Blue Line

Features Behavioural Sciences
Police corruption: Part 1

February 19, 2024  By Peter Collins and Darren Balsom

Photo credit: HJBC / Getty Images

Police corruption is just one type of deviant behaviour that can occur in policing. Other forms of police deviance include criminality, abuse of authority, police misconduct, excessive use of force and some would include feigned illness such as malingered PTSD.

Police misconduct includes acts that violate the rules and regulations of the agency and can include chronically arriving to work late with an unprofessional appearance. Some forms of misconduct are indicators of other serious personal issues that could negatively affect one’s professional performance.

Abuse of authority involves violating the legal mandate of the police position and this could include interactions such as illegal stops, searches and arrests.

Corruption occurs when a police officer loses integrity in their professional actions and accepts benefits or rewards in exchange for violating their mandated responsibilities. Police criminality occurs when police officials engage in direct acts of crime, such as robbery or theft, whether they are on or off duty.


In 2023, a police officer from a Southern Ontario agency was found guilty in a pay-for-protection scheme involving local drug dealers. He was sentenced to serve 12.5 years with an additional three years added to the sentence if he did not pay a $250,000 fine—the approximate amount that was taken in bribes. He was assisting drug dealers in exchange for cash and was found guilty on charges of bribery, obstruction of justice, breach of trust and trafficking of cocaine.

The presiding judge called the officer “arrogant”, possessing a “supreme entitlement to what he was doing” and observed that the officer had shown no remorse, stating, “He has absolutely no insight into the profoundly wrongful nature of his actions.”

Neither author of this column assessed this police officer; however, given the comments of the presiding judge, the possibility exists that the officer may have had features of a narcissistic personality disorder, as do a considerable portion of law enforcement professionals who engage in corruption.

Individuals who do meet the diagnostic criteria for narcissistic personality disorder have a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), a need for admiration, a lack of empathy and match five or more of the following contexts:

  • They possess a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
  • They are preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love.
  • They believe that they are “special” and unique and only can be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status individuals or institutions.
  • They require excessive admiration.
  • They have a sense of entitlement (i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations).
  • They are interpersonally exploitive (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her ends).
  • They lack empathy and are unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
  • They are often envious of others or believe that others are envious of him/her.
  • They exhibit arrogant, haughty behaviours and attitudes.

Not all individuals with narcissistic personalities or narcissistic traits end up being corrupt, but there appears to be an overrepresentation among police officers who decide to engage in corrupt activities. Some fit into a subset known as the “unprincipled narcissist”.

Corruption occurs when a police officer loses integrity in their professional actions.

The unprincipled narcissist is often engaged in antisocial behaviour – they have the self-confidence of a narcissist in combination with recurrent aberrant behaviour. Many achieve success by exploiting legal boundaries to the verge of unlawfulness, however, some will cross that line to engage in illegal activity as they are confident that their role in law enforcement will protect them.

They are more than just disloyal and exploitative. They are amoral, deceptive and unscrupulous. Many are indifferent to telling the truth because the truth is not in their best interests. If confronted, they will deflect the blame onto others while displaying an attitude of justified innocence, denying their behaviour through a veneer of politeness and civility.

Balsom’s professional experience

Acts of police corruption, albeit rare, result in a significant impact. This impact ranges from the involved officer, their families, their law enforcement team and the community at large.

In his role with the Calgary Police Service (CPS), Balsom has been tasked with evaluating multiple allegations of police corruption. His first “true” corruption case happened early in his career and involved a Canadian police officer being accused of stealing drug evidence. Balsom’s initial thoughts about this allegation were “It can’t happen, they must be mistaken.” However, once he reviewed the evidence and the investigation, his feelings turned from uncomfortable to angry. Balsom viewed evidence of this sworn officer purposely stealing drugs for an unknown reason.

As a result of this first exposure to police corruption, Balsom became an indirect victim of this (former) officer—this case directly impacted his trust levels.

Fast forward 19 years, CPS decided to face police corruption head-on by creating a dedicated Anti-Corruption team, now known as the Sensitive Investigations Unit. This team of investigators was tasked with investigating allegations of police and government criminality and corruption. Balsom has worked with these officers on multiple files and has also seen the impact these files have on these officers and by default their loved ones.

The members of the CPS Sensitive Investigations Unit have been impacted through interviews with these individuals and the victims, have been subjected to attempted intimidation, been faced with claims of organized crime and witnessed their fellow officers act in a corrupt manner. Two important things he has learned over the years is that law enforcement needs to look after their personnel for two reasons:

  1. To lessen the chances of corruption going unnoticed, and
  2. To ensure the officers who are tasked with these investigations know they are supported, especially on days when it seems like there are “too many bad days in a row”.

In part two of this article, the authors will discuss the important role that formal debriefs can play in bringing some form of closure to these sorts of investigations—many of which have no public conclusion.

Peter Collins is the operational forensic psychiatrist with the Ontario Provincial Police’s Criminal Behaviour Analysis Section. He is also a member of the crisis/hostage negotiation team of the Toronto Police Service Emergency Task Force. Dr. Collins’ opinions are his own. Contact him at

Darren Balsom is a Certified Threat Management Specialist and Criminal Profiling Understudy assigned to the Calgary Police Service Behavioural Sciences Team. Darren is the former President of the Canadian Association of Threat Assessment Professionals (CATAP) and has trained staff and worked with all levels of the criminal justice system.

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