Police deviance and corruption are problems that affect everybody. As citizens, everyone trusts and gives the police the power to enforce the law in order to protect the rights and liberties of the people; the implications of these powers are taking away somebody’s liberties that has broken or believed to have broken the law. There is a fine line that divides the liberties and rights from the law and obligations of each citizen of the United States. Therefore, the police are expected to protect citizens and at the same time not violate the rights of every individual. The police do not have a very specific way of dealing with criminals or suspected criminals. Every procedure and law that police officers and agencies must follow is full of flaws giving the police personnel the use of what is so called “police discretion”. According to Frank Schmalleger “police discretion is the opportunity of law enforcement officers to exercise choice in their daily activities” (182). When police discretion is used, the law enforcement officer may fulfill his/her duties in a personal way that could be polite to some people and impolite or rude to some other people. Police discretion and the reasonable use of force that cops use in their daily activities are guided by their training and work experiences.
The media most of the time only informs people when any law enforcement agency has broken the law or any officer has done something that does not look right but indeed could be right according to the law or the procedures to be followed.
Today the media bombards their audience with police brutality, police excessive force, and police misconduct. But in reality, are the media correct in their understanding of the concepts about police crimes? Do they really know the concepts of police abuse? Or do they know how far a cop can go to enforce the laws in order to protect the rights and the liberties of the others? To assess this problem it is necessary to study deeper the concepts and some cases in the American police and law enforcement agencies.
There are many ways in which a police officer can be labeled as deviant depending on the act that the officer commits or has committed and the factor when or where it was committed. Police Deviant behavior and police corruption are two concepts that can be confused with one another, while police deviance can be part of corruption, corruption usually involves crime. Therefore it is important to separate non-criminal police deviance from police corruption. The difference between police corruption and police deviance is that police corruption can be committed when the officer is either on duty or off duty. Police occupational deviance is any inappropriate job related activity while on duty. Therefore it is necessary to analyze the types and categories of police deviance and police corruption.
According to the book Policing in America “police corruption is the potential for personal gain and the use of police power and authority to further that gain” (385).
The most common actions of police corruption are bribery and extortion. The Knapp Commission (The Knapp Commission (NYPD) was formed in the early 1970s by Mayor Lindsay) mentioned two kinds of corrupt officers: Grass eaters and meat eaters. Grass eaters are the cops who accept briberies, such as free meals or gratuities from stores. “To constitute a bribery, the citizen must initiate the offer to have an officer do or not do something” (Gaines & keppler 385) Briberies must be offered by the citizens and they are intended to influence the officer’s acting and enforcing of the law towards somebody or something. Meat eaters are the officers who extort people.
Extortion is initiated by the officer. Using the
threat of arrest or harassment, the officer
requires a person who has committed a crime
to give them something in value to avoid being
arrested (Gaines & keppler 385).
The cops involved in narcotics and controlled substances are usually involved in extortion cases because controlled substances are very profitable and cops can get extra money illegally.
Police Deviant Behavior
There are many definitions of police deviance, most of them are not specific enough in the concept itself, and they could be confusing. The most accurate concept according to officers in Gainesville City police is the one found in the book Policing in America: “acts committed during the course of duty that are related to one’s employment as a police officer” (pg. 394). Activities such as alcohol drinking, sex, or getting things for free are not illegal for anybody, but if these activities are performed while working, then moral and ethical rules are being broken. And those kinds of activities while working consist in police deviant behavior that can escalate to police corruption. According to the book Policing in America, Police officers have high rates of alcoholism and drug abuse to cope with their daily activities and stressors. They also have high mortality resulting from heart disease and stress related diseases. Therefore it is necessary to include in their training a more extensive way of dealing with stress.
Alcohol and drug abuse is a problem that exists in almost every law enforcement agency because it is very hard to cope with job stress related to police work. This problem is not easy to track down because most officers do lie when they have to answer about this behavior. They may feel reprisals against them or even the threat of losing their jobs. The abuse of non-controlled substances such as medical related drugs and alcohol while on duty can actually impair police officer’s ability to perform their jobs causing bad consequences such as police brutality or traffic related accidents. “A drunk police officer cannot control the continuum level of force and does not have the ability to control his patrol in high speed related situations” (Joe Britt).
Police officers are exposed to opportunities of sexual offers for many reasons. They are in contact with offenders who can offer sex for the dismissal of any infraction or even co-workers to be promoted or to keep the aspired position.
It is very important to differentiate sexual misconduct from consensual sex while off-duty. While consensual sex may not be a problem between two adults, sex while being on duty has far-reaching consequences and breaks ethical and behavioral rules of the law enforcement agencies. Police officers should not have sex with offenders because it may be taking advantage from the stressed victim or offender depending on the situation. Besides the media could easily find out and put the whole agency in jeopardy for one unethical officer. Sex with co-workers can be harmful too, because the police work is very stressful, and a relationship between cops can add even more stress. Also sex among co-workers could be used as a threat of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can occur in two forms: requiring “an individual to grant sexual favors to obtain, maintain or improve employment status, or creat[ing] of a hostile work environment” (Gaines & keppler 399-400).
The third problem and probably the most heard is police racism. The police have many reasons to target minorities, especially with the war on drugs and the stereotypes that exist in the United States. Police departments argue that even though minorities are more likely to be stopped, race is not a factor in the final decision in making arrests or giving citations. They also argue that minorities concentrate in places that have more disorder and therefore need to be targeted and controlled.
With the mentality and procedures that law enforcement uses today, minorities tend to think about police officers as mean and unjust creating as nationwide stereotype.
The biggest problem with police deviance and police corruption is the feeling of betrayal that the citizens feel, because according to the democracy, the people have given up the right to defend themselves and surrendered that right to the police. Citizens expect an officer to be mindful and responsible for the power he/she holds. A police officer can take away somebody’s life depending on the situation and that is a sign of a very important power so people usually feel or see the liberty of life and freedom threatened by unjust or irresponsible officers. It is extremely important to remember that police are humans, they exercise police discretion in almost every taken decision in order to perform their job in the most efficient way. “The police are not perfect; we don’t sign them upon some far-off planet and bring them into the police service. They are products of society and let me tell you, the human product today often is pretty weak” (former Los Angeles police chief Daryl Gates). Society should never expect a perfect cop, because humans are not perfect, but indeed there are many problems that could be solved by better training to the new recruits and more restrains on the police force so they do no violate the rights of the citizens. Society should be better informed about police procedures and the law of the United States. This way people could understand the behavior of the police and law enforcement. If the people of the united states were better informed about laws and police procedures, the media would never sway their audience’s mind and the people would see the news in a more objective way. Police deviant behavior and police corruption are problems that should be solved by both citizens and the police. Citizens should push the agencies to restrain police officers and insist for better training. Law enforcement agencies should break the code of silence and work for newer and actual procedures and better training.
Britt, Joe. Personal interview. 2 November 2004
Schmalleger. Criminal Justice a brief introduction. Upper Saddle river, New Jersey. Pearson Prentice hall. 2000.
Gaines, Larry k. Victor E. Kappeler. Policing in America. Cincinnati, OH. Anderson Publishing. 2003
Harrison, John. CRIMINAL JUSTICE RESOURCES Police Corruption – Police Integrity. 03/26/04. Michigan State University Libraries. (10/ 29/2004).http://www.lib.msu.edu/harris23/crimjust/polcorr.htm