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Analysis Of Police Corruption Essay, Research Paper

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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