Police Corruption: An Analytical Look into Police Ethics

For years, we have considered any discussions of police misconduct as taboo. After all, these are the men and woman in which we, as citizens, give the responsibility of keeping us out of harms way. We all know it is present within law enforcement in some shape or form, but we ignore its relevance in the way our criminal justice system works. Assumptions of police misconduct and corruption have long been suppressed and silenced through false litigation and system betrayal. The silencing or ignorance of police misconduct acts a strengthening mechanism which those, who engage in this type of behaviour, use as a motivational tool.

It is becoming a popular belief that cases of police misconduct are always dismissed due to Charter breaches. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms acts as an umbrella that covers our entire criminal justice system. It is what guaranties us things such as life, liberty, and freedom, and the right to a fair trial. The Charter has often been criticised by certain players within the criminal justice system. It has been labelled as a difficult legislative body that allows criminals to escape the law.

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It has also been seen as impeding the efficiency of police procedures. In other words, it stops police from doing their job or makes it difficult for them. It is ironic that this entrenched piece of legislation, which is criticised so much by police officers, is often used in order to escape police corruption charges. Former Toronto mayor, John Sewell, in an article on the silencing of police corruption cases, states that “silence means that police corruption in Toronto is a fact that no one in a leadership position can do much about” (Sewell, 2010).

In saying this, Sewell expresses his belief that if we do not target the corrupted portion within the police force, police misconduct will solidify its presence in our criminal justice system. Within any police force there is a present discipline built on respect and propriety towards those in command. These elite members within the police force have been placed in an important position in order to present themselves as a leader amongst their counterparts. Each leader forgoes a process in which he becomes “fit” for the position.

It comes with experience and knowledge within the field. The importance of a leader, in this environment, is imperative for successively running a team. They take responsibility for the mentoring and teaching of their officers. They also take responsibility for the actions of their officers. It is evident that senior officers will often feel as though the attitudes and beliefs of their juniors should reflect the attitudes and beliefs of those in command (Skolnick, 2002). John Sewell believes that senior officers have long ignored the presence of police corruption.

He believes that police corruption is not taken seriously (Sewell, 2010). Sewell makes note of two cases in the Toronto region that draw strong conclusions on how we pursue cases of police corruption. The first case happened eleven years ago. Allegations were made that some Toronto officers were assaulting drug dealers and stealing their money. The RCMP task force, headed by John Neily, documented four reports of internal investigations of John Shertzer and officers working on his drug squad. Neily pointed out twelve rogue officers and recommended that criminal charges be laid against them.

After Neily’s report charges were laid on six officers including Shertzer. The other half of the accused were left with no charges. In 2008 a judge dismissed the Shetzer case due to excessive delays that breached their right to a fair trial. All six officers’ charges were stayed. This decision has been appealed by prosecution in hopes of attaining a new trial. The second case on which Sewell makes note of occurred in May of 2004. Four officers were alleged to have demanded and recieved protection money from downtown club owners.

Rick McIntosh, president of the Toronto Police Association, and William McCormack, son of former Toronto police chief, were among the men charged with influencing peddling and accepting a benefit. A judge eventually dismissed these charges again due to excessive delays. This decision has not been appealed, therefore the accused were never really tried and were able to escape a conviction (Sewell, 2010). In this case, police were unable to prepare evidence against the four accused. The crown pushed very hard for them to provide evidence, but it was never given.

The trials were dismissed due to excessive delays (Sewell, 2010). It could be assumed that the police were reluctant to provide sufficient evidence in order to delay the trial knowing that it would lead to a dismissal of charges. This would in turn protect their fellow officers from prosecution. The Crown or prosecution was left with no case, but made his efforts to have one. The Crown Attorney is appointed by our government as a representative of the Queen or country. The evidence is not collected by the Crown.

Evidence is merely given to the Crown by police officers and, if able to secure a conviction, he or she presents the evidence in court. It is important to note that in most cases the onus of proof falls on the prosecution, therefore if the prosecution does not have any evidence the case will likely be dropped (Schuller, & Ogloff, 2002). Both of these cases involved very serious charges, but at no point were the allegations taken seriously. Although it may seem bizarre for such serious claims to be dismissed due to technicalities, one must wonder if it is a reoccurring issue pertaining to police misconduct cases.

So what is it that creates these delays and could they be in fact deliberate? In the two cases mentioned here, Sewell provides three possible reasons for the excessive delays. The first is the understaffing of the special task force assigned to the case. The second pertains to the reluctance of the task force to proceed charges against their own. The third makes reference to the police culture that says police should stay together through thick and thin (Sewell, 2010). Sewell seems to put an emphasis on police culture and its relation to these allegations.

Jerome H. Skolnick, in his article, “Corruption and The Blue Code of Silence”, offers an explanation for the reluctance of officers to proceed charges against their own. The blue code is also called the blue wall or the blue curtain. Skolnick states that “at its best, the feeling of loyalty and brotherhood sustaining the “Code of Silence” may facilitate policing and protect police against genuine threats to safety and well being” (Skolnick, 2002, p. 300). In saying this Skolnick is making note of the positives that this blue code has to offer.

Yet the same code of loyalty and brotherhood is able to sustain an oppositional criminal subculture by protecting those officers who chose to escape the functions of their profession and violate criminal sanctions. Police work is often done in an unpredictable manner in which police must act on their feet knowing that one poor choice may result in drastic consequences. One could say that, without this code of silence or blue code, police would consistently find themselves over thinking what the proper actions should be.

This makes it very difficult for the officer to be successful (Skolnick, 2002). In other words, the protection granted by this code of silence gives police some discretion while letting them also act on instinct. The real question at hand is the level at which this code of silence should go out of its way to protect its members that are engaging in serious criminal activities. Loyalty to other police officers is first introduced in police academy. Officers learn how to stick together and how to count on one and another.

It becomes embedded within them that the protection of fellow officers is essential to the police force (Skolnick, 2002). For this reason we may see a reluctance of police officers proceeding charges on their fellow officers. This may also produce a ?us against them mentality? were the courts and citizens are seen as a threat to the police. Although senior officers will often inform lower ranked police to avoid this mentality, it remains within any police force.

Sewell explains what we should expect in response to the excessive delays that occurred in the two cases mentioned. One would expect that senior officials, in cases such as these, would assure the public that changes will be put in place so that the cases proceed expeditiously. One would also expect that the necessary staff changes be made in order to re enforce the importance of police corruption. Unfortunately these are only expectations and although they may be obvious ones, we still often see senior officers sweep these cases under a rug in order to save face.

If we take, for example, the two cases in Toronto that Sewell makes reference to, police Chief Bill Blair and members of the Toronto police service board made no such efforts or changes to guarantee that cases such as the Shretzer case be proceeded in a expeditious manner (Sewell, 2010). Section 11(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedom explains that everyone who is charged with a criminal offence has the right to a trial within a reasonable time. The courts determine what is reasonable in relation to the individual cases themselves. Although this does give the courts a lot of discretion, guidelines have been decided within case law.

The Supreme Court of Canada has set out a standard of eight to ten months for summary offences. The more serious crimes, involving a preliminary hearing and tried within the Supreme Court, are granted an additional six to eight months (Rouben, 2009). It must be noted that these are only guidelines and that each case will have its own reasoning for delay or swiftness. Each of the cases examined by Sewell was well out of the standard range for reasonable time of trial. Noting this, one can only assume that, under the circumstances, the presiding judges had just cause to dismiss the cases at hand.

It is difficult to suggest, but the investigating officers may not have been given sufficient time to gather the necessary evidence. Although this is a possibility, one would assume that, with allegations such as these, the investigating officers would have taken precautionary measures in order to ensure that a trial be held in a timely fashion. With the Crown attorney pushing for the presentation of evidence and the courts prolonged allowance of these cases to proceed, it is difficult to accept that the investigating officers did not have sufficient time to find evidence.

This leaves us with two assumptions: there was not sufficient evidence to proceed with the charges or the investigating officers were reluctant to present the evidence in order to protect their fellow officer. In order to accurately discuss the possibility of poor investigative measures as the cause of excessive delays, one must first make note of the resources needed in order to ensure that a case proceeds to trial in a timely fashion. Needed, for an accurate investigation of police misconduct, is a strong and dedicated investigative unit that is in no way influenced by a blue code when dealing with such issues.

The investigation must be thorough. It is imperative that the investigating officers be given proper resources in order to solve the matter at hand. It also requires that police act in an unreserved manner. In other words, police should investigate these issues with the same tenacity as they would other cases. Police must also avoid the “us against them” mentality (Sewell, 2010). Within the courts, delays are often caused by conflicting schedules between Crown and Defence. One must also note that defence has the right to see all evidence presented against him before trial.

If all of the evidence is not presented to the defence he can then ask that the trial be set to a later date. If the defence does have access to the evidence he must provide another reason for delay. If this reason is seen as legitimate by the courts, the trial may again be set to a later date. Most delays of police misconduct charges are caused by the investigative unit’s failure to gather sufficient evidence (Campbell, et al. , 2004). In 2001, Transparency International claimed, in a country wide study, that according to RCMP research, police corruption is not a major issue in

Canada. However, police corruption has long been a persistent issue within Canada`s law enforcement. In a 2004 article, titled “Canada’s Approach to Battling Police Corruption”, authors mention that, in recent years, incidents of police corruption and police misconduct in Canada include assaults committed by Vancouver police officers, police involvement in the freezing deaths of aboriginal men in Saskatchewan, and a litany of corruption-related charges facing members of Toronto’s Police Force (Campbell, et al. , 2004).

It is difficult to presume that these cases are in fact a proper representation of police corruption within Canada`s law enforcement. For instance it is likely that these cases represent only a few bad apples within the system. However, in a January 2003 report on the corruption crisis plaguing the Toronto Police Service, the Honourable George Ferguson, Q. C. noted that “there is overwhelming evidence that major police services have been invaded by serious police misconduct and corruption” Although we still rarely hear of any police misconduct, media is beginning to open our eyes to the many corrupted officials within law enforcement.

It may be noted that the media does not always display the proper information, but it is beginning to break into the code of silence and spread news of police misconduct (Campbell, et al. , 2004, p. 3). Given the recent proliferation of police corruption and misconduct cases drawing public attention in the media, one could assume that we no longer trust our officials as much as we once did. Although we may not always see criminal convictions as a result of police corruption, there are standard ways in which law enforcement officials deal with corruption within their profession.

For instance, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have internal disciplinary procedures used in cases of police misconduct. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act, R. S. C. , c. R-9 (the “RCMP Act”) is used to regulate police conduct. When an officer is suspected of breaching this code of conduct, senior officials may launch an investigation pertaining to the conduct at hand. If the allegations are then proven, there are two different ways in which the accused officer may be disciplined. The first form of discipline is informal punishment.

This includes counselling, a recommendation for special training, a recommendation for professional counselling, a recommendation for transfer, a direction to work under close supervision, forfeiture of up to one day of regular time off, and/or a reprimand. The second contains formal discipline. It is used only in those cases where informal punishment is not sufficient. It involves a hearing before three senior members of the RCMP. Contrary to a regular criminal hearing, the allegations must be proven on the basis of probability rather than proof without a doubt.

The sanctions imposed may include any of the informal disciplinary actions referenced above, as well as the following: dismissal; direction to resign and dismissal if the officer does not resign within 14 days; demotion; or forfeiture of pay for a period not exceeding 10 work days. Both informal and formal sanctions may be appealed (Campbell, et al. , 2004). Although these internal sanctions may act as a deterrent towards police misconduct, they may still not have as great of an impact as public sanctions would.

It can be assumed that if police misconduct is kept in silence within policing itself, it may give a perception among officers that they are above the law and that they can avoid scrutiny from the public if caught committing a criminal act. Noting this, we must also examine the importance of public trust in the policing profession. Without the trust of citizens, police are unable to properly investigate crimes, involve themselves within the community and use discretion when charging certain people. A lack of trust towards police officers reinforces the “us versus them” mentality we often see in young police today.

In saying this, it may be important that police keep these allegations silenced to avoid a waning of trust by citizens. The media will continually focus on the negative points of the police force if they are made present to the public eye. In conclusion, police must take cases of police corruption more seriously, but they must act on them in a manner that does not diminish the trust level of citizens.


Campbell, E, Mahaffy, N, Stewart, D, & Trepanier, M. (2004). Canada’s approach to battling police corruption. Miller Thomson LLP, 1-3. Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, s. 5, Part I of theConstitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982(U. K. ), 1982, c. 11 Rouben, A. (2009, June). Trial within a reasonable time. Retrieved from http://allanrouben. com/blog/2009/07/trial-within-a-reasonable-time/ Schuller, R, & Ogloff, J. (2002). Introduction to psychology and law: canadian perspectives. Toronto: University of Toronto press Sewell, J. (2010, January 11). Swell: silence on police corruption cases. Toronto Star Skolnick, J. (2002). Corruption and the blue code of silence. Policing corruption: international perspectives, 300-308.

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