History Of Police Corruption Essay, Research Paper
History of Police Corruption in the United States
The challenges facing the Chicago Police Department today are not new, nor are they unique to this city. The problem reaches back as far as the establishment of the first organized police forces in the United States. Corruption has taken many forms and has continued to plague the police departments of nearly every major city.
Police corruption may change form over time, but its roots are firmly planted in American history. In The Development of the American Police: An Historical Overview, Uchida notes that “if there is a common theme that can be used to characterize the police in the 19th Century, it is the large-scale corruption that occurred in most police departments across the United States” (Uchida, 1993). In Forces of Deviance: Understanding the Dark Side of Policing, Kappeler, Sluder, and Alpert point out that corruption among police is not new or peculiar to the late 20th century. “To study the history of police is to study police deviance, corruption and misconduct.” (Kappeler et al., 1994.)
While corruption has been a consistent and pervasive problem in law enforcement, the nature of corrupt activity has changed dramatically over the years. The trend to “professionalize” police forces through improved recruitment, training, salaries, and working conditions has resulted in fewer corrupt officers who, unfortunately, are now involved in more serious criminal activities. Low-level passive forms of corruption (i.e., systemic bribery schemes, non-enforcement of the law, collusion) have been replaced by more aggressive forms of corruption. Today’s police corruption is most likely to involve drugs, organized crime, and relatively sophisticated but small groups of officers engaged in felonious criminal activities.
The cycle of police scandals in New York City provide a clear example of this trend. In the 1970s, New York’s Knapp Commission on Police Corruption identified two general forms of corruption — police officers involved in relatively low level forms of corruption and misconduct, and those officers involved in large scale corruption. Twenty years later, New York’s Mollen Commission revisited the issue and found the face of corruption had changed. Their primary problem was “crew corruption,” wherein groups of officers protect and assist each others’ criminal activities. The Mollen Commission identified the predominant patterns of corruption in New York City as police officers committing outright theft from street dealers, from radio runs, from warrantless searches, from legitimate raids, from car stops, from drug couriers, and from off-duty robberies. They also discovered cops protecting and assisting narcotics traffickers as well as cops dealing and using illicit drugs themselves. A pattern of perjured police testimony and false crime reports was also identified in New York.
New York is not the only city to experience a drug-related police corruption scandal. Virtually every major U.S. police department has confronted similar problems. Cities visited by Commission representatives have grappled with the following problems:
Miami has been rocked with a series of drug-related corruption cases. In its most notorious case, the “Miami River Cops Scandal,” seventeen police officers stole cash and millions of dollars in drugs from drug dealers, sold the drugs, and caused at least three deaths. The scandal resulted in the arrest, suspension or punishment of more than 100 police officers.
For six months in 1994, as many as 29 New Orleans police officers protected a cocaine supply warehouse containing 286 pounds of cocaine. The FBI indicted ten officers who had been paid nearly $100,000 by undercover agents. The investigation ended abruptly after one officer successfully orchestrated the execution of a witness.
Since 1995, ten police officers from Philadelphia’s 39th District have been charged with planting drugs on suspects, shaking down drug dealers for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and breaking into homes to steal drugs and cash.
By 1994, 27 Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and one Los Angeles police officer had been convicted of skimming millions of dollars of drug money while they were members of an elite anti-narcotics unit. A convicted deputy stated that they stole $60 million seized in drug raids in one two-year period alone.
In 1991, nine officers were charged with conspiracy to abet the distribution of cocaine, attempted money laundering and other charges. The officers served as escorts for shipments of what they believed to be drug money and cocaine.