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Analysis of Police Corruption


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 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.

 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 
provide service to the public. 

Works Cited

Beals, Gregory (1993, Oct 21). Why Good Cops Go Bad. Newsweek, p. 18.

Carter, David L. (1986). Deviance & Police. Ohio: Anderson Publishing 

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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