Police Corruption in America
Discuss the effects of police corruption in America. Using the various different crimes discussed in class (i.e., kickbacks, corruption of authority, shakedowns), analyze the consequences of police corruption on a societal level. Should police officers be prosecuted for these crimes? Why or why not? Should they be protected by their immunity? Why or why not? How do these crimes interact with white-collar crime in general?
Police Corruption in America
Police corruption is a problem that has been around for as long as law enforcement has existed. Officers who engage in corrupt practices can victimize members of the public, their colleagues, and even their own families. Many different crimes can fall under police corruption, including kickbacks, corruption of authority, shakedowns, and drug trafficking (Bayley). People might argue that police officers need immunity to do their jobs effectively. On the one hand, police officers might be less likely to commit crimes like bribery and extortion if they know they could be prosecuted for them. This is because they would not be able to use their position of authority to intimidate or threaten witnesses. On the other hand, some would argue that police officer should be held fully responsible for their actions, as they are subject to the same laws as everyone else. This is because it will not be so easy for them to get away with crimes of this nature when they cannot use their position of authority to intimidate potential witnesses. White-collar crime refers to transactions that are considered illegal but not violent. This includes crimes like bribery, extortion, embezzlement, tax evasion, insider trading, money laundering, identity theft, and forgery. Police officers are the only type of criminals who regularly engage in white-collar crime because it is usually committed against their employers (government) or public members. (Holmes 5) However, police officers who commit crimes like bribery and extortion are engaging in white-collar crime because they use their position to gain something illegally. The difference here is that while white-collar crimes tend to be nonviolent, other types of corruption may involve violence or other criminal acts. For example, police corruption can also involve drug trafficking, sex crimes, or selling weapons. In this way, police officers who engage in corrupt practices engage in white-collar crime because they use their skills to obtain something illegally. The essay discusses the effects of police corruption, the consequences of various crimes such as kickbacks, corruption of authority, shakedowns, e.t.c., prosecution of police, their protection, how they interact with a white-collar crime in general.
Effects of Police Corruption in America
Every city, town, village, hamlet, and state line in America is affected by police corruption. It is a problem that has been going on for many years, and it continues to be a source of great controversy. Police corruption can involve anything from accepting bribes from criminals for protection or information to committing crimes themselves (Bayley). The effects of police corruption on our society are far-reaching, and they can be both direct and indirect. Some of the consequences of police corruption include:
The Erosion of Public Trust in Law Enforcement
Public cynicism towards the system is also increased due to police misconduct. Public cynicism can increase the crime rate as criminals are less afraid of being caught. This, in turn, results in a vicious cycle whereby police officers must increase their efforts at catching criminals, which can result in cover-ups and more corruption (Holmes). Police departments lose credibility with the public when their officers are charged with crimes. This can lead to a lack of cooperation from the community regarding investigations and creates an overall feeling of mistrust. For example, the Los Angeles Police Department was accused of covering up a car chase where an officer ran over a teenage girl. The LAPD initially reported that the teenager had hit the patrol car and was dragged by officers as she fled on foot. However, a news helicopter captured footage of one officer running her over, which led to charges against him and five other officers. The community was outraged, and the department lost a lot of credibility.
The Undermining of The Justice System
When police officers commit crimes, it undermines the justice system. In an effort to combat crime, police departments have developed special task forces and units that go after particularly dangerous criminals such as drug dealers and organized gangs (Holmes). Officers assigned to these types of units long for high-profile arrests and prosecutions because they can be used as examples of how tough their department is on crime. However, when these officers are caught breaking the law themselves, it taints all their past arrests and undermines their work (Bayley). For example, in 2011, a group of Philadelphia narcotics officers was indicted for stealing drugs and money from dealers they had arrested (Gross, =Possley, and Stephens). This called into question all of the arrests that these officers had made and undermined the entire narcotics division in Philadelphia.
The Fear of Police by Citizens
One of the most obvious effects of police corruption is citizens’ increased fear of the police. When people are afraid of the police, probable they will not cooperate with them and commit crimes to desist from being caught (Bayley). This can give rise in increased crime rates as criminals are not being apprehended. In addition, this fear can further cause overall feeling of mistrust and distrust of the law enforcement system. For example, there was tremendous tension between the police and the department citizens in Ferguson, Missouri. The community felt that the police were only there to cause problems and not prevent crime.
These are just a few of the police graft impact on our society, and it is an issue that we must address if we hope to maintain a safe and effective criminal court system (Holmes). Police officers should be held to a higher moral and ethical standard than the average citizen, as they have the power to control people and take away their freedom if they are caught breaking the law. Police officers do not have immunity that prevents them from being prosecuted for misconduct, and when they break the law, they should be held accountable just like any other citizen in our society.
The Consequences of Police Corruption on A Societal Level
Corruption of authority is when police officers retain the fringes of their duties for themselves (Bayley). This means that they may take money or other valuables from patients at accident scenes or try to get citizens into criminal activities to arrest the person and lock him away. Any action where a police officer takes advantage of his position can be considered an abuse of authority (Holmes). This can lead to distrust of police officers by the public and can ultimately make it difficult for them to do their job effectively. An example of this is in the Rodney King case, where two officers were caught on videotape brutally beating a suspect (Levin and Thomas 577). This behavior can be considered an abuse of authority when an officer no longer upholds the law himself but instead perverts it to his ends.
Shakedowns are another form of corruption that can have serious consequences. This is when a police officer tries to extract money or favors from citizens in exchange for not arresting them or providing protection. In these cases, the victims of the shakedowns are typically people from a lower socioeconomic status or minorities (Holmes). These police officers seek out easy targets. Shakedowns can lead to further mistrust between police and citizens, especially in minority communities that have a history of mistreatment by police. For example, in the wake of the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, there was a great deal of discussion about the role of police corruption in exacerbating the situation (Kochel 374).
Kickbacks are another consequence of corruption in the police force (Holmes). While they are prevalent in other countries, kickbacks seem to be more of a problem in America than anywhere else. This is where police officers take reward money and split it with organized crime members to receive protection or information about an investigation. The danger here is when police serve as double agents, working for criminal organizations and the government (Bayley). This can lead to a breakdown in the justice system and a loss of trust between the police and the public. For instance, the Rampart scandal in Los Angeles involved officers taking kickbacks from gang leaders in exchange for protection (Levenson). As a result, hundreds of criminal cases had to be overturned.
Police Prosecution for Their Immunity
Police officers should be prosecuted for corruption because they are breaking the law. They abuse their authority and take advantage of their position to commit crimes such as extortion, bribery, and kickbacks (Holmes). These activities can have a negative impact on society as a whole and can undermine the justice system. Additionally, police officers should be held accountable for their actions. It sends the message that no one is above the law if they are not. Another factor to consider is that police officer are citizens and should be subjected to the same law standard. This is necessary to maintain the public’s trust in the justice system. On the other hand, some people might argue that police officers should not be prosecuted because they are difficult to replace. It is also important to consider that most police officers are honest and do their jobs diligently. Therefore, prosecuting all police officers for corruption would be unfair because they are not necessarily involved in these activities . The case of Hillsborough County, Florida, acknowledges this and states that police officers should only be prosecuted if their involvement with criminal organizations is willful (Meldrum, Stemen, and Kutateladze 354).
Also, if police officers are subject to the same laws as everyone else, it will not be so easy for them to get away with crimes of this nature. This is because they will not be able to use their position of authority to intimidate or threaten witnesses. People will be more likely to cooperate with law enforcement if they are assured that they will not be subject to intimidation or threats. In addition, when police officers are held accountable for their actions, they can deter others who might be tempted to engage in corrupt activities (Holmes). For example, a case of police corruption in Chicago drew national attention when three narcotics officers were arrested for robbery and drug-related offenses (United States. General Accounting Office). The fact that they were prosecuted for these crimes serves as an example to other police officers that such actions will not be tolerated.
How Police Crimes Interact with A White-Collar Crime in General
White-collar crime refers to people’s activities at work, which are criminal but not violent. These can include bribery, extortion, embezzlement, tax evasion, insider trading, money laundering, identity theft, and forgery (Bayley). Police officers are not usually considered white-collar criminals because they are committing crimes against their employers (the government) or public members (Holmes). However, police officers who commit crimes like bribery and extortion are engaging in white-collar crime because they use their position to gain something illegally. The difference here is that while white-collar crimes tend to be nonviolent, other types of corruption may involve violence or other criminal acts. For example, police corruption can also involve drug trafficking, sex crimes, or selling weapons. In this way, police officers who engage in corrupt practices engage in white-collar crime because they use their skills to obtain something illegally.
It is important to note that not all police officers are corrupt. While it may be easy to assume that most law enforcement personnel are involved in some kind of activity like shakedowns or corruption, this is not necessarily true. However, there are enough cases of police corruption to merit concern. Arresting and prosecuting these individuals can message other officers that these actions will not be tolerated. This would promote trust in the criminal justice system and improve community relations.
Bayley, David H., and Robert Perito. Police Corruption: US Institute of Peace, 2011.
Gross, Samuel R., Maurice Possley, and Klara Stephens. "Race and wrongful convictions in the United States." (2017).
Holmes, Leslie. "Police Corruption." Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice. 2020.
Kochel, Tammy Rinehart. "Explaining racial differences in Ferguson’s impact on local residents’ trust and perceived legitimacy: Policy implications for police." Criminal Justice Policy Review 30.3 (2019): 374-405.
Levenson, Laurie L. "Police corruption and new models for reform." Suffolk UL Rev. 35 (2001): 1.
Levin, Jack, and Alexander R. Thomas. "Experimentally manipulating race: Perceptions of police brutality in an arrest: A research note." Justice Quarterly 14.3 (1997): 577-586.
Meldrum, Ryan C., Don Stemen, and Besiki Luka Kutateladze. "Progressive and traditional orientations to prosecution: An empirical assessment in four prosecutorial offices." Criminal Justice and Behavior 48.3 (2021): 354-372.
United States. General Accounting Office. Law Enforcement: Information on Drug-related Police Corruption: Report to the Honorable Charles B. Rangel, House of Representatives. The Office, 1998.
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