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Police integrity in South Korea

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Purpose ‐ The purpose of this study is to examine the contours of police integrity among Korean police officers a decade after police reform was started. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The data were collected in 2009 at the Korean National Police University (KNPU) and the Police Comprehensive Academy (PCA). The questionnaires distributed to police officers contained 14 vignettes describing various forms of police misconduct. The sample consists of 329 police officers, mostly non-supervisors, attending courses at the KNPU and PCA. Findings ‐ Results indicate that the contours of police integrity vary across different forms of misconduct. Regardless of whether the respondents' views were measured through questions about misconduct seriousness, appropriate discipline, willingness to report, or knowledge about official rules, the findings suggest that Korean police officers perceived corruption as a serious form of police misconduct, while they considered the use of excessive force to be substantially less serious. In addition, a strong code of silence among the police was detected. Research limitations/implications ‐ The study examines the contours of police integrity among a convenience sample of police officers from South Korea. Practical implications ‐ The Korean police administrators interested in controlling police misconduct could utilize this methodology to explore the contours of the code of silence among the Korean police. The results of the study indicate that substantial focus should be put on changing police officer views about the use of excessive force and narrowing the code of silence in general. Social implications ‐ The results show that the contours of police integrity among South Korean police officers clearly reflect the attitudes and views of the society at large toward corruption and use of excessive force. The lenient attitudes that South Korean police officers have expressed regarding the use of excessive force reflect both the historical attitudes and the lack of clarity of official rules. The strong code of silence is related to the insufficient protection for whistleblowers and the adherence to Confucianism among Korean citizens. Originality/value ‐ Prior research predominantly measured police integrity as the opposite of police corruption in Western democracies and East European countries in transition. This research expands this by focusing on different forms of police misconduct. In addition, it explores integrity in an Asian democracy with the police agency undergoing extensive reform.
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Keywords: Korean police; Police corruption; Police ethics; Police integrity; Police misconduct; South Korea; Use of excessive force; Use of force

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 02 March 2012

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