Police corruption has been a topic of discussion since the beginning of police departments. Throughout history, there has been a steady stream of police violations that range from corruption, general misconduct and brutality. For example, it was in the 1920s and 30s, during prohibition, that many police officers decided not to pay attention to the law if they were given payouts. But that was not the beginning of corruption, nor was it the end. This paper will discuss the extent of police corruption, misconduct and brutality in the United States, while also completing three brief case studies. After relaying the details of each case, I will give an idea about whether I agree with the outcomes or not. Corruption in the police force has been, and will continue to be, a problem throughout the United States, but the actions of a minority of unethical individuals in the police force should not guide public perception of the entire profession.
Extent of Unethical Policing in the United States
It is difficult to know the specific number in relation to how widespread police corruption is in the United States. However, while locking in on a percentage of police officers who are corrupt is impossible, it is possible to investigate the various charges that have been laid against police forces throughout the country and to get an idea of how frequent police officers are being caught for wrongdoings. Several cases usually pop up each year in departments throughout the nation, and this is a huge cause for concern. It is particularly worrisome when more than one police officer is involved, which is quite common. Police officers have been charged with taking bribes, arresting innocent people to get to family members, and stealing from evidence lockers, for example, but it certainly does not end there, (White, 1999).
Case 1: Police Corruption
In 2007, the department bosses of a Special Operations Section at the Chicago Police Department were investigated for four years of misconduct. The U.S. Attorney’s office was in charge of the investigation of the Internal Affairs Division. Just a year earlier 10 members of the same SOS unit were indicted for theft, burglary, armed violence, false arrest and aggravated kidnapping. Two of the officers could not be placed at the scene, several pleaded guilty to conducting illegal searches and lying before a grand jury, and several pleaded guilty to official misconduct and felony theft. One of the officers also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder for hire; he hired a former hit-man to murder a former SOS member. That officer was sentenced to 13 years in jail. Other officers were sentenced to 6 months in jail for stealing large sums of money, (Heinzmann, et. al., 2009).
I agree with the 13-year sentence for conspiring to commit murder for hire. However, I do not believe the 6 months were enough for the members who stole large sums of money. The penalty for officers should be higher than that of the average citizen because they are in a position that could damage the public good more than that of an average citizen. The police are a part of a system of trust, and if confidence in the police begins to wane, then that is more damaging to society than if an average citizen breaks the law.
Case 2: Police Misconduct
In 2008, a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Monty Robinson, hit and killed a motorcyclist when driving home from a Halloween party. He said he then left the scene and went home where he drank a couple shots of vodka before returning to the scene of the crime. He was sentenced to a month of house arrest and faced a curfew for 12 months. He also had to pay $1,000 to Victim Services and write an apology letter to the family, (No Jail, 2012).
This sentencing has got to be the worse example of justice I have ever seen. The officer admitted to the crash, which should have been treated as manslaughter. He left the 21-year-old that he hit, dying on the street, so that he could go home and have a drink to cover up the fact that he was drunk when the accident took place. This sentencing makes me cringe and I would expect more of this type of behavior in Canada, after the police see that they can literally get away with murder.
Case 3: Police Brutality
In a 2007 case, an off-duty police officer named Anthony Abbate attacked Karolina Obrycka and punched her in her face during her shift as a bartender at Jesse’s Shortstop Inn, which is a bar in Chicago. The bar camera recorded the incident, and it shows Abbate repeatedly kicking and punching the bartender. He was drunk, and later said that it was self defense because the bartender pushed him. Also, she apparently refused to serve him because he was too drunk, (Hagedom et. al., 2013).
It was later discovered that Abbate attacked the bartender because he thought that he would not be punished, due to his status as a police officer. Abbate was eventually convicted two years later for aggravated battery and he was sentenced to two years of probation, anger management counseling and community service. The details of the sentence were not released in the report. For example, it did not say how many hours of community service he was sentenced to, nor did it say what the terms of the probation were and the duration of his counseling. I believe he should have served jail time for this offense, as the force needs to establish that a blue wall of silence should not protect police officers from the law.
It has become evident that the amount of police corruption is so widespread that there needs to be increased government oversight into the activities at police departments. Two issues make themselves extremely obvious after reading the cases. The first is that the penalties need to increase against police officers who are found guilty of abusing their powers. By doing this, other officers might be discouraged from acting in the ways that they do in the future. Currently, they appear to be having a free-for-all. Second, there needs to be more government oversight to ensure that police are acting in a legal way, and a way that will not sway the trust of the American people. This way, the officers that do good work will be trusted more, because the public will be confident in their responsibility to being held accountable.
Hagedom, J., et al. (2013, Jan. 17). Crime, Corruption and Cover-ups. University of Illinois
Heinzmann, D., et al. (2009, Sept. 18). Chicago police corruption case: 4 former officers charged
in Special Operations Section scandal.
“No jail time for disgraced ex-Mountie Monty Robinson.” (2012, July 27). CBC.
White, S.S. (1999, June 4). Controlling Police Corruption. Stanford University.