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.
For a corrupt act to occur, three distinct elements of police corruption must be present simultaneously: 1) misuse of authority, 2) misuse of official capacity, and 3) misuse of personal attainment. (Dantzker, 1995: p 157) It can be said that power inevitably tends to corrupt, and 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. There 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, 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 consist 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, individuals 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 pushers, & 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 violators in order to avoid arrest; they have accepted bribes; they have sold narcotics. They have known of narcotics violations 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 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 NYPD 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. Be that as it may, the problem did arise 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 beginning in 1992 when five officers were arrested on drug-trafficking charges.
“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 beginnings, many aspects of policing have changed, but one thing that has not is the existence of corruption. Police agencies, in an attempt to eliminate 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. Controlling 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. Controlling 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 tolerated 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 originally 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.
Although the police agency should be the main source of controlling 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 ‘graduates’ (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.
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 acquire 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 beginning 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.