Webinar on Strengthening Law Enforcement Integrity

Southeast Asia (Online), 31 August 2021 - Law enforcement institutions are entrusted with a diverse set of tasks requiring a high degree of integrity within police agencies and their oversight. Where this does not function well, law enforcement officers may become vulnerable to acting unlawfully and outside their remit. In many countries, police reform interventions such as stronger anti-corruption measures and human rights-centered training for police officers, are very much needed. In addition, a longer-term effort is required to establish a framework for police oversight and accountability to strengthen integrity within systems of policing.

The UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) requires State Parties to introduce a set of measures to promote integrity and prevent corruption within national public administrations, including law enforcement agencies. The UNODC Toolkit on Police Integrity brings together measures to build an ethical police force, drawing on a range of legal, administrative and educational approaches to tackle corruption.

Recent cases across Southeast Asia, including in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, suggest that such initiatives may play an important role in strengthening the bond between law enforcement agencies and the citizens they serve. Against this backdrop, research regularly reveals police agencies to be among the least trusted public institutions in the region.

Selection of participants from Webinar on Law Enforcement Integrity

To build regional awareness on this issue, UNODC and the American Bar Association (ABA) Rule of Law Initiative jointly organized a Webinar on Strengthening Law Enforcement Integrity. The event gathered practitioners from the region and experts to discuss the most pernicious and common forms of corruption in policing and shared evidence-based research into risk mitigation strategies. The webinar received 1029 (347 females) registrations to attend. A post-webinar evaluation suggested that 97.1% of respondents gained knowledge relevant to their work, with 91.8% planning to apply what they had learnt.

The footage of the webinar can be viewed here; speaker presentations are available here

Key topics discussed in the webinar include:

States should make full use of a range of diagnostic indicators

Dr Louise Porter (Associate Professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University, Australia) emphasized that, when devising a strategy to build law enforcement integrity, States should make use of a broad array of diagnostic information. This includes an analysis of complaints and litigation cases, surveys of those in contact with police, such as arrestees or professionals, and surveys of police attitudes, to gauge whether officers view questionable practices as problematic. Meanwhile, indicators of police behaviour, such as use of force and injuries in custody, can be used to establish baselines and measure the impact of strategies.

One notable strength of this approach is that it enables States to design an integrity strategy that addresses the local context. As an example of this, Mr. Jae Ik Jeong (Korean National Police Agency) explained how data on misconduct led to the establishment of private contact regulations, aimed at targeting corrupt police links to karaoke bars, casinos, massage venues or other businesses of concern.

Intrinsic to the diagnostic stage of building a police integrity strategy is the fact that corruption can be addressed from numerous perspectives. Dr Kelly Hines (Policing Researcher at University of the Sunshine Coast) outlined ways to reduce corruption risks using environmental approaches, that focus on the situation, rather than the complexities of psychological and social characteristics. Drawing on a rich array of research, she outlined ways in which it was possible to manipulate the immediate environment in which police officers operate, in order to prevent crime from occurring.

Slide presented by Ms. Nichanee Wongba (ABA) shows the perceived most harmful risks of police corruption, according to a survey carried out at the previous ABA and UNODC workshop on police integrity

The diagnostic stage also allows States to prioritize resources in deciding which forms of corruption to target. As an example of this, Ms. Nichanee Wongba (Mekong Regional Legal Advisor, ABA) presented a survey carried out during the 2019 Regional Workshop on Promoting Police Integrity in Southeast Asia, organized by UNODC and the ABA. The findings suggest that the facilitation of illegal trade was regarded as the most harmful police corruption risk by participants, while gifts and benefits followed by traffic enforcement were regarded as the most common.

A proactive approach is key to preventing corruption from becoming institutionally endemic

In her presentation, Dr Louise Porter championed the use of early intervention systems, aimed at preventing repeated or escalating issues. She drew on research establishing that misconduct is likely to be repeated if there are no negative consequences, and that it is usually a small number of officers who cause most of an agency’s corruption problems. To address this, Dr Porter recommended identifying ‘problem’ officers systematically, based on complaints and other indicators such as the use of force and drug/alcohol testing. Covert surveillance can be used to test the integrity of individual officers, as part of targeted investigations. Meanwhile, there growing interest globally in the use of Body Worn Cameras (BWCs), building on evidence suggesting that it led to a reduction in citizen complaints in the US by up to 93%.

The need for a proactive and evidence-based approach was shared by Ms. Leah Ambler (Director of Corruption Prevention for the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI)), who explained that due to the value that information and powers held by police can provide to criminal networks, law enforcement agencies operate in a high-risk environment. Officers are exposed to organized crime as part of their work, making them highly susceptible to grooming and manipulation. The strong sub-cultures often present in law enforcement agencies can create vulnerabilities for group influence and even reach-back, whereby former officers continue to enable corruption after moving on from their post.

Independent oversight is essential to ensure improvements to integrity

Dr Louise Porter argued for the use of substantial external oversight, whereby an independent agency has the power to investigate complaints, audit data to proactively identify new issues, recommend improvements, and refer criminal matters. She drew on evidence from the US, which found that oversight agencies with more power were much more likely to have their recommendations on law enforcement integrity implemented.

As well as being fundamental to anti-corruption strategies in general, Ms. Leah Ambler explained that an independent scrutiny function was particularly important when it comes to rooting out law enforcement misconduct. This is because corrupt officers tend to have a strong understanding of investigation methodologies, enabling them to conceal their activities and resist attempts to enhance institutional integrity.

In addition to the existence of independent oversight, Mr. Francesco Checchi (Regional Anti-Corruption Adviser, UNODC) emphasized the importance of strong whistleblower protections to reduce the risks involved in exposing police misconduct. Rather than viewing police corruption as isolated cases, he framed many instances in Southeast Asia as being in fact symptomatic of joined-up schemes whereby police routinely facilitate various types of transnational organized crime. To address this phenomenon, Mr. Checchi warned of the persistence of undue influence and the abuse of power in obstructing high-level cases, and called for more to be done to shore up the independence of anti-corruption mechanisms.

To prevent the obstruction of justice within the police, Mr. Jae Ik Jeong (Seoul Officer at the Korean National Police Agency (KNPA) outlined a series of restrictions on the types of internal requests which can be made of criminal incidents (see below). In particular, he pointed out that requests could only be made through the Inspection and Public Complaints Office, rather than peer to peer.

Slide presented by Mr. Jae Ik Jeong, showing policies to prevent the obstruction of justice within the police

Multiple strategies should be employed to remove opportunities and excuses for corruption

In her presentation, Dr. Kelly Hines showed how instances of police corruption can be reduced through a range of policies, using innovative environmental approaches. Measures may aim at increasing the difficulty involved in corruption, increasing the risks of being caught, reducing the rewards of corruption, reducing provocation and removing excuses (see table below for examples).

Examples of Environmental Approaches to Police Corruption

(Adapted from Presentation by Dr. Kelly Hines)

Strategic Approach

Example of Measures

Increase effort of perpetrators

Pre-employment screening and supervisory controls (e.g. imposing authorizations, segregating duties, implementing physical safeguards)

Increase risk of being caught

Risk assessments, whistleblowing, external audits, staff integrity tests, data analysis, monitoring staff telecoms and gift/hospitality registers

Reduce rewards of corruption

Publicized sanctions, fraudster registers, disciplinaries, civil remedies, prosecution

Reduce provocations

Ethics training, an evaluation of the agency culture and campaigns

Remove excuses

Clear set of rules, induction training, signature on training and reinforcing of rules

The importance of employing a range of different strategies was echoed by Dr. Krisanaphong Poothakool (Chairman of the Faculty of Criminology at Rangsit University, Thailand), who argued that for regulations to be reflected in police conduct, they needed to permeate police culture through stepped-up trainings, procedural innovation, public scrutiny, and inspection mechanisms.

Drawing on examples of high-profile cases in the Philippines, Manuel T. Soriano, Jr (Deputy Special Prosecutor at the Office of the Ombudsman of the Philippines) showed how inter-agency cooperation, particularly involving financial investigations, enabled the proceeds of corruption to be seized and the responsible officers to be identified.

The footage of the webinar can be viewed here (Bahasa, English, Thai & Vietnamese versions); Speaker presentations are available here

This webinar was part of activities funded by the US Department of State’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Agency (INL) and the Government of the Republic of Korea.

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