Document Type

Conference publication

Publication details

Lauchs, MA, Keast, RL & Le, VK 2011, 'The motivation and structure of corrupt police networks: theorising the dark side of the ‘thin blue line’, 15th Annual Conference of the International Research Society for Public Management (IRSPMXV), Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, 11-14 April, IRSPM.


In recent times considerable research attention has been directed to understanding dark networks, especially criminal and terrorist networks. Dark networks are those in which member motivations are self rather than public interested, achievements come at the cost of other individuals, groups or societies and, in addition, their activities are both ‘covert and illegal’ (Raab & Milward, 2003: 415). This ‘darkness’ has implications for the way in which these networks are structured, the strategies adopted and their recruitment methods. Such entities exhibit distinctive operating characteristics including most notably the tension between creating an efficient network structure while retaining the ability to hide from public view while avoiding catastrophic collapse should one member cooperate with authorities (Bouchard 2007). While theoretical emphasis has been on criminal and terrorist networks, recent work has demonstrated that corrupt police networks exhibit some distinctive characteristics. In particular, these entities operate within the shadows of a host organisation - the Police Force and distort the functioning of the ‘Thin Blue Line’ as the interface between the law abiding citizenry and the criminal society. Drawing on data derived from the Queensland Fitzgerald Commission of Enquiry into Police Misconduct and related documents, this paper examines the motivations, structural properties and operational practices of corrupt police networks and compares and contrasts these with other dark networks with ‘bright’ public service networks. The paper confirms the structural differences between dark corrupt police networks and bright networks and suggests. However, structural embeddedness alone is found to be an insufficient theoretical explanation for member involvement in networks and that a set of elements combine to impact decision-making. Although offering important insights into network participation, the paper’s findings are especially pertinent in identifying additional points of intervention for police corruption networks.

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