Why is the International Association of Chiefs of Police so concerned about the state of criminal justice in America that it wants a national commission to study the problems? Below, DRCNet looks at just one of the problems the police chiefs cited: corruption. Although the police chiefs didn't mention the war on drugs, when cases of law enforcement corruption emerge these days they come increasingly in the context of drug law enforcement.
When the topic is the drug war in foreign countries, it doesn't take long for corruption to be mentioned. In the United States, however, the authorities tend to brush away each police scandal as an aberration, at both the local and systemic levels. Police chiefs across the land routinely resort to the "bad apple" explanation when confronted with corruption in the ranks.
At the federal level, this "see no evil" attitude extends into the drug czar's office. Robert S. Warshaw, Associate Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), told the Los Angeles Times last month that he thought drug-related police corruption had subsided in recent years. Warshaw said that law enforcement agencies are more aware of the problem now and "there's a high level of accountability internally."
DEA Administrator Thomas A. Constantine, a former New York state police superintendent, also downplayed the extent of drug-related police corruption. He told the Times that internal reforms have enabled police departments to crack down on officer misconduct.
Some police experts, however, believe the problem is more than a "few bad apples" but rather a "rotten apple tree." Former San Jose, California, police chief Joseph McNamara told the Times, "It's going on all over the country, and corruption ranges from chiefs and sheriffs on down to officers. Every week we read of another police scandal related to the drug war -- corruption, brutality and even armed robbery by cops in uniform."
McNamara, now a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, told the Times that enforcing the drug laws is "an impossible job."
"The sheer hopelessness of the task has led many officers to rationalize their own corruption," McNamara said. "They say: 'Why should the enemy get to keep all the profits?' Guys with modest salaries are suddenly looking at $10,000 or more, and they go for it."
It is difficult to determine the extent of drug war police corruption for the simple reason that there are no comprehensive national statistics. In a 1998 report prepared for Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), the General Accounting Office (GAO) concluded: "Regarding the extent of drug-related police corruption, data are not collected nationally. Federal agencies either do not maintain data specifically on drug-related police corruption or maintain data only on cases in which the respective agency is involved. Thus, it was not possible to estimate the overall extent of the problem." (The report, "Law Enforcement: Information on Drug-Related Police Corruption," number GGD-98-111, may be accessed online by visiting http://www.gao.gov and using the search engine.)
Based on evidence provided by federal law enforcement agencies, the report supplied a mind-boggling list of major drug corruption cases in the 1990s, including the police departments in such major cities as Atlanta, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Savannah, and Washington, DC.
The GAO report also provided some statistics on FBI investigations leading to drug corruption charges in the mid-1990s. According to the FBI, its investigations resulted in an average of nearly 130 corruption convictions per year, with half of those being drug-related. Similarly, the FBI opened new police corruption cases at a rate of nearly 200 per year, with almost of half of those being drug-related.
But, the GAO report cautioned, those figures refer only to cases in which the FBI led investigations: "the total number of drug-related police corruption cases at all levels of government is unknown."
Another 1998 report, "Misconduct and Corruption," based on data compiled by FBI and police officials in 37 cities, found that official corruption had become so rampant that the number of federal, state and local officials in federal prisons has grown fivefold over a four-year period, increasing from 107 in 1994 to 548 in 1998.
DRCNet has been unable to obtain more recent figures, but a by no means comprehensive list of recent drug-related corruption incidents shows that they occur with numbing regularity and banality:
CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY: In March, the Cherry Hill Courier-Post reported on the first stages of a local investigation into drug corruption in the Camden Police Department that reaches into the mayor's office. The case grew out of a federal trafficking trial in which defendants said officers shook them down for cash and drugs or alerted them to impending raids. The defendants, part of a ring that dominated drug sales in Camden in the 1990s, named "more than a dozen city police, county investigators and even a federal drug enforcement agent." Five defendants testified that Mayor Milton Milan bought and sold cocaine prior to becoming mayor in 1997.
The Courier-Post had reported in December 1999 that its own investigation found evidence that previously undisclosed law enforcement records named at least 10 Camden police as "assisting in the illegal sale of drugs, guns and ammunition as long as a decade ago." Six remain on the force.
"At one police substation," the Courier-Post reported, "drug traffickers grew so cozy with some officers throughout the 1990s that the entire Fifth Platoon was tainted with the nickname 'The Filthy Fifth.'"
The newspaper detailed a long-standing pattern of contacts between the trafficking organization and Camden police even as the drug ring was under state, local, and federal investigation.
CLEVELAND, OHIO: According to the FBI, in a major FBI sting operation earlier this year, 59 people in metropolitan Cleveland, including 51 law enforcement and corrections officers, were arrested on charges of protecting the transfer or sale of cocaine.
One officer, Cleveland Patrolman Gregory Colon Jr., pleaded guilty to running a drug ring out of the Attitudes Show Bar, where he supplied a trio of exotic dancers who in turn resold the drugs, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported in March. He will cooperate with the FBI and receive a 33 to 44 month sentence.
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS: The Chicago Tribune reported last month on the trial of three Chicago police officers on home invasion and bribery charges. The trio are accused of storming into a West Side apartment with badges covered and finding a bag of marijuana and two guns. They then demanded and received $8,000 in cash from the occupants to avoid arrest. They took the guns and marijuana with them.
DENVER, COLORADO: In July, two Denver gang unit officers were charged with destroying evidence in at least 80 drug cases, the Rocky Mountain News reported. The evidence, from arrests for possession of marijuana and paraphernalia cases, disappeared somewhere between the scene of the arrests and the station house. $100,000 in cash is also missing from the police evidence room.
The same two officers, Kurt Peterson and Danny Alvarez, were named the next day in a civil suit by a woman who said they forced their way into her home to threaten her after she filed a sexual assault complaint against another officer. That policeman, Daniel Pollack, received a 12-year sentence.
FAIRFAX, VIRGINIA: According to the Washington Post, Fairfax County's first and only asset forfeiture officer pleaded guilty in federal court last month to stealing $330,000 of those proceeds over a six-year period before his retirement last year. While asset forfeiture cases moved through the system, the money sat in the Fairfax property room, and this is where the officer would take his cut. Daniel B. Garrett III, 51, pled guilty to one count of theft from a program receiving federal funds. He faces a sentence of 18 to 24 months in federal prison, and he must make restitution of the full $330,000.
FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA: In March, a Fort Lauderdale jury found undercover officer Peter Aurigemma guilty of felony "official misconduct" after he lied in police reports about buying cocaine at a bar a day after it had already been closed down. He was acquitted of possession of half a gram of cocaine he claimed came from the bogus buy, according to a report in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. Aurigemma's reports served as the basis for an abortive raid. The police department had called the media to witness their raid on the bar, only to find that their 60 heavily armed officers faced nothing but a vacant building.
JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI: In the most serious charge yet in a blossoming corruption investigation, Jackson Police Detective Alavaline Baggett was indicted for bribery in April, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported. Other Jackson police officers are accused of making drug payoffs to a former officer who is serving a federal sentencing for drug trafficking.
JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA: In July, the Florida Times-Union reported that Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Deputy Daniel Dean Rochford, 27, was arrested by DEA agents for transporting several kilos of cocaine. Unfortunately for Rochford, the man for whom he was couriering the drug was an undercover federal drug agent.
Rochford's arrest comes in the midst of a year-long state, federal, and local investigation into police corruption in the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. Five officers have been stripped of their police powers as a grand jury looks into charges they tipped-off drug dealers and were possibly involved in robberies and murders. Investigators said the cases were not linked.
Before that investigation began, yet another Jacksonville officer, Carl Kohn, pleaded guilty to selling cocaine from his police car. He awaits sentencing.
According to the Sun-Sentinel, Jacksonville Sheriff Nat Glover attended Rochford's court appearance and sat "with his forehead sunken into his clasped hands."
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA: The Rampart scandal, already one of the ugliest cases of police corruption and abuse of power in American history, deserves its own chapter. So far five Los Angeles police officers have been charged with felonies ranging up to attempted murder and more than a dozen face internal police department charges. About 70 more officers remain under investigation for a veritable reign of terror in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles. The number of voided convictions of people framed in the Rampart scandal has reached 22, with dozens more coming down the road. The officers involved stand accused of shooting and then framing suspects, stealing and dealing in drugs, and lying on official documents and in sworn testimony.
MIAMI, FLORIDA: According to the FBI Fieldnews, an in-house publication, in July a Miami-Dade police officer got seven years in prison after being convicted of protecting a drug delivery in 1999. Two other Miami-Dade officers have also been convicted, as have two civilians.
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA: The Arizona Daily Star reported in April that veteran US immigration officer Richard Lawrence Pineda had been found guilty of smuggling marijuana and undocumented immigrants into the United States by allowing vehicles to pass through his inspection lane. Pineda allowed 25 illegal immigrants in six cars and 3,550 pounds of marijuana in four carloads to pass through his lane at the San Ysidro Port of Entry over a 12-month period. Prosecutors claimed Pineda had received $350,000 in bribes.
Also in San Diego, four San Diego police officers were indicted last month on charges they profited from a scheme involving stolen plumbing fixtures, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. The charges grew out of an investigation of officer Anthony Joseph Rodriguez, who has also been indicted on charges that he and associates transported hundreds of pounds of marijuana in a secret compartment he built in a mobile home.
This litany of corruption and abusive policing is merely a snapshot, but it is indicative of widespread and corrosive culture of corruption. Conservative commentators on social policy like to warn about "moral hazards" that occur when someone gets something for nothing. Although the term is usually applied in the context of welfare reform or cutting foreign aid, the war on drugs is proving a moral hazard to law enforcement.