Police behavior: A historical perspective
As a child we are taught to find comfort in the presence of a police officer. They are the muscle behind our judicial system, ready to keep everyone safe from harm and to serve the community in any way they can. Or are they?
For as long as there are criminals there will be corrupt cops. Their actions may be based on financial gain, racially motivated, or merely to exert power, but they do exist.
Although police officers are expected to maintain a code of ethics and abide by the law, there is this little thing called "discretion." This means that they have "the power or right to decide or act according to one's own judgment." While the definition may be clear in the dictionary, it may not be as clear to the individuals implementing it, and that kind of power can be mindboggling.
Corruption within the Los Angeles Rampart Unit received widespread media attention during the latter part of the nineties. Although gang related crimes had been brought down 60%, there were allegations of drug dealing, burglary and even murder. This activity resulted in 100 convictions being overturned and lawsuits being filed in excess of 100 million dollars. What hit hardest, however, was the smear that it placed on the department.
Author Mike Gray wrote the book "Drug Crazy." While doing research for his book, he claimed to have come across shocking details regarding drug cases. While interviewing a Chicago prosecutor he was told that "the only way to get a decent bust is to break the rules." In short, it was common practice for a peace officer to set on the witness stand and lie, and according to Gray, everyone knew it.
Police corruption is not something that has been recently cultivated. When the New York Police Department was first established in 1844, there were problems of extortion, brutality and theft reported almost immediately. To date, there have been reports of corruption in every major city in the United States.
Law enforcement has a code that is adhered to without reservation. It is called "the code of silence." This code is strong within the agencies, in spite of the fact that it continues to shield criminal activity and encourages unethical behavior. Unless this code can be broken, corruption will continue to manifest itself.
Another important aspect in the world of law enforcement is what is called "extra-legal variables." This is the act of profiling certain individuals based on their age, race, class or gender. Rather than basing a person's involvement on actual circumstances, they are stereotyped and singled out according to biases. This leads to an array of unfair practices within the departments.
Although history has noted the ill effects of police behavior and has recorded scandals throughout the country, it does not imply that every cop is a bad cop. Our police departments are filled with decorated officers that have far exceeded their expected duties. We can only hope that a new code will be born into the profession that will promote the integrity and the dedication of the officers, and create a new degree of respect from the public.
Criminological Theories By Ronald L. Akers