Police Corruption

Police Corruption

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Police corruption is a complex phenomenon, which does not
readily submit to simple analysis. It is a problem that has and will continue to affect us all,
whether we are civilians or law enforcement officers. Since its beginnings, may aspects of
policing have changed; however, one aspect that has remained relatively unchanged is the
existence of corruption. An examination of a local newspaper or any police-related publication
on any given day will have an article about a police officer that got busted committing some kind
of corrupt act. Police corruption has increased dramatically with the illegal cocaine trade, with
officers acting alone or in-groups to steal money from dealers or distribute cocaine themselves.
Large groups of corrupt police have been caught in New York, New Orleans, Washington,
DC, and Los Angeles. Methodology: Corruption within police departments falls into 2 basic
categories, which are external corruption and internal corruption. In this report I will concentrate
only on external corruption because it has been the larger center of attention recently. I have
decided to include the fairly recent accounts of corruption from a few major cities, mainly New
York, because that is where I have lived for the past 22 years. I compiled my information from
numerous articles written in the New York Times over the last 5 years. My definitional
information and background data came from various books cited that have been written on the
issue of police corruption. Those books helped me create a basis of just what the different types
of corruption and deviancies are, as well as how and why corruption happens. The books were
filled with useful insight but were not update enough, so I relied on the newspaper articles to
provide me with the current, and regional information that was needed to complete this report.

In simple terms, corruption in policing is usually viewed as the misuse of authority by a police
officer acting officially to fulfill personal needs or wants. For a corrupt act to occur, three distinct
elements of police corruption must be present simultaneously: 1) misuse of authority, 2) misuse
of official capacity, and 3) misuse of personal attainment. (Dantzker, 1995: p 157) It can be
said that power inevitably tends to corrupt, and it is yet to be recognized that, while there is no
reason to suppose that policemen as individuals are any less fallible than other members of
society, people are often shocked and outraged when policemen are exposed violating the law.
The reason is simple. There deviance elicits a special feeling of betrayal. "Most studies support

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the view that corruption is endemic, if not universal, in police departments. The danger of
corruption for police, and this is that it may invert the formal goals of the organization and may
lead to "the use of organizational power to encourage and create crime rather than to deter it"
(Sherman 1978: p 31) General police deviance can include brutality, discrimination, sexual
harassment, intimidation, and illicit use of weapons. However it is not particularly obvious where
brutality, discrimination, and misconduct end and corruption begin. Essentially, police corruption
falls into two major categories-- external corruption which concerns police contacts with the
public, and internal corruption, which involves the relationships among policemen within the
works of the police department. The external corruption generally consists of one ore more of
the following activities: 1) Payoffs to police by essentially non-criminal elements who fail to
comply with stringent statutes or city ordinances; (for example, individuals who repeatedly
violate traffic laws). 2) Payoffs to police by individuals who continually violate the law as a
method of making money (for example, prostitutes, narcotics addicts and pushers, &
professional burglars). 3) "Clean Graft" where money is paid to police for services, or where
courtesy discounts are given as a matter of course to the police. "Police officers have been
involved in activities such as extortion of money and/or narcotics from narcotics violators in
order to avoid arrest; they have accepted bribes; they have sold narcotics. They have known of
narcotics violations and have failed to take proper enforcement action. They have entered into
personal associations with narcotics criminals and in some cases have used narcotics. They have
given false testimony in court in order to obtain dismissal of the charges against a defendant."
(Sherman 1978: p 129) A scandal is perceived both as a socially constructed phenomenon and
as an agent of change that can lead to realignments in the structure of power within
organizations. New York, for instance, has had more than a half dozen major scandals
concerning its police department within a century. It was the Knapp Commission in 1972 that
first brought attention to the NYPD when they released the results of over 2 years of
investigations of alleged corruption. The findings were that bribery, especially among narcotics
officers, was extremely high. As a result many officers were prosecuted and many more lost
their jobs. A massive re-structuring took place afterwards with strict rules and regulations to
make sure that the problem would never happen again. Be that as it may, the problem did arise
once gain... Some of the most recent events to shake New York City and bring attention to the
national problem of police corruption was brought up beginning in 1992 when five officers were
arrested on drug-trafficking charges. Michael Dowd, the suspected 'ring leader', was the kind of
cop who gave new meaning to the word moonlighting. It wasn't just any job that the 10-year
veteran of the New York City force was working on the side. Dowd was a drug dealer. From
scoring free pizza as a rookie he graduated to pocketing cash seized in drug raids and from
there simply to robbing dealers outright, sometimes also relieving them of drugs that he would
resell. Soon he had formed ``a crew'' of 15 to 20 officers in his Brooklyn precinct who hit up
dealers regularly. Eventually one of them was paying Dowd and another officer $8,000 a week
in protection money. Dowd bought four suburban homes and a $35,000 red Corvette. Nobody
asked how he managed all that on take-home pay of $400 a week. In May 1992 Dowd, four
other officers and one former officer were arrested for drug trafficking by police in Long Island's
Suffolk County. When the arrests hit the papers, it was forehead-slapping time among police
brass. Not only had some of their cops become robbers, but the crimes had to be uncovered by
a suburban police force. Politicians and the media started asking what had happened to the
system for rooting out police corruption established 21 years ago at the urging of the Knapp
Commission, the investigatory body that heard Officer Frank Serpico and other police describe
a citywide network of rogue cops. (New York Times, March 29, 1993: p 8) To find out, at the
time, New York City mayor David Dinkins established the Mollen Commission, named for its
chairman, Milton Mollen, a former New York judge. Last week, in the same Manhattan hearing
room where the Knapp Commission once sat, the new body heard Dowd and other officers
add another lurid chapter to the old story of police corruption. And with many American cities
wary that drug money will turn their departments bad, police brass around the country were
lending an uneasy ear to the tales of officers sharing lines of coke from the dashboard of their
squad cars and scuttling down fire escapes with sacks full of cash stolen from dealers'
apartments. (New York Times, April 3, 1993: p. 5) The Mollen Commission has not uncovered
a citywide system of payoffs among the 30,000-member force. In fact, last week's testimony
focused on three precincts, all in heavy crime areas. But the tales, nevertheless, were troubling.
Dowd described how virtually the entire precinct patrol force would rendezvous at times at an
inlet on Jamaica Bay, where they would drink, shoot off guns in the air and plan their illegal drug
raids. (New York Times, Nov. 17, 1993: p. 3) It was "victimless crimes" problem which many
view was a prime cause in the growth of police abuse. Reports have shown that the large
majority of corrupt acts by police involve payoffs from both the perpetrators and the "victims" of
victimless crimes. The knapp commission in the New York found that although corruption
among police officers was not restricted to this area, the bulk of it involved payments of money
to the police from gamblers and prostitutes. (Knapp Commission Report, 1973: pp 1-3) ``The
cops who were engaged in corruption 20 years ago took money to cover up the criminal activity
of others,'' says Michael Armstrong, who was chief counsel to the Knapp Commission. `` Now
it seems cops have gone into competition with street criminals.'' (Newsweek, Oct 21,1992: p.
18) For cops as for anyone else, money works age for crooked police. Gambling syndicates in
the 1950s were protected by a payoff system more elaborate than the Internal Revenue
Service. Pervasive corruption may have lessened in recent years, as many experts believe, but
individual examples seem to have grown more outrageous. In March authorities in Atlanta broke
up a ring of weight-lifting officers who were charged with robbing strip clubs and private homes,
and even carrying off 450-lb. safes from retail stores. (Washington Post, Jan 18, 1993: p. 11)

The deluge of cash that has flowed from the drug trade has created opportunities for quick dirty
money on a scale never seen before. In the 1980s Philadelphia saw more than 30 officers
convicted of taking part in a scheme to extort money from dealers. In Los Angeles an FBI
probe focusing on the L.A. County sheriff's department has resulted so far in 36 indictments and
19 convictions on charges related to enormous thefts of cash during drug raids -- more than $1
million in one instance. ``The deputies were pursuing the money more aggressively than they
were pursuing drugs,'' says Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Bauer. (Washington Post, Jan 18,
1993: p. 11) When cities enlarge their police forces quickly in response to public fears about
crime, it can also mean an influx of younger and less well-suited officers. That was a major
reason for the enormous corruption scandal that hit Miami in the mid-1980s, when about 10%
of the city's police were either jailed, fired or disciplined in connection with a scheme in which
officers robbed and sometimes killed cocaine smugglers on the Miami River, then resold the
drugs. Many of those involved had been hired when the department had beefed up quickly after
the 1980 riots and the Mariel boatlift. ``We didn't get the quality of officers we should have,''
says department spokesman Dave Magnusson. (Carter, 1989: pp. 78-79) When it came time
to clean house, says former Miami police chief Perry Anderson, civil service board members
often chose to protect corrupt cops if there was no hard evidence to convict them in the courts.
``I tried to fire 25 people with tarnished badges, but it was next to impossible,'' he recalls.
(Carter, 1989: pp. 78-79). The Mollen Commission testimony could also lead to second
thoughts on the growth of community policing, the back-to-the-beat philosophy that in recent
years has been returning officers to neighborhood patrol in cities around the country, including
New York. Getting to know the neighborhood can mean finding more occasions for bribe
taking, which is one reason that in many places beat patrolling was scaled back since the 1960s
in favor of more isolated squad-car teams. The real test of a department is not so much whether
its officers are tempted by money but whether there is an institutional culture that discourages
them from succumbing. In Los Angeles the sheriff's department ``brought us the case,'' says FBI
special agent Charlie Parsons. ``They worked with us hand in glove throughout the
investigation.'' (Washington Post, Jan 18, 1993: p. 11) In the years after it was established,
following the Knapp Commission disclosures, the New York City police department's internal
affairs division was considered one of the nation's most effective in stalking corruption. But that
may not be the case anymore. Police sergeant Joseph Trimboli, a department investigator, told
the Mollen Commission that when he tried to root out Dowd and other corrupt cops, his efforts
were blocked by higher-ups in the department. At one point, Trimboli claimed, he was called to
a meeting of police officials and told he was under suspicion as a drug trafficker. ``They did not
want this investigation to exist,'' he said. (New York Times, April 3, 1993: p. 5) It was at this
time that New York City police commissioner, at the time, Raymond Kelly announced a series
of organizational changes, including a larger staff and better-coordinated field investigations,
intended to improve internal affairs. His critics say those changes don't go far enough. Much of
that happened after Kelly's reforms had been announced. The Mollen Commission is
recommend the establishment of an outside monitoring agency, a move that Kelly and other
police brass have expressed some reservations about. ``No group is good at policing itself,''
says Knapp Commission counsel Armstrong. ``It doesn't hurt to have somebody looking over
their shoulder.'' An independent body, however, might be less effective at getting co-operation
from cops prone to close ranks against outsiders. ``You have to have the confidence of officers
and information about what's going on internally,'' says former U.S. Attorney Thomas Puccio,
who prosecuted a number of police-corruption cases. (New York Times, April 3, 1993: p. 5)
Getting that information was no easier when officers were encouraged to report wrongdoing to
authorities within their own department. In many cities that have them, internal affairs divisions
are resented within the ranks for getting cops to turn in other cops -- informers are even
recruited from police-academy cadets -- and for rarely targeting the brass. ``One of the things
that has come out in the hearings is a culture within the department which seems to permit
corruption to exist,'' says Walter Mack, a one time federal prosecutor who is now New York's
deputy commissioner of internal affairs. ``But when you're talking about cultural change, you're
talking about many years. It's not something that occurs overnight.'' (New York Post, June 14,
1993: p. 28) Dowd, who was sentenced prison on guilty please, put it another way. ``Cops
don't want to turn in other cops,'' he said. ``Cops don't want to be a rat.'' And even when
honest cops are willing to blow the whistle, there may not be anyone willing to listen. (New
York Times, Mar. 29, 1993: p. 14) Is there a solution to the police corruption problem?
Probably not because since its beginnings, many aspects of policing have changed, but one thing
that has not is the existence of corruption. Police agencies, in an attempt to eliminate corruption
have tried everything from increasing salaries, requiring more training and education, and
developing polices which are intended to focus directly on factors leading to corruption. What
have all these changes done to eliminate or even decrease the corruption problem? Little or
nothing. Despite police departments' attempts to control corruption, it still occurs. Regardless of
the fact, police corruption cannot simply be over looked. Controlling corruption is the only way
that we can really limit corruption, because corruption is the by-product of the individual police
officer, societal views, and, police environmental factors. Therefore control must come from not
only the police department, but also must require the assistance and support of the community
members. Controlling corruption from the departmental level requires a strong leadership
organization, because corruption can take place any where from the patrol officer to the chief.

The top administrator must make it clear from the start that he and the other members of the
department are against any form of corrupt activity, and that it will not be tolerated in any way,
shape, or form. If a police administrator does not act strongly with disciplinary action against
any corrupt activity, the message conveyed to other officers within the department will not be
that of intimated nature. In addition it may even increase corruption, because officers feel no
actions will be taken against them. Another way that police agencies can control its corruption
problem starts originally in the academy. Ethical decisions and behavior should be promoted,
because failing to do make officers aware of the consequences of corruption does nothing but
encourages it. Finally, many police departments, especially large ones, have an Internal Affairs
unit which operates to investigate improper conduct of police departments. These units some
times are run within the department or can be a total outside agency to insure that there is not
corruption from within the Internal Affairs unit, as was alleged in the 1992 NYPD corruption
scandal. Such a unit may be all that is need to prevent many officers from being tempted into
falling for corrupt behavior patterns. Although the police agency should be the main source of
controlling its own corruption problem, there also requires some support and assistance from
the local community. It is important that the public be educated to the negative affects of
corruption on their police agency. They should be taught that even 'gratitudes' (the most basic
and common form of police corruption) is only a catalyst for more and future corruption. The
community may even go as far as establishing review boards, and investigative bodies to help
keep a careful eye on the agency. If we do not act to try and control it, the costs can be
enormous, because it affects not only the individual, his department, the law enforcement
community as a whole, but society as well. Police corruption can be controlled; it just takes a
little extra effort. And In the long run, that effort will be well worth it to both the agency and the
community. (Walker, 1992: p. 89). The powers given by the state to the police to use force
have always caused concern. Although improvements have been made to control corruption,
numerous opportunities exist for deviant and corrupt practices. The opportunity to acquire
power in excess of that which is legally permitted or to misuse power is always available. The
police subculture is a contributing factor to these practices, because officers who often act in a
corrupt manner are often over looked, and condoned by other members of the subculture. As
mentioned from the very beginning of this report the problem of police deviance and corruption
will never be completely solved, just as the police will never be able to solve the crime problem
in our society. One step in the right direction, however, is the monitoring and control of the
police and the appropriate use of police style to enforce laws and to provide service to the

Works Cited

Beals, Gregory (1993, Oct 21). Why Good Cops Go Bad.

Newsweek, p. 18. Carter, David L. (1986). Deviance & Police. Ohio: Anderson Publishing Co.

Castaneda, Ruben (1993, Jan. 18). Bearing the Badge of Mistrust. The Washington Post, p. 11.

Dantzker, Mark L. (1995, ). Understanding Today's Police. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

James, George (1993, Mar. 29). Confessions of Corruption. The New York Times, p. 8.

James, George (1993, Nov. 17). Officials Say Police Corruption is Hard To Stop. The New York Times, p. 3.

Sherman, Lawrence W (1978). Scandal And Reform. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Simpson, Scott T. (1993, June 14). Mollen Commission Findings. New York Post, p. 28

Walker, J.T. (1992). Briefs of 100 leading cases in the law enforcement. Cincinnati: Anderson Publishing Company.

Weber, Bruce (1993, April 3). Confessions of Corruption. The New York Times p. 5
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