police—whether it be churches, charities, defence forces, trade unions, or corporations—where victims of abuse and other stakeholders call for fully independent and transparent investigations. Independent regulatory agencies are now de rigueur for a wide range of occupations, including the health sector, construction, consumer and financial services, and the security industry. Remarkably, legal services commissions, which investigate and adjudicate complaints against lawyers, have come on the scene in recent years, with little controversy regarding the demise of a long tradition of self-regulation.

In policing, the trend internationally appears to be in the direction of the civilian control model, but in very limited forms.

Read more about Model 3

Example Establishment of a police counter-corruption organisation in Kenya. In 2009, a new Police Commissioner began the redeployment of 600 officers with the specific remit of combating police corruption. This was one of the recommendations proposed by a government-commissioned investigation into police corruption headed by Justice Philip Ransley. The commission recommended the vetting of all police officers holding the rank of Assistant Police Commissioner and above. Read more

Comparative research: Relative effectiveness of eight police internal affairs departments in US cities. This analysis found that more civilian control of police corruption complaints did not lead to better performance. Read more

2.6 Civil society & media reforms in policing

Investigative journalism and an active civil society both play a significant role, and there are many examples of police corruption being addressed and reduced through their efforts.

2.6.1 Civil society demanding publicly visible signs of change

The lesson of past police reforms, that most fail, is in part due to a lack of connection between the public, who want the reforms, and the police service, who would often rather reform out of the public limelight. Connecting the reforms very directly to the public is one way of changing this narrative and bringing public enthusiasm to bear to strengthen the resolve of the police to continue reform.

Example: Radio programme engaging police on corruption issues in Uganda

2.6.2 Police forces collaborating with civil society on reforms

Among other NGOs, Transparency international has been very active, both around the world, as already mentioned in this review, in seeking to work with police forces on corruption reform

Example: Police forces in Russia collaborating with civil society.

Example: Police force in Burundi prepared to engage on police force reform. Transparency International’s Defence and Security programme worked with the Police forces in Burundi on anti-corruption. See Pyman et al (2014).

2.6.3 Civil society collaborating with MOI to strengthen police accountability

Example: Strengthening police anti-corruption capability in Romania.

2.6.4 Civil society visiting and assessing police stations

Example: Altus. Altus is a global alliance between civil society organisations. They organise an annual ‘Police Week’ during which citizens visit local stations to perform assessments. The purpose of these visits is to strengthen accountability and transparency, and to recognise current best practice. The most recent Police Week incorporated visits to 1044 stations across 20 countries (From Pyman et al 2012).


3. Developing an overall approach

Political & Tactical Approaches - Guidance summary

Tackling police corruption is a subject on which there does now exist national and international expertise. We suggest that as a first step you be in touch with one or more of the groups whom we list in Section 4.

Nonetheless, we know of no public document outlining a major police anti-corruption strategy. The nearest we have come is analyses of what happened to the police reforms after the major commissions of inquiry in the US, UK and Australia, all of which we have noted in this review,

4. Transnational policing initiatives

Transnational initiatives - Guidance summary

There are many international initiatives on police-related issues that are close to corruption, such as illicit finance and money laundering. However, to our knowledge there are no transnational initiatives directly on tackling corruption in policing. There was a first international conference in Mexico in 2013 on Internal Affairs Departments and Policing, but this seems not to have been continued.

The three groups who have bene most active internationally on tackling police corruption are the following:

The Centre for Democratic Control of the Armed Forces (DCAF) in Geneva, Switzerland DCAF. This organisation has long been active on integrity in police and security forces. The team is led by  Paulo Costa, Head of the Police Program.

Australian criminologists. Professors Tim Prenzler and Louise Porter, at the University of the Sunshine Coast and Griffiths University, Queensland, Australia respectively have published for many years on police corruption and integrity issues.

Dept of criminology, Michigan State University, USA. Professor Sanja Kutnjak Ivkovich and her colleagues at Michigan State University, USA, have similarly published for many years on police corruption and integrity issues.

NGOs. There are also NGOs that have expertise in police corruption or policing abuses whom you might contact, such as Transparency International and the Open Society Foundation.

There are also individual police experts available. However, corruption within policing is quite a specialist area.  Look for people with significant experience in managing or leading police ‘internal affairs’ departments, or in managing police complaints agencies.

5. Ask & Connect

Contacting others really helps because corruption is a tough problem, with no ‘manual’ of how to go about tackling it. It is not just a ‘nice thing’ to do.

We find that others working in their sector round the world – whether it be a very public sector like health or a more private sector one like telecommunications – are open to being contacted and happy to respond. People everywhere really hate corruption, and this is why you’ll find lots of support for your reform ideas.

Professionals in each sector know that much of the corruption reform available guidance is generic, in reports or in the form of technical advice from institutions. They’ll be happy to get down to sector level actions, where the real impact of corruption issues is usually seen.

Here’s what we suggest:

  1. Ask us. We may be able to offer ideas and/or point you to relevant examples. Just contact us directly at editor@curbingcorruption.com
  2. Get in touch with the people at the transnational organisations outlined in Section 4 of each of the sector reviews. Ask them for their help and input.
  3. Ask other readers and followers of CurbingCorruption: Use the Twitter and Linkedin buttons below or on the top of the home page.
  4. Contact the authors of any of the articles and references that we cite.  Our experience is that they are happy to respond to questions.

Contacting others also has a second benefit. Most of us who are involved in efforts against corruption, whatever their country or sector, are nervous of whether our anti-corruption ideas are plausible. Officials are aware they have no deep knowledge of how to tackle corruption and have less time to spend on this than they would like; so they are lacking in confidence. The best way to gain confidence is to talk with other people who also understand the problems in your sector.

Reading and Bibliography

Additional reading

If you want to read more, we recommend the following:

Transparency International (2012). Arresting corruption in the police: the global experience of police corruption reform efforts.  Also available in Spanish

Kutnjak Ivković & Haberfeld (2015) Measuring police integrity across the world: Studies from established democracies and countries in transition., New York: Springer.


Toolkit on Police IntegrityDCAF (2012): http://www.dcaf.ch/toolkit-police-integrity

Training Manual on Police IntegrityDCAF (2015)

Integrity building programme

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (2015) Integrity matters:An inspection of arrangements to ensure integrity and to provide the capability to tackle corruption in policing. https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmicfrs/wp-content/uploads/police-integrity-and-corruption-2015.pdf

UNODC (2011) Handbook on Police Accountability, Oversight and Integrity.


The websites following have useful material on police services, security and justice corruption reform:

ISSAT: https://issat.dcaf.ch

UNODC: http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/corruption/publications.html

OSCE POLIS : https://polis.osce.org/library/

Council of Europe (Online Resources ): https://edoc.coe.int/en/

INPROL : https://www.inprol.org/inprol-publications

POINTPULSE: http://pointpulse.net/


Police services: Full bibliography

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