Encyclopedia of Security and Emergency Management

Living Edition
| Editors: Lauren R. Shapiro, Marie-Helen Maras


  • Kenneth J. GrossbergerEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-69891-5_6-2


Bribe Criminal Moral security 


Bribery infers an “illicit exchange” in which a person or company offers a government or public official, officer, or employee valuable items, such as gifts, money, property, etc., in return for contracts, services, or other treatment (Noonan 1984).


Bribery is often deemed illegal by society, ethically unacceptable, and judged as morally questionable due to the harm that it causes (D’Andrade 1985; Green 2005; Horder 2011; Noonan 1984). The premise of this offense is that “…accepting a bribe involves the violation of an implicit or explicit promise or understanding associated with one’s office or role and that, therefore, accepting a bribe is always prima facie wrong” (Carson 1987, p.). Laws against bribery, that is, making bribes illegal, are tied to moral or ethical violations caused by the bribe act itself, namely, corruption. Consider the comparison of offering a free car to a politician versus a private business owner in exchange for hiring your nephew. The act is the same, but the former would be defined legally as a bribe as it violates the fair process of selecting employees for public positions; there is no similar requirement for a business owner. There are other people, due to the capacity in which they serve, such as private security guards, loss prevention employees, fire and emergency personnel, and public law enforcement to name a few, who may be offered bribes because they hold power over others, such as arsonists or criminals. For example, a shoplifter may offer a bribe to the retail loss prevention employee who apprehended her in order to avoid arrest and prosecution. Security managers, as well as their employees, may be tempted by bribes. For instance, security personnel may be bribed to allow employees or even criminals to enter a premise to steal, or private security prison guards may accept bribes from their prisoners in exchange for a variety of privileges. Private security investigators may be bribed to not report their findings of negligence (e.g., collapsed structure or building), arson, ineptitude, etc. This entry provides an overview of the practical, legal, and moral dimensions of bribery in the context of protective security professionals and security guards.

The Cultural Aspects of Bribery

Noonan (1984) stated that while a lack of admission was common, and the deceit inherent, the behavior was pervasive as it occurred in almost every society and in every era. Yet despite its negative connotations, bribery has been rationalized in the following ways:
  1. 1.

    “Everybody does it.” Noonan has shown bribery occurred in numerous eras and societies indicating the pervasiveness of illicit exchanges.

  2. 2.

    “It is necessary to do it.” This reasoning implies it was done for job survival or to gain acceptance in a given situation.

  3. 3.

    “Reciprocities are formally indistinguishable.” This argument relies on a slippery slope premise in that many types of bribery seemed to be non-corrupt exchanges.

  4. 4.

    “It is immorally enforced.” Noonan referred to the inconsistencies inherent in the hypocritical ways the rules against bribery were only sometimes enforced or where bribery was situationally or cultural mandated. For example, if it was routine that employees steal goods from a warehouse, and the security guard is invited to join in, then the guard is corrupted and the behavior is reinforced.

  5. 5.

    “The material effect …is either trivial or undemonstrated.” This argument essentially suggests that no real harm is done and that bribery in many cases amounts to no more than a societal “taboo.” This moral logic is the same as arguing that pilfering really is not stealing and is a victimless crime (such small-scale shoplifting in retail stores, especially when the loss prevention security guard looks the other way in return for some of the stolen goods).


Noonan (1984) contended that, whatever the rationalization, the future of the bribe remains problematic, because, despite the level of relative unacceptability, the act itself is “universally shameful,” is a “betrayal of trust,” and contravenes a “divine paradigm.” He stated that “bribery is a legal concept,” thus, the punishment comes from the law, but enforceability is an issue and enforcement of the law remains selective in that the proscription of such illegal reciprocity depends on accepted cultural norms and contextual notions. While bribery itself is “criminal and consensual,” the motivations are often dissonant and personal.

Bribery, Security Personnel, and Insurance

Security personnel protect residences, commercial office buildings, institutions (schools, hospitals, nursing homes), government buildings, retail stores, warehouses, and airports, to name a few. Security guards may be bribed for access to such premises (when the officer’s post responsibility is access control), to look the other way when someone engages in wrongdoing, and to abet theft. Payments can be in cash, a share of the stolen merchandise, or sex, favors, or food. A key factor is that security guards are typically low paid, which makes them vulnerable, and thus the risk is enhanced. The act of bribery is usually considered a crime (see “Criminal Law”), based on criminal justice theory, which states that a crime has three elements: the mens rea (criminal intent; intent to coerce decision or action), the actus reus (the criminal act itself, offering or taking of something of value in exchange for bribed acting, promising to act within his/her capacity or duties to provide briber with a benefit, including going unpunished for breaking the law), and the facts of the case (Stein 2012).

Security guards may be natural targets for bribes (see “Retail Security: Use of Security Guards”). For example, can private security guards legally perform searches? There are different rules for searches in the private sector. Security guards cannot use “reasonable suspicion” as a cause for a search as that is the province of law enforcement under the US Supreme Court ruling in Terry v. Ohio (Cornell Law School n.d.). Security guards must have probable cause (a high standard of evidence) to make a stop, which means the security guard must see the act (see “Retail Security: Shoplifting”). However, in retail, for example, a security guard working loss prevention in stores may check a shopper’s bags, if it is a store policy to do so (and the guard’s post orders permit it), but then only with the permission of the shopper (see “Search and Seizure”). But if the guard sees the shopper take something, and then try to leave, the officer may stop the shopper and call the police.

This is a classic opportunity for a shoplifter to offer a guard something in return for being released. The guard’s training should take effect, and if not, then the potential for a bribe will increase. If the guard stops the shopper (or takes him/her into custody), then the guard might be accused of illegal restraint. As security guards are not police officers, they are not protected by various “shield” laws which insulate police personally from civil suit. Under citizen’s arrest laws, the guard may make the stop but must be sure or may be subject to arrest and lawsuit herself. Thus, a security guard, like any other citizen, may arrest another person without a warrant but subject to certain limitations (Wollan 2016).

Security guard companies typically have general liability insurance, which provides protection against most causes of action involving physical security (see “Security: Contract”). Many companies also have Employers Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) which protects companies from so-called third-party actions or discrimination cases. If a private undercover agent or a store detective is accused of bribery, the defendant’s lawyer might threaten a third-party action to induce the company to drop any criminal charges. Lawsuits that result therefrom can be costly. Security companies may buy crime bonds, which protect companies against such events as employee dishonesty and “mysterious disappearance,” where items are missing without explanation while guards are on duty. Many such cases are the results of the guard being bribed to assist in the theft. General liability, third-party insurance, bonds, and other forms of protection can be expensive and are major concern in private industry. Most lawsuits are settled prior to trial, but the effect on the defendant company’s loss run (the record of losses in an insurance policy) can prove to be quite expensive. The legal and reputational damage to the security guard may be serious and result in banishment from the security industry in that jurisdiction.

Security guards perform basic functions: observe and report, and post and patrol. Thus, they are responsible for basic security (perimeter patrol, access control, protection of assets, and reporting theft and dangerous conditions). But corrupt officers endanger the very people and assets they are hired to protect. This is especially so for critical assets in such facilities as hospitals, nuclear power plants, banks, homeless shelters, museums, law offices, and government offices. Corrupt guards that fail to protect these assets and the people therein, by accepting bribes do not do their jobs, violate the basic precepts of their position, invert their purpose, and abuse the trust given to them. The potential damage done by a security guard who accepts a bribe to allow access by the wrong people, allows theft and vandalism, and looks the other way when crimes are committed, or partakes in such crime, could be severe or even catastrophic. Thus, the risk posed by the bribery of a security officer ranges to the extreme and is a highly significant issue for the industry.

The Morality of Bribery

D’Andrade (1985) declared flatly that “bribery is wrong” and is “immoral almost by definition in the same way that murder is.” However, Horder (2011) suggests that the criminality of bribery “is surprisingly difficult to explain” when considering the “harm-doing” of the act, because some bribes cause no apparent harm. Horder contends that the criminal justification for bribery relies on the “nature and degree of remote harm” potentially resulting from a bribe resulting in no sanction. If there is no punishment, then there would be no deterrence, but as deterrence is difficult to measure, this results in a “potentially problematic case” for determining such a criminal act. Private security agents are no less susceptible to such deterrence, but if punishment is not certain, then the deterrent effect would be difficult to measure (Paternoster 2010).

Green (2005) characterizes bribery as a “bilateral agreement between 2 parties” wherein “the briber gives or offers something of value in exchange for the bribee’s agreeing to act on the briber’s behalf.” The person bribed transgresses against a duty to his or her position, and the briber “commits the morally wrongful act” by corrupting the bribee. Security personnel are often disadvantaged in such a way, and as they are licensed by the government in most states, they are liable to be prosecuted for certain forms of bribery (such as transactions that involve criminal acts on a client’s property) and possible loss of their licenses.


Bribery is leverage. It is the result of an exchange between two or more parties, such that each needs something from the other. The lever is the thing to be exchanged, desired by the bribee (the person or entity accepting the bribe) and offered by the briber (the person or entity doing the bribing), in return for something of value desired by the briber. This basic process holds true for the bribe at its many levels, including security. Those working in security are in positions of trust, guard people and assets, and are therefore targets for those who seek to profit from the venue protected by private security professionals. The opportunity and risk for bribery are ever present and must be guarded against.



  1. Carson, T. L. (1987). Bribery and implicit agreements: A reply to Philips. Journal of Business Ethics, 6(2), 123–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Cornell Law School. (n.d.). Terry v. Ohio. https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/392/1
  3. D’Andrade, K. (1985). Bribery. Journal of Business Ethics, 4(4), 239–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Green, S. P. (2005). What’s wrong with bribery? In R. A. Duff & S. P. Green (Eds.), Defining crimes: Essays on the criminal Law’s special part. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Horder, J. (2011). Bribery as a form of criminal wrongdoing. Law Quarterly Review, 127, 37–54. London: Sweet & Maxwell.Google Scholar
  6. Noonan, J. T., Jr. (1984). Bribes: The intellectual history of a moral idea. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  7. Paternoster, R. (2010). How much do we really know about criminal deterrence? The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 100, 765–824.Google Scholar
  8. Stein, A. (2012). Corrupt intentions: Bribery, unlawful gratuity, and honest-services fraud. Accessed at: https://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://search.yahoo.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1668&context=lcp
  9. Wollan, M. (2016). How to make a citizen’s arrest. New York Times Magazine. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/08/magazine/how-to-make-a-citizens-arrest.html

Further Readings

  1. Lambsdorff, J. G. (2007). The institutional economics of corruption and reform: Theory evidence and policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Langsted, L. B. (2009). Bribery, bribery across borders and the like from a Danish perspective. Scandinavian Studies in Law, 54(13), 247–268.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.John Jay College of Criminal JusticeNew YorkUSA