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Let's say you live in a house and have a neighbor who is a nuisance. The neighbor does various illegal things on a regular basis (car is extremely noisy above and beyond what is allowed in the law, loud music in the middle of the night that can be heard from the inside of neighbors homes, pool on roof seemingly without sanitation controls, burning trash on the sidewalk, etc, etc).

Basically, a neighbor who all the other neighbors despise, but no one does anything because the nuisance neighbor would probably only increase his disrespectful behavior.

I was discussing the issue with a friend, and I suggested that since police enforcement is very weak in the neighborhood, if it would be a possibility to just put a price on the "job of enforcing the law". Essentially, you walk up to a random police officer and say: "I'll give you 10k USD to do your job. That is, to go to this particular place, and observe the infractions occurring due to this nuisance neighbor, and do whatever the law prescribes you to do when you catch someone doing something illegal".

Is offering the officer 10k to "do his job" an illegal act?

Is this conceptually equivalent to offering an officer money to not do his job (a bribe)?

Is offering the officer the money to perform his job considered a bribe?

As another example. If your house is being robbed this very instant, and you know it, is it illegal to go to a police officer and say: "my house is being robbed, I'll pay you 10k USD to go to my house and do your job"?

Is it immoral or unethical from either party (the payer or the police officer taking the payment)?

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4 Answers 4

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It depends on the jurisdiction, and what you hire the officer to do. It is generally legal to hire an off-duty police officer, and here is what Seattle says about that. They are held to the same standards as when they are on duty; they have to be off duty (and not on sick leave). They do have to submit an approval form that describes what they will do. While in uniform, the work has to be of a law enforcement or traffic enforcement nature (thus not bill-collecting or vehicle repo), also you can't work in an alcohol or marijuana sales establishment. Some of your interests would probably not be covered, since zoning-type infractions (pool) are not within the purview of the police, but burning trash on the sidewalk would be. Because of the requirement for approval, you probably can't pay to get a response to a robbery (still takes 24 hours to get "short notice" approval).

It is not clearly illegal to offer an officer money to "do his job", but it is also not clearly legal. It is illegal (bribery), if you

With the intent to secure a particular result in a particular matter involving the exercise of the public servant's vote, opinion, judgment, exercise of discretion, or other action in his or her official capacity, he or she offers, confers, or agrees to confer any pecuniary benefit upon such public servant

It is not obvious whether a peace officer is a public servant, as defined under the law. A "public servant" is

any person other than a witness who presently occupies the position of or has been elected, appointed, or designated to become any officer or employee of government, including a legislator, judge, judicial officer, juror, and any person participating as an advisor, consultant, or otherwise in performing a governmental function

and a "peace officer" is

a duly appointed city, county, or state law enforcement officer

By statutory stipulation, a LEO is "appointed", and they are an employee of the government. Then when you hire them to do something, do you do so "with the intent to secure a particular result in a matter involving the exercise of the public servant's exercise of discretion in his or her official capacity"? If so, it is bribery (a crime).

Since LEOs can legally be hired to enforce the law when off duty, the legality of that hiring must depend on the "particularity" of the job. If an officer has the discretion to arrest Smith for a criminal act, but declines to do so, then you cannot pay him to act otherwise. Officers generally have the discretion to arrest (or not) anyone committing a crime, so hiring an officer to "control traffic" or "work security" is not influencing the officer to exercise a particular form of discretion.

The crucial question would be, why didn't they enforce the law in the first place?

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  • Regarding your last question, just think about any "bad" neighborhood in a major US city. Law enforcement isn't very strong in such areas, despite a large number of crimes, large and small, being committed. There could be multiple reasons for this. If you live in such an environment, and an illegal act is being committed and it is bothering you and your community, it is a daily occurrence everywhere in the world that you will have to live with it. This is a failure of law enforcement. I am not sure I understand the notion that a cop has discretion regarding whether to arrest someone clearly
    – evianpring
    2 days ago
  • committing a crime in front of him. Asking a cop to physically go to a location to witness a crime I guess isn't a crime. Asking him and also paying him at the same time to go to a particular location where a crime is being committed seems like a plausible thing to do. When the cop arrives at the location, does he have discretion? Doesn't he have a duty?
    – evianpring
    2 days ago
  • Example: an undercover cop has discretion to ignore an assault in his present, to preserve his cover. Example: a uniformed officer has discretion to not arrest a battalion of rioters trashing a building, if enforcing the law will result is loss of his life, or significant injury. LEO discretion is a fact of life, indeed it has a name in certain contexts: "de-policing".
    – user6726
    2 days ago
  • Yes but you said it yourself: "certain contexts". Both of the examples you gave (undercover cop, police facing a riot) are very, very specific and don't apply to the vast majority of situations that most police officers (and civilians) encounter. Can you give me an example of a police officer deciding to do nothing about a robbery or someone driving drunk? The discretion you mentioned in your examples isn't really independent discretion. It is totally dependent on an analysis of the consequences of the decisions.
    – evianpring
    2 days ago
  • @evianpring watch some Cops or North Woods Law. Tons of people get away with warnings. It's really common to hear them say something like "I could write you up for X, but you've been honest with me so I won't".
    – Ryan_L
    yesterday
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Yes, it’s the illegal act of corruption

s249B of the Crimes Act criminalises an agent (the police officer in your case) from corruptly receiving an inducement or reward to do or not do something or to show favour or disfavour to a person. It’s also a crime to offer or make such an inducement or reward. Both punishable by 7 years.

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  • If you pay a police officer to simply go to a location (where you know a crime is being committed), then what of this? Is this bribery? If a cop arrives at a scene where some illegal thing is happening, does he/she not have the duty to do something about it? Is there any showing of favor or disfavor to a person in this scenario? I think not.
    – evianpring
    2 days ago
  • 2
    @evianpring 1. Bribery 2. Bribery 3. No 4. Yes, the cop is there helping you rather than somewhere else helping someone else 5. Your thinking is wrong
    – Dale M
    2 days ago
  • It seems to me that your answer is subject to a lot of interpretation.
    – evianpring
    2 days ago
  • This can't be accurate, it implies police can't have a second job. I know some officers work part time.
    – Ryan_L
    2 days ago
  • 1
    The question implied the officer was on-duty and was being paid to do his duty in a specific manner. 2 days ago
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Payments to someone to do a job that they're already obliged to do are referred to as 'Facilitation Payments' and are explicity illegal.

Facilitation payments are bribes under the Act just as they are under the old law

...

Facilitation payments, which are payments to induce officials to perform routine functions they are otherwise obligated to perform, are bribes. There was no exemption for such payments under the previous law nor is there under the Bribery Act.

The Bribery Act 2010 - A Quick Start Guide

Paying a policeman to investigate a criminal or arrest someone that was breaking the law would be almost the textbook example of this crime.

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  • How serious a crime is it, and how does it compare to paying a policeman to do something illegal?
    – evianpring
    yesterday
  • @evianpring - Depending on the amount that changed hands, up to 10 years imprisonment for both parties. The policeman would also have committed a raft of other offences, notably Misconduct in a Public Office and breaches of the The Police (Conduct) Regulations. So, very serious indeed. At the very least you'd expect the policeman to lose his job
    – Richard
    yesterday
  • @evianpring - If they were paid to do something illegal the penalty would be (in theory) identical, but you would expect that under normal circumstances the prosecution would argue that the offence should merit a sentence at the higher end of the scale and the judge would be more minded to agree.
    – Richard
    yesterday
  • I can't wrap my mind around it being equivalent in the eyes of the law to pay someone to do something illegal as opposed to pay them to do something legal like perform their job. I would have imagined that there would be nuance and levels to any transgression of these types.
    – evianpring
    yesterday
  • @evianpring - Indeed. And the law gives the CPS leeway to try the case summarily (in which instance the penalty would only be up to 12 months in jail and a smaller fine) or at Crown Court for more serious offences. The Bribery Act doesn't have any mandatory minimums.
    – Richard
    yesterday
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Since there is no country... In Germany, it is legal to offer or give money to a police officer for having done his duty - let's say police officers return your kidnapped daughter unharmed, and you are very happy about it. It is illegal for the police officers to take the money, or to ask for the money. And it is obviously illegal to pay or to try to pay a police officer for not doing his duty, both for you and the police officer. (The rest of the answer would be quite irrelevant in the USA, because even this case where it is very understandable to offer money, it's illegal in the USA).

But I have the impression you are not offering the money to do his duty - you are offering money for the police officer to act in a certain way. Let's say you suspect your neighbour to be a thief. The police officer has the same suspicion, but the evidence is just enough to make it a judgement call for the officer to pay your neighbour a visit or not. In this case, if the police officer acted because you paid him, I wouldn't say he is doing his duty. His duty is to think about the situation and do what he thinks is the most suitable action which may or may not result in him questioning your neighbour. His duty is not to question your neighbour. So even if paying a police officer to do his duty was legal for you (it's not legal even in Germany for the police officer), that's not what you would be doing.

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