Essay, Research Paper: Police Corruption

Legal Issues

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Police corruption is a complex issue. Police corruption or the abuse of
authority by a police officer, acting officially to fulfill personal needs or
wants, is a growing problem in the United States today. Things such as an
Internal Affairs department, a strong leadership organization, and community
support are just a few considerations in the prevention of police corruption. An
examination of a local newspaper or any police-related publication in an urban
city during any given week would most likely have an article about a police
officer that got caught 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, as well as many other cities. Corruption within
police departments falls into 2 basic categories, external corruption and
internal corruption. In this research project, I will concentrate on external
corruption. Recently, external corruption has been given the larger center of
attention. 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 in
the past year. I compiled my information from a number of articles written in
the New York Times over the last few years. My definitional information and
background data came from books that have been written on the issues of police
corruption. Those books helped me create a basis of just what the different
types of corruption, as well as how and why corruption happens. Corruption in
policing is usually viewed as the mistreatment of authority by 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) mishandling of authority, 2) mishandling of official
capacity, and 3) mishandling of personal attainment (Dantzker, 1995: p 157). It
can be said that power, inevitably tends to corrupt. 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;
their deviance elicits a special feeling of betrayal. "Most studies support
the view that corruption is endemic, if not universal, in police departments.
The danger of corruption for police, 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). 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 or more of the following
activities: 1) Payoffs to the police, by people who essentially violate
non-criminal elements, who fail to comply with stringent statutes or city
ordinances. 2) Payoffs to the police, by individuals who continually break the
law, using various methods to earn illegal money. 3) "Clean Graft"
where money is paid to the 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 drug
violators. In order for these violators to avoid arrest, the police officers
have accepted bribes, and accepted narcotics, which they turned around and sold.
These police know of the violations, and fail 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 testimonies 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 New York Police
Department, 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. Of
course, the problem did arise again. One of the more 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 even relieving them of drugs that he would then resell. Soon
he had formed ``a crew'' of 15 to 20 officers in his Brooklyn precinct that 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. Not one person had asked how he managed all of that on take-home
pay of about $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 time for discipline among the
police brass. Not only had some of their cops become corrupt, but also the
crimes had to be uncovered and revealed by a suburban police force. Politicians,
as well as the media, started asking what had happened to the system of rooting
out police corruption established 21 years ago. "At the urging of the Knapp
Commission, the investigative body heard Officer Frank Serpico and other police
officers describe a citywide network of rogue cops"(New York Times, March
29, 1993: p 8). "Later, 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. Many American cities were
now worried that drug money will turn their departments bad" (New York
Times, April 3, 1993: p. 5). 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 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). Gambling syndicates in the
1950's 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 of 1993, 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 a 450-lb. safe from a retail store (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 1980's, Philadelphia
saw more than 30 officers convicted of taking part in a scheme to extort money
from dealers. In Los Angeles, a FBI probe focusing on the LA 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
dollars 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 act quickly in response to public fears about crime. This can also
mean an influx of younger officers, and fewer numbers of well-suited,
better-trained officers. This was a major reason for the enormous corruption
scandal that hit Miami in the middle 1980's. This was when about 10% of the
Miami's police were jailed, fired, or disciplined. They were in connection with
a scheme in which officers robbed and some-times 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 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. This 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, higher- ranked
officers in the department blocked him. At one point, Trimboli claimed he was
called to a meeting of police officials, and was told he was under suspicion as
a drug trafficker. However, "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, Raymond Kelly, announced a series of changes,
including a larger staff, and better- coordinated field investigations,
intending to improve internal affairs. His critics say those changes didn't go
far enough, much of that happened after Kelly's reforms had been announced.
Getting the information about the corrupted police officers 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. "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. When you are 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 to prison on guilty plea, put it another way. "Cops don't want to
turn in other cops. Cops don't want to have a rat. 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
policies which are intended to focus directly of factors leading to corruption.
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, and
police environmental factors. Therefore, control must come from not only the
police department, but it 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 anywhere 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 would 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 taught. If
they fail to, it would make officers unaware of the consequences of corruption
and do nothing but encourage it. Finally, many police departments especially
large ones should have an Internal Affairs unit, which operates to investigate
improper conduct of police departments. These units' some-times are run within
the department. They can also be a total outside agency, to insure that there is
no corruption from within the Internal Affairs unit, as was alleged in the 1992
New York Police Department corruption scandal. Such a unit may be all that is
needed to prevent many officers from being tempted into falling for corrupt
behavior patterns. Although the police department should be the main source of
controlling its own corruption problem, it 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. 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, but also his
department, the law enforcement community as a whole and society as well. Police
corruption can be controlled; it just takes a little extra effort. In the end,
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
abuse 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 paper the problem of police deviance and corruption
will never be completely solved, just as the police will never be able to solve
all the crime problems in our society. The only thing they or anyone can do is
decreasing it. 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 public. The connection of police corruption and
organized crime is clear and simple. Without police corruption it would be much
harder for the organized crime to work their businesses. In a hypothetical city
or town, where there is no corruption what so ever, an organized crime group
could not work in the same pace that they are used to. On the other hand, a city
with much police corruption would work in favor of the organized crime business.
Usually, the problem standing in front of the organized crime businesses are the
law enforcement agencies, but corruption prevents their main concern and
eliminates the majority of the problems.

BibliographyBeals, Gregory (Oct 21, 1993). Why Good Cops Go Bad. Newsweek, p. 18. Carter,
David L. (1986). Deviance & Police. Ohio: Anderson Publishing Co. Castaneda,
Ruben (Jan 18, 1993). 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 (March 19, 1993). Confessions of Corruption.
The New York Times, p. 8. James, George (Nov 17, 1993). 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. (June 14, 1993). 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 (April 3, 1993).
Confessions of Corruption. The New York Times, p. 5.
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