At least one reader had an issue with one of last week's corrupt cop stories, Buffalo, New York, police officer Ronnie Funderburk, who faces felony charges for advising his drug dealer brother-in-law how to avoid arrest. The reader suggested that Funderburk was essentially doing nothing more than a little harm reduction for his in-law. That is true. What in our opinion makes Funderburk corrupt is that he was doing it only for family members. Because Funderburk was a cop, brother-in-law got special favors unavailable to the general public. If police officers wish to issue pamphlets on how drug offenders can avoid arrest, and they make them generally available, we're all for it.
This week's corrupt cops story is a bit more straightforward. The Newark Star-Ledger reported Tuesday that the Newark Police Department and the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice have been investigating allegations that up to a half-dozen "rogue cops" have been shaking down drug dealers and prostitutes, then peddling the guns and drugs seized from their victims. The evidence is about to be presented to a statewide grand jury, law enforcement officials told the Star-Ledger.
Police trotted out familiar platitudes about bad apples. "There is an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice targeting corruption in the ranks of the Newark Police Department," said Newark Police Director Anthony Ambrose. "The vast majority of the Newark Police Department are good, hardworking officers," Ambrose said of the 1,900-person police department. "But like anywhere else, there may be a few rotten apples in the bunch. These are the ones who can blemish the good people who come to work every day and do their jobs."
But there may be more than a few bad apples. According to Newark police union leader Jack McEntee, more than 80 police officers have received letters from the Division of Criminal Justice saying they are either potential witnesses or subjects of the investigation. And it could be more than shakedowns and dope-dealing cops. "Officials familiar with the probe" told the Star-Ledger the investigation is also checking out allegations Newark police conducted illegal searches, planted drugs on suspects or failed to turn in all of the funds seized during drug raids. "Pure and simple, this is about bad cops doing bad things on the street," one of the officials said.
One official told the Star-Ledger the bad cops "did not hesitate resorting to violence" and that the haul from their robberies of drug dealers was in the thousands of dollars. That same official added that the rogue officers did not appear to be working together. Oh, great! We have groups of Newark cops independently arriving at the same corrupt and vicious course of action. Could there be a structural problem here?