‘Noble cause’ police corruption: When good cops turn bad
The initial result of the Senate investigation on the death of Mayor Rolando Espinosa shows that it is premeditated. Senators are inclined to believe it was a case of extrajudicial killing. A number of government agencies are poised to investigate the incident: the National Bureau of Investigation and the Ombudsman will look into the culpability of the police officers involved.
Despite the initial evidence of a rubout, President Rodrigo Duterte provided his support to his beleaguered police officers. He said that from day one, he promised them protection. As long as they dutifully and relentlessly carry out his campaign to eradicate drugs, he will take the cudgels for them. And judging from the statements and demeanors of the police officers who testified, it seems that they are fully convinced of the legality and righteousness of their cause. They repeated consistently the line: "Mayor Espinosa was a drug dealer, he destroyed so many lives, and he deserved death."
This kind of police mentality and behavior is what criminologists call "noble cause" police corruption. It is "noble" simply because the police officers believe in the rightfulness of their actions. They sincerely believe that they are forwarding the best interest of the public. In fact, they have nothing to personally gain from these actions. They do it out of love and passion for the country. And they resent the ungrateful critical public that dares to question their self-professed heroism.
Though it is noble, it is corruption nonetheless. Believing in the morality of their goals, they utilize illegitimate and even violent methods against their targets: they can plant evidence, they can torture, they can make appear that suspects draw guns and they were killed in legitimate police operations. It is corruption simply because the acts are against established police procedures, against precepts of human rights, against any notions of civility and humanity.
Yet noble police corruption did not emerge from a vacuum.
It flourishes at a time when the criminal justice system has failed. It thrives when the courts take a number of years before they decide a case, when drug dealers can bribe police and prosecutors their way out and go scot-free, when convicted drug lords enjoy a luxurious lifestyle in prisons.
Noble police corruption thrives when citizens are legally cynical. They approve of the following mantra: "It is okay to kill criminals as long as they are caught in the act; it is okay to kill criminals if they are given a warning and did not change, it is okay to kill criminals if they continuously repeat the act, it is okay to kill criminals if they are sure to evade punishments."
It is this legally cynical mentality that catapulted President Duterte to power in the first place.
The Filipino people are exasperated with the legalities, technicalities, niceties, and decencies of a broken justice and political system. They particularly despise the pretensions of the traditional politicians, particularly the Yellows, who, they felt, robbed the people blind. They also categorically deride the international media and leaders who, they claim, do not understand the intricacies of Philippine politics.
The Filipino people continue to approve of the bloody war on drugs because they support the notion that to change a broken system, we need to totally wipe it out and build from scratch.
Phase one, they say, is cleaning the house of its vermin.
Phase two, is when we can start to erect a new society. People who don’t see this strategy are branded as naïve. And any attack on President Duterte's methods is construed as a bitter attack against their hopes and wishes for a better Philippines. And the truth is, I empathize with their feelings of victimization, for I, myself, had been a victim of the failed criminal justice system.
Are we doing to be complicit?
This is the moral dilemma of the Filipino people: are we going to tolerate noble cause police corruption?
Are we going to let the police recklessly kill people, branded as criminals, in our name?
Are we going to let President Duterte trample upon due processes and human rights to keep our streets safe?
Are we going to be complicit to the genocide of our own people to have a bright new day?
For the past 4 months, the resounding answer had been yes. We have now close to 2,000 people killed by the hands of the police. Another 3,000 more were killed by Duterte-inspired vigilantes. And if this public sentiment will go unabated, then the happy slaughter of drug "personalities" will continue.
Short cut, myopic
But is noble cause police corruption the answer? Will killing all drug addicts, criminals, and the corrupt, improve trust to the criminal justice system? Will it lead to a crime-free Philippines?
Temporarily, yes. Its swift and severe action will deter criminals in the short-term. Our streets will indeed be safer, drug dealers will be on the run and hiding, and the criminals will be afraid. And this sudden reduction in street crime will be displayed as the achievements of the current brutal approaches.
But will it be sustainable? Will it be here to stay?
Time will tell.
If prudence is to be the guide, the answer is no. For two reasons: one, it does not address the very root causes that enabled people to engage in drugs, crime and corruption in the first place. For as long as we don’t care about the plight of the poor, we don’t educate our children, we have dysfunctional families, we have disorganized communities, and we espouse belligerent beliefs, our society will be at risk of these maladies. Two, it does not address the reasons why our criminal justice system is a failure. For as long the police, the courts, and correctional officers are underpaid, overworked, undertrained, under-appreciated, and overburdened, there are reasons for the criminal justice system to become inefficient, iniquitous, and corrupt.
As long as the root causes of these maladies are not addressed head on, new drug dealers and criminals will arise. Worse, children of fathers who had been killed in this gory war will grow hating us and perpetuate the cycle. Thus, once started, we will keep burning the house down.
Yes, we hate drugs, crime and corruption. But the long-term solution is to strengthen our social safety nets and improve our criminal justice systems.
Noble cause police corruption is a short cut and myopic solution to an endemic problem. And it makes the criminal in all of us. – Rappler.com
Raymund E. Narag is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Southern Illinois University. He recently spent time as a Visiting Professor at UP Diliman where he conducted training and research on the Philippine criminal justice and penal system. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.