Thursday, May 6, 2010

Causes of Police Corruption

As many have questioned, what leads to police corruption? What has caused an officer to become so unethical? Is it as simple as a few bad apples are going to fall from the tree? Is it the opportunity that presents itself?

There is a list of constant and variable factors that, when combined, often lead to police corruption. The constant factors consist of:
  1. Discretion - Descrition has both bad and good qualities. If used correctly discretion should not be a problem, but when taken advantage of discretion is a huge problem.
  2. Low managerial visibility - Officers do a majority of their work with very little supervision. The managers are not there watching over their shoulder to make sure they are doing everything correctly.
  3. Low public visibility - A majority of what an officer does is not seen by the public.
  4. Peer group secrecy - Officers have a strong bond with one another. Internal solidarity and secrecy is a large part of police culture.
  5. Managerial secrecy - Most managers have worked their way up from an entry level officer and have a lot of values in common with those they manage.
  6. Status problems - Police officers are often underpaid compared to the amount of power they have.
  7. Association with lawbreakers/contact with temptation - Police are always coming into contact with people who break the law and may have a access to resources. (Newburn, 1999)
The variable factors consist of:
  1. Community structure - Police are often influenced by politics, culture, and the standards and norms of those surrounding them.
  2. Organizational characteristics - "Levels of bureaucracy, integrity of leadership, soliditary of work subcultures, moral career stages of police officers, and the perception of legitimate opportunities." (Newburn, 1999)
  3. Legal opportunities for corruption - Crimes that are considered victimless crimes and using minor or trivial regulations, such as construction, traffic and licensing, for exploitation.
  4. Corruption controls - How the police are policed themselves.
  5. Social organization of corruption - Take place in ways of an arrangement or an event.
  6. Moral cynicism - Due to the inevitable association with those who break the law and the contact of temptation, officers are often directed towards moral cynicism. (Newburn, 1999)
As the factors are presented, we can see that there are multiple reasons that lead an officer to engaging in corrupt behavior. Usually an officer would start at an entry level position and start to get to know the department and their policies. Once an officer gets comfortable with their environment and the department, they will start to use their discretion to their advantage, knowing that they are not being closely supervised. An officer may start by performing some small type of corrupt activity, such as taking a candy bar at the convenience store and then gradually grow into more serious corrupt activities. As the officer gets away with one thing after another, he will gain more and more courage to engage in larger and more serious corrupt behavior.

In order to prevent police corruption from occurring there should be more consequences, even for actions that don't seem to matter. The small corrupt activities need to be noticed and brought to the officer's attention that what they did was unethical and that any further corrupt activity will lead to more serious consequences. A police officer has a lot of power and the power should not be used unethically to engage in corrupt behavior(s).


Newburn, T., Understanding and preventing police corruption: lessons from the literature. Policing and Reducing Crime Unit: Police Research Series. . 1999.

Punch, M., Police corruption and its prevention. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research. 2000.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Bad Reputation

Knowing that the BART shooting that took place last year is still a rather heated topic, I have been avoiding it. Although, as the topic of this blog pertains to police corruption, I believe this is an essential incident to include.
On New Year's Day in 2009, several BART officers pulled two groups on men off a BART train when they were engaged in a conflict. Among the men who were pulled off the train was an African American male, Oscar Grant. Grant and the officers were verbally engaged with one another when Grant stood up and was therefore physically forced to the ground by a few officers. As Grant was lying face down on the platform, one of the officers, Johannes Mehserle, took a step back, pulled out his gun, aimed it at and shot Grant in the back.
Those who witnessed the incident and heard about it shortly after were outraged. The first thing that came to everyone's mind was police corruption. In today's society, anything that pertains to a police officer being in the wrong is automatically viewed as police corruption, whether it was intentional or not. Demonstrators held violent protests in Oakland and continued to make their voice be heard. The violence and death threats were so bad that the trial of Mehserle was moved to Los Angeles.
It is understandable that people are upset, mourning a loss, and even angry. It is also understandable that the whole BART shooting was a mistake. Watch the video and pay close attention to Mehserle's face. He reaches for his taser in the midst of struggling with Grant, points it at him, and pulls the trigger. Immediately after the shot rang out, you can without a doubt see the panic set in. Mehserle was shocked. He had grabbed his gun instead of his taser. Any person who really pays attention can see how his reactions clearly show that pulling out his gun and shooting Grant was not Mehserle's intention. Although, it does not matter what Mehserle's intentions were, all that mattered was that he just fatally shot a young man.
Due to the history of police corruption and brutality, people think that the police are out to get them. The police must be horrible, untrustworthy people. The police are always corrupt and kill innocent people. The truth of the matter is that police are people. The police are not perfect, they make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes are bigger and worse than others.
There is no way to bring back a person who has passed, and it is a shame that Mehserle made a mistake. It is a shame that everyone points fingers at him and label him a "murderer."
The history of police corruption has made every mistake an officer does, a crime.


KGO-TV, Officer-involved shooting at bart station kills one. January 1, 2009.

Bulwa, D., Burress, C. Stannard, M.B., and Kuruvila, M. Protests over bart shooting turn violent.
San Francisco Chronicle. January 8, 2009.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Unethical and Illegal

Law enforcement personnel who are stealing drugs is a very common form of corruption. A law enforcement employee usually steals drugs for one of two reasons: 1) for personal use or 2) to sell them. Drugs play a large role in the American society and police are always confiscating drugs from people they come in contact with, therefore the drugs are definitely available.
A recent case that was highly publicized is that of the San Fransisco crime l
ab technician, Deborah Madden, who was caught stealing small amounts of Cocaine that was intended to be evidence. The scandal was a huge embarrassment on behalf of all law enforcement officials in San Francisco and now the community has lost trust in them. The scandal has jeopardized other areas of the crime lab as well, including the DNA and firearms sections. The District Attorney's office felt as if they could not trust the evidence that was being evaluated at that crime lab due to the tampering, resulting in 550 cases that have either been dropped or not charged and another 1,400 that are being reviewed still. (Collins & Donald)
The crime lab technician was using the stolen Cocaine for her own personal use. The employee
obviously had an addiction to the Cocaine since she continuously stole it. How come none of her coworkers noticed something was off? It is understandable that Madden was good at hiding the scandal she was committing, but what about the way she acting due to using the Cocaine? The evidence was not being taken care of as well as it should have been. If the evidence was monitored more closely and more rules were in place then this would not have gone undetected as long as it did. The evidence needs to be seen and measured and analyzed by more than one technician. The evidence tape that seals the bag needs to be taken more seriously. There needs to be documentation of who has what evidence and what they did with it and the data they collected for it.
When there are so many problems with the process in which evidence is handled then it is understandable that the public would lose trust in the system. Why should they believe that everything is being done correctly when the corruption in the crime lab is exposed. Of course, not all employees are going to try and run a scandal, but one person ruins it for the rest and may make their jobs a little bit harder and more tedious. The only way to get rid of corruption problems is to have more of a checks and balances within each department, so it is not so easy to get away corrupt activities.


Collins, Terry and Donald, Brooke.
Sf crime lab scandal strains justice system. Sacramento Bee. April 2, 2010.

Carter, David. Drug-related corruption of police officers: A contemporary typology. Journal of Criminal Justice. Volume 18. Issue 2. July 16, 2006.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Above the Law

Many people may not consider this topic to specifically be police corruption, but it is something that an officer does that is not lawful, and unethical. Recently an on call deputy with the Sacramento County Sheriff's department plead guilty to having sex with a 13 year-old girl that he picked up while on duty and took to a hotel in Lincoln. The former deputy, Eric Cephus, made a plea bargain in which he will only serve 18 years in prison and have to register as a sex offender, instead of serving life in prison. This incident is not the first time that a Sacramento County Sheriff's deputy has severely broken the law. Previous incidents include the following:
  • "In January 2009, Dr. Peter Dietrich, the department's doctor overseeing medical care at the jail, was arrested on charges of overprescribing OxyContin."
  • "Three months later, Deputy Chu Vue was arrested for allegedly masterminding the murder of his wife's lover, a correctional officer."
  • "In September, Deputy Lisa Gargano was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of prescription drugs after she crashed her sport-utility vehicle into a Natomas Starbucks."
  • "The next month, Lt. Michael Patrick Leary was arrested in connection with a real estate transaction that authorities allege was designed to defraud a former girlfriend." (Minugh and Fletcher, 2010)
Once a person becomes a police officer, they often change the way they think and look at things. This "cop mentality" is present in all officers. Once an officer, one is more aware of their surroundings, thinks about situations as right and wrong under the law, interprets the law, and makes many instant decisions. Not all officers take advantage of being an officer. What is meant by that is, not all officers are going to walk into a store and expect to get a free soda just because they are an officer. Going even further into depth with this subject, the free soda turns into stealing a candy bar while working a crime scene, stealing a candy bar turns into taking home and keeping a department camera, and so on. The point of this is that once the officer gets away with doing one thing, the severity of the following actions increases. Eventually we reach a point where the officer believes that he is above the law. The law simply does not apply to that officer because he is a police officer. Police officers will practice extraordinary discretion in order to do a favor for other officers. At first officers tend to get away with their actions but as they progressively get worse, a line is drawn. No officer should be treated as they are above the law. Laws are not created solely for law enforcement officials to enforce them, but for them to be followed by everyone. Including officers.


Minugh, Kim and Fletcher, Ed
. Sacramento on-call deputy accused of sexual assault of 13-year-old. Sacramento Bee. March 4, 2010.

Newton, Jim. Shaking the 'Warrior Cop' Mentality a Test of City's Will. Los Angeles Times. July 16, 2006.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Corruption Within the Government

When officials are corrupt, the trust of the public in those officials begins to diminish. When the trust of the public is no longer instilled in government agencies then all means of order will lead to chaos. In the United States there have been times of chaos, particularly remembering the protests of the Vietnam War and the Rodney King riots. Although corruption has not disappeared in the United States, there is a strong source of police corruption in Afghanistan.

As more and more American troops are sent to Afghanistan to train the Afghan National Police and Army, it is brought to our attention that the Afghan government will not improve unless the corruption comes to a halt. The government uses all of its officials to make additio
nal profit off of the Afghan's. With the continuous corruption the Afghan's have lost trust in the government and the American troops struggle to help. Such corruption of the Afghanistan government include, "police officials who steal truckloads of gasoline; judges and prosecutors who make decisions based on bribes; high-ranking government officials who reap payoffs from hashish and chromite smuggling; and midlevel security and political jobs that are sold, sometimes for more than $50,000, money the buyers then recoup through still more bribes and theft." (NYTimes, 2009)

When trust is not instilled in the government the community is soon uncontrollable. The police will not be called to come make peace because they are not trusted, resulting in Afghans taking it upon themselves to serve justice. A situation like this can only get worse, citizens will be injured and killed, and when that happens the Afghans will once again take it upon themselves to make sure justice is served. Without trust in the government, the pattern of behavior will turn into a never ending vicious circle. The government may try to enact a new law, but the law will not be followed.

The only people who will "play along" with the government are those who are wealthy enough to afford to pay off the government as needed. If a family member is in trouble with the law, they slip money under the table and the prosecutor settles. When jobs are being bought into and the higher officials reap the benefits, what is the motivation to stop this disastrous pattern?

There is no feasible answer to this situation that includes leaving the government operating as it is, as well as leaving all of the current administrators in charge. In order to fix the corrupt government in Afghanistan there needs to be a new administration team brought it that really cracks down on what government officials are and are not allowed to do. Of course this will not stop all of the corruption at once, there will still be corruption in the lower levels of the government that goes unseen and unheard of. But when the corruption surfaces, there should be disciplinary actions to those who participated in the corrupted activity. A severe consequence is needed to show that corruption is absolutely not tolerated.

As the citizens of Afghanistan see the improvement and new administration in the government they will slowly start to give the government and chance and gain trust back, but it will not be easy. It will take a very, very long time for Afghans to fully trust the government. Possibly even years, or decades, but they need to start somewhere.


New York Times. Corruption Undercuts Hopes for Afghan Police. NYTIMES . April 8, 2009.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hiding Corruption From Corruption

Recently there has been discussion of whether or not officer corruption led to a brutal, double murder. Nottinghamshire police was tracking a gang led by Colin Gunn for a year when Joan and John Stirland were shot and killed. The Stirland's son had shot one of Gunn's friends and Gunn was looking for revenge. Initially the Stirlands were shot at outside their Nottinghamshire home when they decided to flee to Lincolnshire, where they were tracked down and killed in August 2004.

Former employees of Nottinghamshire Police Department provided statements indicating that they wanted to keep information about tracking Gunn's gang private, even from other colleagues, so they proceeded to meet in a non-police affiliated place and discuss their hidden intelligence operation. An officer stated that "there were suspicions within the force officers were leaking information to criminals," as for "we were very concerned about corruption, we did not want to put intelligence on to an open system that might get into the hands of the crime group and alert them to the fact we existed." (BBC, 2010) None of the officers on the case spoke with or interacted with other officers in the force, which led to an overall disappearance of the team. When the team had information in 2002 that Gunn had a caravan on the East coast, it is questionable whether someone warned the Stirlands not to go there.

Currently there is a jury trial being held, questioning whether the police failed to protect the couple as well as they should have and if police corruption contributed to Mr. and Mrs. Stirland's death. Some other officers believe that more could have been done to protect the couple.

The underlying issue here is whether or not there was corruption in the police force. How did the team that was tracking the gang not know where the gang was headed? Was information leaked?

It seems very suspicious that a police team organized primarily to track one particular gang had no idea that they were on their way to kill the Stirland's. Gunn's gang may have found out, or done tracking of their own, to locate the Stirland's, but the police knew where the Stirland's were located and it seems as if no one went to warn them about Gunn being in the area. The team was so worried about the corruption of other officers in the police force, outside of their team, that they didn't question the corruption of the officers within their team. Someone was not doing their job as well as they could have been. If the team failed to do their job, it's best they speak up and take responsibility for their actions. Either way, a couple ended up dead.

Police corruption has been around since the beginning of time. Police will sell information to criminals, even of cases that they are working on. Police, at times, also help criminals plan their crime spree so that they would presumably get a way with it. There is no absolute evidence at this time that directly points at police corruption but the odds are looking good.


BBC NEWS. Nottinghamshire police feared 'corrupt' officers. BBC NEWS. February 15, 2010.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Police Corruption: Where to Start?

Corruption has been around since the beginning of policing. "Police corruption is the abuse of police authority for personal gain. Corruption may involve profit or another type of material benefit gained illegally as a consequence of the officer's authority. Typical forms of corruption include bribery, extortion, receiving or fencing stolen goods, and selling drugs." (Law Library, 2010) Although corruption is always happening, both, in and outside the walls of government agencies, it may go unnoticed for quite some time. When a department is caught with corrupt members the department and that individual are looked down upon.
There are several types of corruption within the department. There is favoritism when it comes to hiring and promotions, where the best candidate is not always chosen over the
more popular candidate. In some extreme cases promotions are granted to those who offer the largest monetary incentive. During internal investigations some individuals are given more leeway than others when they committed a more serious offense.
A common source of corruption stems from within the department but is brought into the community. A well known form of corruption that is often portrayed in the media comes from officers who steal drugs from the department they work for and sell them back onto the streets in order to make a profit. Some police personnel also will tamper with evidence or mislead investigations to protect the real suspect.
Corruption is still a problem in today's society, and it will continue to be a problem as long as there are corrupt officials who do not appropriately discipline corrupt individuals.


Law Library - American Law and Legal Information. Police Corruption and Misconduct - History, Contemporary Problems, Further Readings. August 23, 2003.