Police Corruption in America
Southern Oregon University
This paper will look into the police corruption in the United States. Theorists such as Kidder and Delartte suggest that there are multiple reasons as to why a person becomes deviant. Whether it be external or internal influences, many people are faced with daily dilemmas, and they never realize the consequences of their actions until ethical boundaries have been crossed. With social media being easily accessible by millions, police have been placed in the public’s eye which makes them more subject to the court of public opinion than in previous years. No one can deny that there is corruption in the policing of America. We must look into why and how a person becomes subject to negative influences by collogues or foes. Kidder (2009) explains the first step to resolution, is a recognition of the issue at hand. By finding reasons why officers become corrupt, we can further educate the departments and ourselves on how to prevent and help eliminate deviancy in policing.
Corruption has always been a part of humanity and policing and public safety is a substantial portion of that population. There are different approaches to public safety and one is more subject to corruption than the other. “The development of policing in the United States closely followed the development of policing in England. In the early colonies policing took two forms. It was both informal and communal, which is referred to as the “Watch,” or private-for-profit policing, which is called “The Big Stick” (Potter,2013). Community policing by residents or the Watch is less influenced by corruption due to a lessened degree of conflict of interest. The residents and community members genuinely interested in keeping their communities safe are willing to do so without monetary compensation which minimizes the possibility of conflict of interest. Private or governmental policing by members of the rank and file that are paid for services and put in ethical dilemmas without prior training are defenseless against corruption. Throughout our lives, we are often put in situations where we will have to make decisions that could potentially alter our lives. In today’s society, police deviance has become normalized by movies, music, and all forms of media. We as a collective, have adopted this false sense of security by saying “that’s sad, but at least it isn’t me”, and we continue our day without asking questions why it happened. Many people are becoming aware of the corruption through videos on the internet which has led them to seek justice. In order to seek justice, we must first look into the factors, which leads an upstanding citizen figure to become another tainted part of the system.
When we think of police officers which are governmental employees, we think of people who are morally and ethically fit. We think of men and women who have traits such as character, strength, and honor. For some who have been on the wrong side of the law, their encounters with police officers have not been just and are sometimes even downright disturbing. When a person decides to become a peace officer, there are many tests that he or she must pass in order to eliminate the lesser qualified applicants and recruit and promote only the strongest candidates. These tests include psychological and physical tests which determine who is the best candidate at the time of hire. Precautions taken by the departments include an extensive background check, which serves as an insurance for the departments in the case that there is an individual who becomes corrupt or otherwise deviates from following department policy. These individuals are often labeled as the “Bad Apple” of the group just ensure the departments do not receive backlash from the community. “In terms of public trust for law enforcement, recent polls show that only 56 percent of people rated the police as having a high or very high ethical standard as compared with 84 percent for nurses” (Martin,2011). Police departments around the country are failing in investing back into the officers who are currently on the force. Besides having therapists who are available for officers, there are not many programs outside the state of Oregon that test or train officers regarding ethical fitness after being hired. According to a study conducted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, nearly 70% of the departments surveyed did not offer ethics training beyond the academy (2011). After years of being on the police force, there are things that an officer will see and hear that will alter his or her perception of the definition of good policing procedures. Understandably, most police officers join the police force from a desire to serve the public, but over time, their perspectives shift, and lines are blurred. Using data from the DPSST Codes of Misconduct, and The Effect of Sanctions on Police Conduct, we will discuss the reasons why police become deviant, whether they will repeat offend, accountability of police, and what solutions there are to repair our system.
“Every year, departments across the country spend millions of dollars on tactical training for officers but fail to train these men and women on ethics” (Costanzo, 2018). According to Kidder (2003), to be ethically fit means that you have and continue to train yourself every day to make the right decisions. As a department, it is impossible to expect an officer to display the same integrity in ten years, as he or she did the first day out of the academy without training. Oregon has used the (D.P.S.S.T.) since 1960, after Oregon’s police and prosecutors played a huge roll in persuading Oregon’s legislature to create the organization.
When we take a look at violations of D.P.S.S.T. Codes of Misconduct, we can see the factors that play into leading these officers into a path of corruption. Throughout the fifteen volumes analyzed, there were thirty cases that contained multiple reasons for investigations and or immediate relief of duty. Some of these officers had multiple violations before they were reprimanded. Data were collected in order to represent all positions in the law enforcement from hierarchy to years on the force and were categorized by key factors. These factors will include the officer’s gender, untruthfulness during the investigations, misconduct, intoxication on the job, and types of certifications revoked. These violations reported cover many different departments over the years. We can use this data to get a better understanding of the deviance in the policing of Oregon and what options there are to either reprimand the officers or to further educate them in areas needed.
Harsh punishments, in theory, should deter officers from continuing deviant behavior. Although these officers are depicted as those who can do no harm, we must remember that these men and women are human too. Where departments are falling short, is holding themselves accountable for the actions taken by their officers in the line of duty. During the past ten years, more and more officers have been put in the public light for deviant behavior. There are officers around the country who are being fired for deviant behavior without facing criminal charges, only to be hired days or weeks later by another department. “Fired but fit for duty” is a term being used by the Oregonian (2017) to describe how the state is handling its corrupt policing problem. With over 10,000 police officers, corrections officers, dispatchers and parole and probation officers in the state, there are only two investigators to oversee all documents and reports.
Although state law requires department officials to issue a report after an investigation, the reports they write for administrative closures tend to offer few details. A handwritten explanation on one reads, in its entirety, “Performance issues only.” Because the department wanted thousands of dollars to provide case files underlying these cryptic conclusions, the newsroom focused its records requests on 40 officers who stayed certified after being fired. State law says the department must decertify anyone fired for cause. Yet the department interprets “for cause” so narrowly that 57 percent of fired officers stayed eligible to carry a gun and a badge elsewhere in Oregon (TheOregonian,2017).
A case that stands out, is of former Eugene Officer, Charles Caruso, who was fired after he was recorded beating a handcuffed DUI suspect he had brought to the jail. Not only did Officer Caruso not see any criminal charges, they department did not decertify him for his conduct. Caruso now works as a sheriff’s deputy in Contra Costa County, CA after displaying an example of what an officer should never do. Departments are able to keep a lot of these lawsuit out of media spotlight, by offering settlements to the victims. This get out of jail free card for departments not only keeps them safe from public scrutiny, but also allows them to pay-out with taxpayer money.
Throughout policing in America, there have been officers who have broken the law multiple times and yet have not been reprimanded for their actions. Despite having access to social media and easily accessible camera phones, citizens are still in a battle with a corrupted system. For many of those who now are becoming more aware of the injustices, it is getting more difficult for officials to simply “sweep it under the rug”. Many states have placed faith in their own agencies to conduct internal investigations when an officer is being reported for something. Although we are led to believe that Internal Affairs are the good guys, some of us are staring right through the smoke and mirrors.
“There are several prominent examples of police organizations that have failed to maintain officer discipline, and where subsequent investigations revealed that the disciplinary systems of these agencies were weak or nonexistent in a variety of respects, ranging from failures to properly investigate complaints, to failures to actually sanction officers found guilty of misconduct” (Harris and Worden,2012, pg.1259).
Because of this, disconnect between officer and citizen is increasing, due to the lack of justice served. The agencies that are in place to serve as a deterrent, have time after time, let down the public. Throughout the country, most police disciplinary systems are based on deterrence. In a study using retrospective and longitudinal data from a large police department in the northeast, Harris, and Worden (2012) tested whether harsher punishments on deviant officers, would lessen the likelihood of more officers becoming deviant. The study also looks into both the timing and likelihood of an officer receiving a complaint after having a complaint in the past and if the severity of punishment plays a role in reoccurring of complaints. “Under deterrence theory, an increase in the certainty, celerity, and severity of potential punishment increases the perceived costliness of a contemplated behavior and can thereby discourage it” (Harris and Worden,2012). While swift, certain, and severity may all seem like perfect deterrents, studies show that Labeling someone could lead to further deviance.
When a cadet graduates from the academy and is hired on to a department, he or she will make a decision that will change their life. To either protect and serve or to just get a paycheck. For most, going into law enforcement is an honor. An honor that is held to the highest degree and is not disrespected in any fashion. But, for the “Bad Apples” out there, the badge gives them a sense of empowerment that was not obtained before. Like other terms that are used to describe behaviors or actions of law enforcement, deviance is one term that has come more into focus. While police and citizens may have their own connotative interpretation of what the word entails, in sociology, deviance describes an action or a behavior that violates social norms, including a formally enacted rule, as well as informal violations of social norms (Wikipedia,2018). Oregon’s officers’ agencies, who are governed by the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (D.P.S.S.T.), relies on agencies to conduct their own investigation and documents that are turned in to them. The D.P.S.S.T. then collects, analyze, then documents the data of officers fired for deviance. The study of the agency in the northeast of America, uses a model of strict deterrence to record deviance of officers and the how it is affected.
The role of the department is to oversee the police agencies and how they conduct their internal investigations. For deviance, Department officials focus their power to end careers on punishing failings of “moral fitness,” which they describe as officers intentionally doing unethical things (The Oregonian,2017). This means that it is up to the department to make its own interpretations of deviance without public influence, to decide who is terminated from employment.
North Eastern Departments
The North Eastern department uses the model of certainty, severity, and celerity to deal with their internal investigations. For deviance, the department takes a dramatic approach at focusing on these three factors at deterring deviant officers.
The internal investigations of the Oregon (D.P.S.S.T) and the Northeastern department, will be compared on how effective their models were on deterring police corruption. Also analyzing whether more severe punishments served as a greater deterrent than a more lenient approach. The expectation under deterrence theory, is that a more severe punishment will serve as a better deterrent.
Datum form two data sets were analyzed to determine the sex of the officer in violation of compliance (deviant behavior) and to determine the type of deviant behavior reported as well as types consequences applied for deviant behavior and the number of complaints prior to the complaints filed from the North Eastern departments.
In Oregon, the data collected displayed there were 23 (76%) male officers and only 7 (23%) women who were fired for deviant behavior. The following chart displays the information above.
The average career length of the males was 13 years as opposed to the female’s average career length of 8 years.
Throughout the departments 15 volumes that were analyzed, there were many infractions that led to the investigations and or decertification. A total of forty violations were committed by officers including the top three consisting with violation of department policy (42%), committing a criminal offense (30%), and lying during an investigation (2%) (Departments of Safety Standards and Training, 2017). The three violations alone represent 60% of the violations committed by the officers.
Some of the officers in this data had multiple violations and were fired. These violations account for 60% of all violations recorded by the department.
North Eastern Departments
The Northeastern departments used counsel, censure, docked vacation days, suspension without pay, probation, transfer, and other as consequences of the officers’ unethical behavior (p.1275, Harris & Warden, 2012). http://journals.sagepub.com.glacier.sou.edu/doi/pdf/10.1177/0011128712466933
In addition, the following chart shows the number of prior officer complaints and the respective percentage. This data was collected from http://journals.sagepub.com.glacier.sou.edu/doi/pdf/10.1177/0011128712466933
164547110 Frequency Percentage
00 Frequency Percentage
The first graph shows that men were more likely to be involved in deviant behavior than women. This can be explained by more men being employed in the agencies of Oregon. The second chart shows the top three of violations committed by officers. The violations make up 60% of all violations reported. The North Eastern departments charts display number of complaints and the disciplinary action taken. Data shows that 1,216 were failed complaints were filed on the 791 officers.
The two departments, (D.P.S.S.T.) and the North Eastern department, both found that with time, results vary officer to officer. The North Easter Department found that while younger officers are more likely to be deviant, the Oregon department found that officers who were nearly a decade in their career, were more likely to break codes of conduct. This data exposes departments lack of knowledge when it comes to cutting down corruption in the agency. As indicated early, nearly 70% of departments surveyed do offer any form of ethical training to officers after the academy.
“Decades of research on police has repeatedly found that patrol officers regard police discipline as a threat as unpredictable as any they face on the street, and the rules and regulations for whose violation they might be sanctioned as simply incompatible with getting the job done. Although not all officers perceive their bureaucratic environment in the same terms, and the evidence is fragmentary, we would surmise that many officers are skeptical about the legitimacy of their departments’ administrations, in general, and would regard sanctions for many of the violations of departmental regulations as substantively and/or procedurally unfair. (Harris and Worden,2012, pg.1280)
The study has also found, that officers who are “labeled” deviant, are more likely to become corrupt. To be ethically fit, means that you have and continue to train yourself every day to make the right decisions (Kidder) 2003. While many states have failed in reducing police corruption, Oregon, has started the E.T.H.O.S. Project (Ethical Training That Helps Officers Succeed), which moved from using a technical change to more of an adaptive change approach. This program will grant officers ethical training to help them make better decisions while working, and to keep themselves accountable. If we cannot teach or officers how to stay ethically fit beyond the academy, then we are setting up our men and women for failure. Departments around the country need to implement the ETHOS program, or anything similar that can help the officers maintain a long and healthy career.
Unfortunately, we have data neither on officers’ general perceptions of organizational legitimacy or justice nor on sanctioned officers’ perceptions of the fairness of the sanctions that were imposed on them, and so we are left to speculate whether the positive effect of sanctions on further misconduct is attributable to defiance. The limitations to the Department of Safety Standards and Training survey, was that there were laws in place to take action upon officers, but the state left the choice up to the departments for how cases were handled.
State law says the department must decertify anyone fired for cause. Yet the interprets “for cause” so narrowly that 57 percent of fired officers stayed eligible to carry a gun and a badge elsewhere in Oregon. Although state law requires department officials to issue a report after any investigation, the reports they write for administrative closures tend to offer few details. A handwritten explanation on one reads, in its entirety, “Performance issues only” (TheOregonian,2017).
Many of the investigations by the agencies were handled without care and often unsettled. Records show that in 250 officer complaints, Oregon regulators did not take action in nearly half of those investigations between 2013 through 2016. Many officers in Oregon who were also fired from duty, were not decertified, and were allowed to work for other departments in the state they were fired in. This behavior shows that there is a lack of accountability throughout these departments. Implementing programs like these, in the long run, will save departments money on civil pay-outs, which in return could be used to build the community/police bond that has been lacking for so many years.
Delattre, E. J. (2011). Character and Cops (Sixth ed.). Washington, D.C.: The AEI Press.
Kidder, R. M. (2003). How good people make tough choices. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.
Harris, C. J., & Worden, R. E. (2012). The Effect of Sanctions on Police Misconduct. Crime & Delinquency, 60(8), 1258-1288. doi:10.1177/0011128712466933
Martin, R., M.S. (2011, May 1). Police Corruption: An Analytical Look into Police Ethics. Retrieved June 7, 2018, from https://leb.fbi.gov/articles/featured-articles/police-corruption-an-analytical-look-into-police-ethics
Oregonian/OregonLive, T. (2017, December 19). Fired, But Fit for Duty: Impunity for bad policing in Oregon. Retrieved June 8, 2018, from http://www.oregonlive.com/police-fire/2017/12/police_brutality_and_incompetence.html
Potter, G. (2013, June 25). The History of Policing in the United States, Part 1. Retrieved June 8, 2018, from http://plsonline.eku.edu/insidelook/history-policing-united-states-part-1Department of Public Safety Standards and Training. (2017). Ethics bulletins 117-132