Police corruption Essay

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
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 infornmation 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 deviances are, as well as how and
why corruption happens. The books were filled with useful insite 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
offically to fulfill personal needs or wants. For a corrupt act to
occure, three distinct elements of police corruption must be present
simultaneously: 1) missuse of authority, 2) missuse of official
capacity, and 3) missuse of personal attainment. (Dantzker, 1995: p
157) It can be said that power inevitably tends to corrupt, and it is
yet to be recongnized 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 diviance
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, 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 concists 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, inviduals 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
pusshers, & 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 viloators in order to aviod arrest; they have accepted
bribes; they have sold narcotics. They have known of narcotics
vilolations 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 oraganizations.
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 amoung
narcotics officers, was extremely high. As a result many officers were
prosecuted and many more lost their jobs. A massive re-structuring
took place aftewards with strict rules and regulations to make sure
that the problem would never happen again. Be that as it may, the
problem did arrise 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 begining in 1992 when five officers
were arrested on drug-trafficing charges.

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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
beginings, many aspects of policing have changed, but one thing that
has not is the existence of corruption. Police agenies, in an attempt
to elminate 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. Controling
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. Controling
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
tollerated 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 orginally 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 agaency should be the
main source of controling 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
‘graitudes’ (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.
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 aquire 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 begining 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
Bibliography:

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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