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Corruption Within The Police Force Criminology Essay

Humanity has been in constant struggle between power and greed in order to achieve justice and social order. These two tribulations have affected the morals of society and, more importantly, the gatekeepers of the law. This impairment of judgment questions the ability of police officers to maintain order. Both power and greed have the ability to change an individual’s moral behavior and for that reason, their beliefs have changed from the overall benefit of society to their own individual scheme. (Martin, 1993) Police officers have been given a power that no other profession has in order to protect society. However, if officers become involved within the activities they have a duty to protect society from, society no longer feels safe. The corruption of authority and abuse of power becomes possible when officers lose sight of their profession and focus more towards the gains by neglecting the public. (Bernard, Snipes, Vold, 2002) Consequently, society becomes the victim when officers realize their authority and misconduct occurs.

Eventually, the public became frustrated and fed up with the constant abuse of the system and the amount of corruption. Events such as the New York City Police corruption scandal have become a catalyst of change when the public battles back to hold officers accountable. Actions by individuals such as Frank Sepico have shown that misconduct should not be tolerated and that something should be done to prevent it. Furthermore, Ontario is no exception to the issue of corruption through the two illustrated incidents of corruption within the Toronto Police Service. These highlighted situations and more, resulted in the radical change throughout the years in an attempt to deter misconduct and corruption. For Ontario, the Police Service Boards, Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services and the Special Investigations Unit are task forces put in place by the trusting public in order to ensure the accountability of all police officers. Society will no longer tolerate abuse towards the system and for that reason these legislative bodies were designed to punish anyone who was.

ABUSE OF THE SYSTEM

Abusing authority has been consistently uncontrolled in society ever since power was introduced to law officials. As society changed and developed over the years, so did the powers of police officers that guarded that social body. Numerous counts of police corruption and abuse began to come to light during the post war era of the 1950’s and 1960’s. (Perez, Berg, Myers; 2003) The increase in police complaints and documented cases began to rise as the mentality of society began to change. Society no longer tolerated the lack of accountability towards police officers. Additionally, the United States was also witnessing a substantial rise in police corruption and riots were beginning to take place because of this issue. Social change and action then took place during the 1970’s as society began to illustrate no more tolerance towards misguided actions and abuse of authority by the police. (Perez, Berg, Myers; 2003) The emerging ideologies and change in morals created an opportunity, for those in a position to create change within the system, to realize their potential.

New York City in the 70’s was in a broken down state both literally and morally and the distinction between police and criminals was barely visible. A commission to oversee police corruption did not exist and superior officers refused to deal with the issue of corruption within the police organization. (Braziller, 1972) Consequently, corruption and criminal activity within the police force went uncontrolled. The profession of a police officer was no longer that of someone who upheld the law but rather a position that thrived on greed and power. Without any preventative legal body to deter criminals from committing crime, only increasing it, the city of New York fell deeper into a state of despair. (Sherman, 1974) Furthermore, even honest officers were powerless to report or take action against the corruption within the police force without the fear of ridicule, isolation or worse. Thus the atmosphere of the police department was a state of crime, corruption and dishonesty, inside and outside of the police organization. (Sherman, 1974)

Honest police officers were a rarely seen and for those who were, they were shunned or threatened. Most officers in the police department were corrupt and bribery was a common practice. (Hindriks, 1999) Superiors would normally look the other way which allowed the practice to continue. (Champion, 2001) As mentioned before, any officer that wished to end this corruption would be faced with ridicule and isolation, as was the case with Frank Serpico. In his attempts to stop corruption within the force, he was faced with threats and isolated so that the police organization could remain corrupt. (Champion, 2001) This was the way many police organizations were and wished to continue being. Officers were comfortable with this lifestyle and did not want it to change. Police would often do anything possible to prevent this change from happening. Many officers who wished to report the corrupt actions of other officers were deterred by the consequences they would face if they did so. (Guyout, 1991) For this reason, corruption remained to go on, uncontrolled, within police organizations and not be reported.

Despite the level of corruption, the threats of isolation and the ridicule, one man bravely stepped up to take action against the corruption. Frank Serpico joined the New York City Police on September 11th, 1959 and served as a police officer for twelve years. (Champion, 2001) Through Frank’s experience, on several occasions he has tried to report abuse towards the system by fellow officers only to have it silenced by superior officers. Frustrated on his pleas going nowhere, Frank took his story to the New York Times. (Champion, 2001) There, Frank provided all the information he had and subsequently the New York Times published an article exposing the corruption within the New York City Police. As a result, the Mayor of New York, John Lindsay, took action and appointed Judge Whittman Knap to head the Knapp Commission in order to investigate the corruption problem within police organizations. (Guyout, 1991) The investigation was launched on June 1970 and as a result, several officers were charged in connection to corruption within the police force. (Braziller, 1972) The Knapp Commission issued its final report on December 27th, 1972, stating its findings and recommendations. In the article, the Knapp Commission stated that officers were classified as either “grass or meat eaters.” (Braziller, 1972) According the Knapp Commission, those who were “grass eaters” were officers that acted corrupt when an opportunity to do so was presented. (Braziller, 1972) These officers believed that it was appropriate to accept bribes and act corrupt because of influence by veteran officers. However, “meat-eaters” would look for any opportunity in which extortion could be possible and act corrupt (Braziller, 1972) The Knapp Commission, as a result, issued the following recommendations:

Supervisors should be held accountable for officers actions

Supervisors should file reports where corruption may occur

Field offices of Internal Affairs should be created at every precinct

Under cover informants need to be placed in every division

Police attitude needs to be changed

(Braziller, 1972)

These recommendations were put into action within the New York City Police and as a result, the number of experiences involving corruption with the public reduced. Although, corruption still persists within police organizations, Frank Serpico acted as a catalyst towards creating a modern day corruption commission. Since then, other police forces have adopted the recommendations of the Knapp Commission or formed commissions of their own in order to investigate misconduct within their police organizations. (Braziller, 1972) The New York City Police, however, were not the only organization to experience corruption and misconduct. When looking more close to home, incidents of misconduct were also experienced within the Toronto Police Service during 2003 and 2004.

In August of 2003, Constable Roy Preston was charged and convicted with assault on a suspect and was sentenced to thirty days in prison. His ordeal, took place after the constable was recorded on camera, assaulting a suspect outside a Rexdale shop. (Pron, 2007) Officers had arrived on scene and witnessed one man on the ground and the suspect standing by him. Constable Preston believed that the suspect was going to assault the man on the ground and, for that reason, ordered the suspect to move. According to Preston, when the suspect refused a lawful order, Constable Preston punched the suspect in the face in order “to bring him under control to ensure officer safety.” (Pron, 2007) However, when the recording of the incident was brought to light, it also brought along a different side of the story. In the video, the constable was seen approaching the suspect at a swift rate while the suspect was moving back showing no resistance to the officer before the officer struck the suspect in the face. (Pron, 2007) This shocking recording showed that not only was the suspect a victim to a brutal assault by police but he was also falsely charged with assault. Along with that false charge, the suspect also had fifteen other allegations presented against him. Constable Preston deemed it necessary to fabricate evidence in order to cover up his own criminal behavior. (Pron, 2007)

This form of violence committed by police officers towards innocent individuals is often the hot topic of media for the public. It’s the most illustratable form of corruption and a poor standard of police morals. However, what the public often do not see is that police officers often fall victim to another form of corruption which is non-violent such as the acceptance of bribes and kickbacks.

In February 2004, Constable Paul Stone pulled a vehicle over for speeding. (CBC, 2006) When the officer approached the vehicle and began his inquiry into why the suspect was speeding, the officer noticed that the suspect had appeared to have been drinking. Upon the suspicion, Officer Stone asked the suspect for a breath sample from the driver, who refused. For this reason, the suspect was placed under arrest and was placed in the back of the officers’ car. (CBC, 2006)As it turns out, the suspect was a well known owner of a Yorkville restaurant. The suspect also showed an honorary Toronto Police Association badge with his name inscribed on it and mentioned to the officer that the Director of the Police Union was a friend of his. (CBC, 2006) The officer then released the suspect without documenting any occurrence. It was later discovered that the officer agreed to let the suspect go in return for hockey tickets. (CBC, 2006) Officer Stone was soon after found guilty of police misconduct under the Police Services Act. He received a punishment of a demotion to third class constable for fifteen months which would result in a decrease in pay. (CBC, 2006) This demonstration of police oversight shows that officers are held accountable in order to ensure the integrity of the force from officers who abuse the system.

Presently there are numerous investigative units in active service which serve to prevent practices of corruption. Many people realized that the issue of corruption was a large problem which needed a solution and as a response, investigative bodies were founded to investigate and punish those who were abusing the system. As mentioned earlier, in the 70’s, police organizations did not have a third party investigative body to oversee the actions of police. For this reason, investigations by the police for misconduct were corrupt and bias within themselves. (Marin, 1997) In current standards of law enforcement, there are many independent civilian governed groups which investigate the police for issues regarding corruption and misconduct.(McKenna, 2005) Groups such as the SIU and OCCOPS, now known as the OIPRD, have been established to deal with these issues. Although corruption and misconduct will likely continue, these able bodied committees are designed to reduce the number in order to deter criminal activity within the police organization. This effort is to ensure that the fight against crime is focused more towards the street then it is within the police force. The following are legislative bodies put into place for that exact reason.

POLICE SERVICE BOARDS

By creating a system through which matters regarding police misconduct can be investigated through a civilian oversight, the more effective a police organization can be towards policing. This system of civilian governance can help to deter corruption within the police organization. The current system in place utilized in Ontario branches from its historical governance of civilian oversight. In 1858, the Municipal Institutions of Upper Canada Act was introduced which ““helped provide authority for local governments to operate police departments.” (McKenna, 2005) This legislation ensured that all policing bodies were overseen by a board of commissioners which consisted of three members: a major in jurisdiction, a recorder and a police magistrate. (Goff, 2004) The crucial note about this legislation was that the recorder and the magistrate were chosen by the crown and were not members of the police force. The board was to consist of members of the public for the purpose of eliminating any bias or prejudice there may be towards a complaint or governance issue generated by the public. However, as time went on, the model continued to evolve through changing societies. (McKenna, 2005) This change happened in order to ensure that the form of governance was capable of detecting and eliminating any misconduct. In 1997, the Police Services Act was amended once more in order to meet the requirements of the changing society and created the boards which govern police today.

Part III of the Police Services Act is responsible for the civilian oversight role of the police services boards. In it, it states that the police service board is responsible for the effectiveness of its policing body and:

Appoint members of the police force.

Determine priorities of police services

Establish policies

Monitor performance of police

Review complaints and issues of misconduct and corruption

(McKenna, 2005)

The size of the board depends on the population within its jurisdiction. According to the Police Services Act, a police force which has a population of 25,000 or less must have three members. If a police service has a population over 25,000, then there must be five members and any service which has over 300,000 must have seven members. (Mckenna, 2005) The changes that were made to the Police Services Act in 1997 also included that “a judge, justice of the peace, police officer, or person practicing law could not sit on the board.” (McKenna, 2005) The police service board helps to eliminate corruption and misconduct by dealing with complaints of a police officer by the public and any other member of the police service. They are entitled to conduct investigations, trials and even lay charges against those who are convicted of misconduct. (McKenna, 2005) The board’s civilian oversight acts as a third party body which, in itself, helps to eliminate any guilty party that seeks to create injustice within the system.

ONTARIO CIVILIAN COMMISSION ON POLICE SERVICES (OCCOPS)

The major function of the police service board is to ensure that police officers are governed. However, when it comes to complaints regarding police, OCCOPS major function is to investigate them and pass the information forward to the service boards for further action. (OCCOPS, 2002) OCCOPS is responsible for the accountability of police while also playing a critical role with police discipline and public complaints. The group was originally formed in 1962 and was formally known as the Ontario Police Commission. This commission had the same basic duties and responsibilities as it does today. (McKenna, 2005) However, certain areas were changed as society evolved in order to meet standards and provide better service to the community. In 1997, the Police Services Act created a change which made it easier for the public to issue complaints. Part II of the Police Services Act outlines the responsibilities of OCCOPS:

Conduct investigations into police matters involving complaints or misconduct

Conduct inquires into matters relating to crime and law enforcement involving complaints or misconduct.

Conduct inquires on own motion in respect of complaint(s) made about police service/officer.

Hearing and disposing of appeals made by members of police forces and complaints.

(Mckenna, 2005)

Furthermore, in relation to OCCOPS responsibilities is if an officer is found guilty to be acting corruptly or in neglect of duty, the commission has the power to impose penalties upon the members. Penalties such as dismissal, removal and demotion are all possible consequences. (OCCOPS, 2002) However, as of October 19, 2009, the Government of Ontario established a new organization to take over the complaint system of police officers. The new oversight committee, titled the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), has the same overall duty and responsibility. The exception is that the OIPRD is to provide increased transparency in order to have increased amount of outside involvement within its case load. The OIPRD is accountable to the Attorney General but the day to day decisions are carried out by the committee. This ensures that the decisions made by the OIPRD are independent and are separate from the government, the police and community. (About the OIPRD, 2009) OCCOPS, now known as the OIPRD, is a valuable aspect in deterring police misconduct as the public can rest assured that all matters of corruption will be investigated by this committee or a committee designated by the OIPRD.

SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT (SIU)

The Special Investigations Unit helps to govern the accountability of police although its primary function is to investigate occurrences involving police officers where a serious injury or death has occurred. (Mckenna, 2005) All investigations that the SIU conduct are occurrences within the province of Ontario, whether it is provincial, regional or municipal police officers. (Mckenna, 2005) The Director of the SIU can initiate an investigation at any time when a situation has occurred within its legislative authority, such as serious injury or death. Historically, the Special Investigations Unit was formed in 1988 and was known as the Ontario Race Relations and Policing Task Force. It primarily concerned itself with issues “relating to the integrity of the process by which police conducted investigations.” (Mckenna, 2005) Although the introduction of the task force was welcomed, criticism still dawned on the task force due to members of society still feeling uneasy about the way investigations were conducted regarding police shootings. These concerns prompted the task force to make recommendations in its 1989 report to the Solicitor General which stated that an investigative body should be created for the purpose of investigating police shootings. (Mckenna, 2005) For this reason, on August 18, 1990, the Special Investigations Unit was created through changes made in the Police Services Act. (Goff, 2004) The SIU was governed through part VII of the Police Services Act and was required to report to the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General. The laying of charges against an officer was at the discretion of the investigators. Although more serious forms of misconduct is investigated by the SIU, the unit plays a role to help keep society safe from violent corruption of police officers.

CONCLUSION

Police misconduct and corruption will continue to occur as police work to take down crime. However, with civilian bodies in place to oversee the actions of officers, it is evident that these civilian oversight committees are deterring corrupt activities. Ultimately police officers are only human and at the end of the day, they are no different from making mistakes then the rest of society is. They are held up to higher standards and for that reason; boards and committees will hold them accountable to their decisions and actions. The abuse of the system is unacceptable to society and to the standards of policing. The abuse of the system is a disrespectful act towards society and the importance of duty. This then leads to a “perception that the police are not to be trusted and respect for the police and laws they enforce diminishes.” (JHSA, 2007) Through the Police Service Boards, OIPRD and the SIU, society can be rest assured that accountability and responsibility is taken for all police actions. As Martin Luther King stated “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (Champion, 2001) For that reason, Ontario will continue to play its part to ensure that injustice is not here.

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