Social Learning Theory and Police Corruption


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Social Learning Theory and Police Corruption

The social learning theory was developed and introduced by Bandura and is commonly known as the Bandura theory. The theory, according to Bandura, states that people learn from their environment and mainly from each other through modeling, imitation and observation. Bandura’s theory of social learning has been referred to as to the bridge between cognitive and behaviorist-learning theories, since it has encompassed motivation, memory and attention.

Many studies have attempted to understand the reason behind many forms of misconduct by the police, especially corruption. However, no conclusive theoretical explanation to police corruption exists. Misconduct by police, especially corruption-related, has been a bad picture of the entire police force in many states in America. Some forms of police corruption and abuses rank the most serious and embarrassing situations, with some bordering on the violation of human rights. However, no data portrays the extent of corruption, brutality and misconduct by the police. Even with the lack of data, it is likely that every police department in whole America has witnessed a police scandal and/or corruption.

There is a wide range of literature in causes and consequences of corruption. Corruption has been an infectious behavior and affected the public sector as compared to the private sector. Police officers are meant to be guardians of the society and they strive to ensure that the good prospers in the society. However, it is not the cases when corruption is of concern. The police agencies have not been left out in corruption. When a police officer gets involved in corruption, public confidence is drained and the society heads in the wrong direction. A society is doomed when the custodians of the good are no longer undertaking their noble quest and responsibility. The corruption in the police agencies is practiced in different ways, which are sometimes designed in a manner that many police officers consider acceptable. Corruption should be rooted out from the police agencies and the society as a whole.

Being a police officer is a unique occupation laden with many deviant behavior opportunities. Police officers are known to enjoy numerous freedoms that are allowed to the common citizens. Some of these freedoms include seizing property, use of deadly force and even speeding. The police occupation provides much opportunity for corruption incidences, and it goes ahead in trying to provide a justification for the behavior if it is questioned. Due to loose supervision, the police officers are less likely to be detected and punished as they also operate in isolation from the observation of the public.

Acceptance of gifts and meals are the most common and known form of police corruption. Numerous city police departments have allowed police officers to accept discounts or free meals. Free meals are often taken as a gratitude act towards the police officers. Such incidences have created an opportunity for individual to bribe and buy protection from the officers. Many businesses are known to offer free services or item to police officers with an agreement or expectation that the police officers will respond quickly to any incidence that affects the business or provide some added protection to the business. Akers’ social learning theory has an approach on social and psychological behavior that is able to provide a distinctive lens to observe and analyze police corruption.

Akers came up with the social learning theory in addition to Sutherland’s theory of differential association, which explains numerous acts that violate the social norms. The social learning theory has an assumption that the learning process is capable of producing both deviant and conforming or delinquent behavior.

According to Akers, four variables strengthen and instigate the attitudes on social behavior. These four variables are modeling, reinforcement, definitions and differential association. Through the balancing of these four influences, it can be determined if the individual will be engaged in the deviant or conforming behavior. In social learning theory, the central variable is the differential association, which is the influence, brought about by the people that an individual tends to associate with. It is a common observation in most police departments. It is highly unlikely that a good police officer will be partnered with a corrupt colleague and performs his or her tasks effectively as a team player. However, a corrupt police officer is partnered with another corrupt police officer.

In different police departments, subculture is considered the primary peer group that police officers learn their definitions. A peer influence is the most profound pressure that operates in the police agencies. Numerous police officers and researchers are aware of the police subculture. These subcultures are known to facilitate numerous deviant behaviors through the transmission of definitions, values, beliefs and expression of mannerism that are not acceptable. It mainly occurs due to the subcultures that have a shared value system, in which it allows and presents the opportunity to excuse, rationalize and justify deviance.

Social isolation is known to be a police subculture feature, which makes police officers to withdraw from the subculture in search for approval and support. In order for a police officer to feel part of the police agencies, he/she will be forced to be involved in corruption and other deviant operations. Isolated police officers try their best to spend a big part of their time with other officers for social purposes. It is extremely crucial for an officer to have the feeling of acceptance by their peer group just for satisfactory concept.

According to the research conducted on the police agencies in the United States, organizational culture's strength in the police departments was salient regardless of the personal differences. Most individuals were adopting the definition and beliefs of their department not regarding whether they were good or bad. There exist learning processes in the police subculture that provides the opportunity of learning deviant practices due to beliefs, values and attitudes transmitted across and through different generations.

Police officers are engaged in corruption with the aim of retaining the good standing in a more desirable occupation environment. Police officers learn corrupt behaviors from the reinforcements given by the subculture group. Corruption is developed through an interactive process where the individual officers learn corrupt behaviors in accordance with other responses.

There exists a special circumstance in the police subculture where it is extremely difficult to separate peers who are defiant and who are not. A study found out that when the police officers receive free services, meals or discounts, they often perceive their jobs as one with fringe benefits. As a result, they anticipate less risk of the behavior being sanctioned or punished in any way. It could only be concluded that the police subculture has made an allowance and acceptance of misconduct behaviors and corruption.

From the studies and researches conducted on the effects of the social learning theory and the explanation of corruption by the police, findings have been concluded. Most police officers were noted to consider the use of excessive force and stealing as serious crimes, but accepting bribes as a less serious violation. In some situations, corruption by police is seen a normal activity in the police department. The police officers also perceive peers’ attitudes as part of their own. The police officers also proffered written and verbal reprimands as punishment of corruption as opposed to other legal procedure that applied to the normal citizens.

Current paper analyzed the social learning framework in corruption events by police. Corruption has been an infectious behavior and affected the public sector as compared to the private sector. From a research conducted in Philadelphia Police Department, the social learning variables influences were examined concerning police corruption. The police training units and departments need to lay more emphasis on the sustenance and development of consistent attitudes that are just and fair. The police department should be aware that the different attitudes of the police officers are shaped by salient subculture. Hence, the training needs to overcome the set definition of deviant behaviors to ensure integrity in the police agency.

There also exists quite a strong link between officer behavior and officer attitudes. Such finding is not common in the policing literature. The department should track officer attitudes as it can be used to determine the police behavior in the streets. A theoretical approach in testing the potential police misconduct should be developed, and it should focus on corruption issues.

Psychological tests should be used like the Revised-Neo Personality Inventory and Inwald Personality Inventory. They should be used in the assessment of conscientiousness personality traits and behavioral tendencies that have been known to predictors in successful job performance. If the police departments and officials consider the entire test, they will play a vital role in screening out the high-risk applicants and identify serving officers qualified for further scrutiny.



About the author: 

Paul Martinez, as a former journalist, he knows how powerful a word could be. Now he is a blogger and writer at Working with experts in academic writing is a pleasure. And he is happy to share my experience with those who are only learning. His motto is: "Live the life you love, love the life you live".

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