Police Corruption Above The Law Criminology Essay

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Police corruption is the simple product of Marxian theory. In this case, the means of production are simply the power that people of the law possess and their ability to bend it to suit their own selfish desires. The cause is our cash driven society that inspires greed even in the hearts of those who are supposed to protect us. Civilians and law enforcement officers alike will continue to be effected by this problem. Since its beginnings, many aspects of policing have changed; one aspect that has remained relatively unchanged is the existence of corruption. If you look in a local newspaper, it is likely that you will find an article about a police officer that has been arrested for committing some kind of corrupt act. Officers have been stealing money from dealers and distributing drugs themselves. They are protected, hiding behind badges that they proudly display. The way to solve this problem comes from either Weber's ideal system of nobility or Durkheimian theory where corruption would be intolerable and quickly unveiled from the inside. Citizens of the community are responsible for bringing about these changes in our society. Only with a system that rewards dedication, bravery, and ethical behavior will law enforcement be turned away from a life of corruption.

Like it or not, power tends to lead to corruption. It is no surprise citizens are often shocked and outraged when police officers are exposed in violating the law. The truth is that police are human and just as susceptible to greed and unethical behavior just as anyone else. The term corruption simply refers to the use of authority by a police officer to fulfill personal needs or wants. There are three simple criteria for a "corrupt act" which must all happen simultaneously: 1) misuse of authority, 2) misuse of official capacity, and 3) misuse of personal attainment. (Dantzker, 1995)

Essentially, police corruption falls into two major categories-- external corruption, which concerns police interaction with the public, and internal corruption, which involves the relationships among co-workers within the department. The external corruption generally consists of one or 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, and 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)

When cities enlarge their police forces quickly in response to public fears about crime, it can also mean an influx of younger and less qualified 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 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 did not get the quality of officers we should have,'' says department spokesman Dave Magnusson. (Carter, 1989) 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)

This is a prime example of a corrupt force attempting to protect their own. This kind of behavior is tantamount to the actions of the mafia. We are being policed by the gangs.

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.

This is where Marxian Theory really tackles our system. We find ourselves stuck in a culture that monetarily awards those who actively violate the law. Officers capitulate to the rule of dollar. An absolute cultural upheaval for a system of honor is needed to replace our current system of reward to the devious.

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, 1993) In the years after it was established, following thee 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. However, 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 ranks 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, 1993) 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 has recommended the implementation of an outside monitoring agency, a move that Kelly and other police commissioners 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, 1993) 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 have come out in the hearings is a culture within the department which seems to permit corruption to exist," says Walter Mack, a onetime 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, 1993) Dowd, who was sentenced prison on guilty pleas, put it another way. "Cops don't want to turn in other cops," he said. "Cops don't want to be a rat." In addition, even when honest cops are willing to be whistleblowers, there may not be anyone willing to listen. (New York Times, 1993)

Is there a solution to the police corruption problem? Police agencies, in an attempt to eliminate corruption have tried everything from increasing salaries, requiring more training, education, and developing policies which are intended to focus directly on factors leading to corruption. What have these changes done to eliminate or even decrease the corruption problem? Little to nothing. Despite police departments' attempts to control corruption, it still occurs. Regardless, 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 our culture's worship of the dollar. Therefore, control must come from not only the police department, but also must require the assistance and support of the community leaders.

A way that police agencies can control its corruption problem starts in the hiring process and throughout in the officers' career. Ethical decisions and behavior should be promoted, because failing to do so makes officers aware of the consequences of corruption and 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 needed to prevent many officers from being tempted into falling for corrupt behavior. However a system of fear is the least effective because there are always those who are willing to risk the consequences. Although the police agency could be the main source of controlling its own corruption problem, support and assistance from the local community is also required. It is important that the public be educated to the negative effects of corruption on their police agency. They should be taught that even 'gratitudes' (the most basic and common form of police corruption) is only a catalyst for further future corruption. Actual cultural revolution/renaissance would stand to change the way in which the police force views their duty. By revamping our system to a code of military like honor, the problem of corruption would fade away. Unfortunately, this is either not going to happen or won't happen until our country's citizens rise up against the corrupt overseers. Since this may take a while the community should establish review boards and investigative bodies to help keep a careful eye on the agency. If we do not act to try to control it, the costs can be enormous, because it affects not only the individual, the department and the law enforcement community as a whole, but society as well. Police corruption can be controlled; it just takes a little extra effort. Moreover, in the End, that effort will be well worth it to both the agency and the community. (Walker, 1992) 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 can be solved, it just depends on the people's willingness to express their anger toward the situation and do something about it. 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. Concluding the effects of corruption leads to community mistrust and even dismissal of police cases.