Police Cuuroption Police corruption is a complex issue. Police corruption or the abuse of authority by a police officer, acting officially to fulfill personal needs or wants, is a growing problem in the United States today. Things such as an Internal Affairs department, a strong leadership organization, and community support are just a few considerations in the prevention of police corruption. An examination of a local newspaper or any police-related publication in an urban city during any given week would most likely have an article about a police officer that got caught 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, as well as many other cities. Corruption within police departments falls into 2 basic categories, external corruption and internal corruption. In this research project, I will concentrate on external corruption. Recently, external corruption has been given the larger center of attention. 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 in the past year.
I compiled my information from a number of articles written in the New York Times over the last few years. My definitional information and background data came from books that have been written on the issues of police corruption. Those books helped me create a basis of just what the different types of corruption, as well as how and why corruption happens. Corruption in policing is usually viewed as the mistreatment of authority by police officer acting officially to fulfill personal needs or wants. For a corrupt act to occur, three distinct elements of police corruption must be present simultaneously: 1) mishandling of authority, 2) mishandling of official capacity, and 3) mishandling of personal attainment (Dantzker, 1995: p 157).
It can be said that power, inevitably tends to corrupt. It is yet to be recognized 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; their deviance 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, 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). 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 consists of one or more of the following activities: 1) Payoffs to the police, by people who essentially violate non-criminal elements, who fail to comply with stringent statutes or city ordinances. 2) Payoffs to the police, by individuals who continually break the law, using various methods to earn illegal money. 3) Clean Graft where money is paid to the 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 drug violators. In order for these violators to avoid arrest, the police officers have accepted bribes, and accepted narcotics, which they turned around and sold. These police know of the violations, and fail 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 testimonies 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 organizations. 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 New York Police Department, when they released the results of over 2 years of investigations of alleged corruption. The findings were that bribery, especially among narcotics officers, was extremely high. As a result many officers were prosecuted and many more lost their jobs. A massive re-structuring took place afterwards with strict rules and regulations to make sure that the problem would never happen again.
Of course, the problem did arise again. One of the more recent events to shake New York City and bring attention to the national problem of police corruption was brought up beginning in 1992, when five officers were arrested on drug-trafficking 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 even relieving them of drugs that he would then resell.
Soon he had formed “a crew” of 15 to 20 officers in his Brooklyn precinct that 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. Not one person had asked how he managed all of that on take-home pay of about $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 time for discipline among the police brass. Not only had some of their cops become corrupt, but also the crimes had to be uncovered and revealed by a suburban police force.
Politicians, as well as the media, started asking what had happened to the system of rooting out police corruption established 21 years ago. At the urging of the Knapp Commission, the investigative body heard Officer Frank Serpico and other police officers describe a citywide network of rogue cops(New York Times, March 29, 1993: p 8). Later, 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. Many American cities were now worried that drug money will turn their departments bad (New York Times, April 3, 1993: p. 5). 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 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). Gambling syndicates in the 1950’s 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 of 1993, 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 a 450-lb. safe from a retail store (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 1980’s, Philadelphia saw more than 30 officers convicted of taking part in a scheme to extort money from dealers. In Los Angeles, a FBI probe focusing on the LA 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 dollars 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 act quickly in response to public fears about crime.
This can also mean an influx of younger officers, and fewer numbers of well-suited, better-trained officers. This was a major reason for the …