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To Protect and Collect: A Nationwide Study of Profit-Motivated Police Crime in the US

Info: 3010 words (12 pages) Essay
Published: 2nd Nov 2021 in Criminology

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Introduction

This study reviewed 1,591 cases where a nonfederal officer was arrested for one or more profit-motivated crimes between 2005–2011. These arrests included 1,396 individuals who work in 782 different U.S. law agencies in 47 states. The results of this study comprise the first systematic study of profit-inspired police crime. The study describes this type of criminal activity in terms of the characteristics of officers who commit these acts, the location, the exact charges, and the circumstances with which profit-inspired officer crimes are handled through departments and the legal system. If we are to improve the relationship of police and communities, we need to de-escalate the current while increasing accountability and visibility in an effort to change the perception and improve community policing.

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History

A challenge when studying criminal activity of police relates to the diverse scope of deeds that have been poorly defined. Police delinquency comes from a variety of ambitions. Most encompass a perversion of police authority. For the most part, there are two inspiring thought patterns for officers. The first, has been termed 'noble cause corruption' in which bad things are done to advance good ends (Caldero & Crank, 2004). Perjury and 'testilying' to obtain the conviction of criminal defendants is one example (Dershowitz, 1994a, 1994b) justifiable by 'protection of the community.' These instances utilize the officer authority external to the actual regulations, but for the perceived enhancement of the community not just for the police professional. Personal gratification either psychological, or criminal procurement of economic advantage is the focus of this study. Police authority is the illegitimate culprit that these officers use to line their pockets.

Historically, a lot of the criminal acts committed by law enforcement has been seen as very corrupt. The Knapp Commission (1972) called out opportunistic officers in New York City as 'grass eaters' who partook in minor or passive corrupt activity, and 'meat eaters' who were wholly committed to the culture of police misconduct. The Mollen Commission (1994) found that self-indulgence is the primary inspiration behind officer criminal behavior associated with corrupt acts. Subculture theories give reasons that try to explain circumstances that may lead some officers to commit crimes, especially for profitable activities. Westley (1956) and Stoddard (1968) suggest that there is an informal code in policing that dictates how most sworn law enforcement officers behave in their dealings with each other. This aligns with Vollmer's observation about the undocumented order that police officers never speak out against each other (Wickersham Commission, 1931).

Police misconduct has long been touted as 'hidden' acts that never see the light of day making them hard to find and deal with. profit-inspired officer criminal acts are a quantifiable variable that assists in understanding the natural order of police criminal acts. Typically, less experienced patrolmen are more often involved in violent crimes, other law officers of a more senior nature, commit profit-inspired crimes and are more likely to be supervisors and/or administrators (Stinson, Liederbach, & Freiburger, 2010). This study supplies a high-level view of profit-inspired police crime arrests and alleged predictors of an offender being convicted.

Methodology

This study employed the Google News search to troll the internet for criminal offenses committed by law enforcement officers. Google Alerts searches were set up using the 48 search terms developed by Stinson (2009). Email messages were sent to researchers who examined each story for validity. All stories were digitally indexed, logged, and coded for analysis. When possible, legal records were obtained and cataloged into the database. The contents of the database include arrests made for profitinspired police crime between 2005-2011 where the authority of their position was the main catalyst.

Contents of the database were coded in terms of (a) arrested officer, (b) employing agency, (c) charged criminal offense(s), (d) victim characteristics, (e) type of police crime, (f) adverse employment outcomes, and (g) criminal case dispositions. In each case every offense charged was recorded on the coding instrument as well as the most serious offense charged in each police crime arrest case. Krippendorf's alpha is often recognized as the standard reliability statistic for content analysis research (Riffe, Lacy, & Fico,2005). The Krippendorf's alpha coefficient (Krippendorf's α = .9153) is strong across the variables in this study, indicating a high level of intercoder reliability (see Krippendorff, 2013).

Results

1,591 arrests for profit-motivated crimes are in this study. 94% of the offending officers were male. 68% of the crimes was perpetrated by on duty officers. The age group with the highest crime rate was the 32-43 with nearly 46%. Patrol and street level officers represented more than 78% of the arrests. Municipal departments accounted for 1,162 offenses or 73%. Departments with more than 1,000 officers represent more than 31% of all profit-motivated crime. It is interesting that in nearly 68% of the cases the arresting agency was not the employing agency. Only 17% of the arrests were made outside of metro counties. The southern states had the most crime with over 45%.

From an offense perspective, larceny was the highest frequency with 16% followed by false pretenses and drug violations with 12.5% and 11.9% respectively.

Nearly 70% of the arrests had conviction data available. The conviction rate was almost 83%. The probability of being convicted was 109 times higher if the profit-inspired officer offense involved drugs. The chances of being convicted were greater than 23 times higher if the accused law professional ultimately lost their job. Policemen who were fired or resigned were acquitted in only 12% of the cases.

Findings show that some forms of profit-inspired illegal acts that included some form of a violent act and on-duty officer shakedowns of community members involving drugs. Findings also showed the criminal justice system was probably going to convict a police officer if that person had lost their job following the accusations. Opportunities for studies going forward should include the need to label lots of the restrictions of the news-based methodology. One of those stuck out like a sore thumb, the lack of data available on classifications of victim traits.

This study has the opportunity to improve our mastery of the profit-inspired police criminal activity through direct investigation by IDing crime patterns, the clusters of available opportunities, and the way offenders work like other profit-motivated professional criminals. Another observation is looking at the desire to have a more robust understanding of independent data on the motivational circumstances that lure some officers to commit profit-inspired acts of criminality. Officers do come across a plethora of situations that may allow for opportunity to become involved in moneymaking offenses such as a need for personal income, the stress that come from work, as well as continuous opportunities to observe the profit-inspired activities of other offenders. We do not currently have a mechanism for gathering systemic information on the personal inspirations of officers who commit profit-inspired criminal activity other than our assumptions based on conventional wisdom surrounding the vice of greed.

Validation of Reasoning for Study

The policing in America appears to be at a crossroads with the current state of crisis that is constantly portrayed in the media. Excessive force has been the primary culprit of recent encounters between officers and citizens. I agree with the study findings that police legitimacy has been questioned in several cities recently. Ferguson (MO), Baltimore (MD), Chicago (IL) have all experienced cases where police brutality or excessive force has been alleged. In chapter 12 of Police in America, public attitudes are affected by incidents such as the Rodney King beating. This has a dramatic short-term effect on attitudes towards the police. (Walker & Katz, 2012, p.385) These events have created a crisis and erosion of public trust in the police. This erosion of public trust gives this study an obvious context in current events and a heightened sense of priority to any empirical study on police corruption and crime. There are no thorough studies on the disposition and frequency of police misconduct or criminal activity which I believe validates the importance of this study.

According to Police in America, chapter 14, "The news media play an important role in police accountability." (Walker & Katz, 2012, p.493) Reported stories of law enforcement professional arrested for profit-inspired criminal activity is an example of the intentions of our research: offenders arrested for embezzlement to support a casino habits, or taking payoffs traded for political asks (Associated Press, 2006a; Parrish, 2007); officers arrested for stealing of illegal drugs, or involvement in corporate-like trafficking operations (Associated Press, 2006b; The Seattle Times, 2009); officers apprehended for multiple robbing of houses and small business; and, offenders charged for burglary and the shakedown of drug dealers involving hundreds of pounds marijuana and dozens of kilos of cocaine (Glover, 2008; Lakin, 2007).

Westley's (1956, 1970) studies in the 1950s discovered the code of secrecy that exists in police departments is used to protect the officers against the community, creating an 'us versus them' mentality for most police officers. This is also discussed in Police in America, chapter 13, "The so-called blue curtain of silence—the refusal of officers to testify against other officers." (Walker & Katz, 2012, p.446) Building on the concept of an informal social code within policing, Stoddard (1968) hypothesized that police recruits are socialized into an informal but unlawful code of secrecy that perpetuates as a process of group deviation into illegal behaviors.

I agree with the findings that it has often been discussed how chances for corruption, misconduct, and criminal behavior come specifically from the organizational environment of law enforcement. (see, Goldstein,1977; Kappeler, Sluder, & Alpert, 1998). These opportunities appear frequently in the everyday exercise of officer duties. Officers are often asked to perform solo patrols and are usually unsupervised most of the time. Police-citizen incidents happen more often in the wee hours of the morning which offer little opportunity for observation from the public. In Police in America, chapter 14, two internal mechanisms utilized to try and overcome this misconduct include routine supervision which mainly falls upon sergeants and the span of control which is the ration of officers to sergeants. It is recommended that between 8 and 10 officers per sergeant is most effective. (Walker & Katz, 2012, p.465)

Strengths, and Limitations

One weakness I found in the data collection process is the limitation of Google search data. If the parameters of the google program are unknown or change this could skew the data collected. I was impressed with the analytical step taken to ensure data reliability. An independent second coder was tasked with random sampling of 5% of the data which revealed a very high level of coding reliability. Data limitations also included only official arrest information. The report included no data on any alleged criminal activities. There were also inconsistencies by case with how much data was available and data for several variables of interest were missing from many cases. This research was focused on non-federal law enforcement. Supplemental research should include this cross-section of law enforcement officers.

Results & Summary

It is surprising that only 9 arrests out of 1,591 were associated with sexual crimes.

The study is also missing an extremely large category when it came to sex, age, and relationship of the victims. The counts were 1,325, 1,545, and 1,218 respectively. officers who committed criminal acts in our study were arrested by police employed within an agency other than their own agency in over two-thirds of all arrests in this study. The data does not specify why the department with the criminal employee did not arrest one of its own in most cases. The finding points out that profit-inspired criminal activity of officers is probably not a high priority to very many agencies. There could also be a more deviant answer. As discussed in Police in America, chapter 14 organizational culture is the determining factor if meaningful discipline occurs. The unwritten rules, customs, codes, and values create the environment. The evidence seems clear when 68% of arrests for profit-inspired police crimes have to be made by the nonemployer agency. (Walker & Katz, 2012, p.446) These types of crimes are intentionally ignored or commonly covered up within at least some agencies. This "cover-up" gives the community a lesser opinion of the community policing organization, a circumstance that highlights disputes recently occurring with a more serious level of police force, discharge of weapons. The occupational organization and culture provide criminal opportunities. These work and community acquired factors provide a structure to learn how profit-inspired criminal activity of officers occurs beyond personal characteristics or inspiration. The perpetrators are not simply greedy; they are greedy cops whose job provides criminal opportunities and forms of protection unavailable to regular citizens.

References

Associated Press. (2006a, February 10). Ramsey County officer charged with stealing county money. Duluth News Tribune.

Associated Press. (2006b, December 22). Police officer charged with using influence to distribute drugs. NewsChannel5.com.

Caldero, M. A., & Crank, J. P. (2004). Police ethics: The corruption of noble cause. Dayton, OH: Anderson Publishing Company.

Carlson, M. (2007). Order versus access: News search engines and the challenge to traditional journalistic roles. Media, Culture & Society, 29(6), 1014–1030.

Carter, D.L. (1990). Drug-related corruption of police officers: A contemporary typology. Journal of Criminal Justice, 18(2), 85–98.

Dershowitz, A.M. (1994a). The abuse excuse: And other cop-outs, sob stories, and evasions of responsibility. Boston: Back Bay Books.

Dershowitz, A.M. (1994b, May 2). Controlling the cops; Accomplices to perjury. The New York Times, p. A17.

Glover, S. (2008, January 31). Former officers convicted in home-invasion robbery trial. Los Angeles Times.

Goldstein, H. (1977). Policing a free society. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger.

Kappeler, V.E., Sluder, R.D., & Alpert, G.P. (1998). Forces of deviance: Understanding the dark side of policing. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

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Krippendorff, K. (2013). Content analysis: An introduction to its methodology (3rd ed.). Los Angeles: Sage.

Lakin, M. (2007, December 12). Man, trades police career, crime for prison. Knoxville News Sentinel.

Mollen Commission. (1994). Commission to investigate allegations of police corruption and the anti-corruption procedures of the police department: Commission report: Anatomy of failure: A path for success. New York.

Riffe, D., Lacy, S., & Fico, F.G. (2005). Analyzing media messages: Using quantitative content analysis in research (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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Stinson, P.M. (2009). Police crime: A news making criminology study of sworn law enforcement officers arrested, 2005-2007. Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, PA. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/2069/207

Stinson, P. M., Liederbach, J., Buerger, M., & Brewer, S. L. (2018). To protect and collect: a nationwide study of profit-motivated police crime. Criminal Justice Studies, 31(3), 310-331. doi:10.1080/1478601x.2018.1492919

Stinson, P.M., Liederbach, J., & Freiburger, T.L. (2010). Exit strategy: An exploration of late-stage police crime. Police Quarterly, 13(4), 413–435.

Stoddard, E.R. (1968). The informal code of police deviancy: A group approach to bluecoat crime. The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology and Police Science, 59(2), 201– 213.

The Seattle Times. (2009, March 19). Officers admitted roles in case in which cops stole drugs from dealers, then resold them. The Seattle Times.

Walker, S., & Katz, C. (2012). The Police in America: An Introduction: Eighth Edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Westley, W.A. (1956). Secrecy and the police. Social Forces, 34(3), 254–257.

Westley, W.A. (1970). Violence and the police: A sociological study of law, custom, and morality. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Wickersham Commission. (1931). United States national committee on law observance and enforcement: Report on the police. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

 

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