Police and 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 tp complete this
report. ****** THESIS STATEMENT ****** 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. 89) Conclusion:
 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. 

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
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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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