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(en) news: [BRC-NEWS] History of Police Corruption in the United States

From Art McGee <amcgee@igc.org>
Date Mon, 20 Sep 1999 15:07:41 -0400

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Report of the Commission on Police Integrity

Presented to the City of Chicago

November 1997

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systemic bribery schemes, non-enforcement of the law, collusion) have been
replaced by more aggressive forms of corruption.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

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. 

New Orleans. 

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. 

Los Angeles. 

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. 

Full Report: 


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