Why do Law enforcement people abuse the general public?

The Corruption Process of a
Law Enforcement Officer:
A Paradigm of Occupational
Stress and Deviancy

Francis L. McCafferty, MD, Sam Souryal, PhD, and
Margaret A. McCafferty, RN

The public does not want all laws enforced. In the closed society of law enforcement
institutions, police discretion, the conspiracy of silence, the lack of an
administration with integrity, and susceptible law enforcement officers contribute
to the development of corruption from occupational deviance. Corruption in law
enforcement agencies may have similar roots in business. law. medicine. and
other professions. ~ndershndin~ the law enforcement corruption paradigm may
therefore be helpful in correcting and curbing corruption in other professions.

Law enforcement officers are usually
both respected and suspected, hated and
loved, feared and courted for favor, maligned
and praised. They wield tremendous
power and are capable of depriving
persons of their freedom, reputation, and
life. ‘
The majority of law enforcement officers
are competent, honest, professional,
and psychologically stable, but there are
some who may use their shields as a
license to steal andlor kill. Law enforcement
leaders are, at times, in a quandary
Dr. F. L. McCafferty is in private practice and is also
Medical Director, Department of Psychiatry, St. John
West Shore Hospital, Westlake, OH; Dr. Souryal is
Professor of Criminal Justice, Sam Houston State University,
Huntsville, TX; and M. A. McCafferty, RN,
assists in the private practice of Dr. McCafferty. Address
correspondence to: Francis L. McCafferty, MD, 3 13 14
Center Ridge Road, Westlake, OH 44145.
as to how much corruption exists in their
agencies. While most law enforcement
departments try to employ the best individuals
possible, the hard question is
what happens when they become corrupt.
The public is expected to put its faith
and trust in law enforcement officers.
These men and women are called on to
protect the lives and rights of others. The
Oath of Honor places on them a high code
of ethics for their public and private lives:
On my honor, I will never betray my badge, my
integrity, my character, or the public trust. I will
always have the courage to hold myself and
others accountable for our actions. I will always
uphold the constitution and community I
These noble ideals in the law enforcement
Oath of Honor stand in stark contrast to
J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1998 433
McCafferty, Souryal, and McCafferty
the practical realities of law enforcement
work on the streets and the corruption
process that develops in some officers.
Rookie officers learn to be law enforcement
officers by watching what other officers
do, how they act and behave. One
veteran law enforcement officer describes
the corruption process that ensues as follows:

Young naive rookie assigned with veteran
training officer, first experience with the gray
area of ethics is usually getting free or half price
beverages or meals. Recruit then learns how to
use creative writing in completing duty reports,
crime reports, and any other incident reports.
The nervous, scared recruit is taught how to
cover his or her ass in any situation. Us against
them. This period is crucial to the corruption
process, because veteran officers cover up
rookie indiscretions and help save his or her job
while he or she is on probation.
Being introduced to drinking on duty in bars
by veteran officers is one of the first tests to see
if the rookie will take a drink on duty and be
trusted as one of the guys.
Getting free bread, milk, newspapers, donuts
from delivery trucks early in the morning, a
veteran officer indoctrinates young officers on
the ins and outs and justifies to a young recruit
that it is all right to get away with what you can.
Officers spend their day looking for any type of
deals. Before a rookie realizes it, it becomes a
way of life: become lazy and do what you can
to get out of work.
Gradually, black and white (right and
wrong) start to blend into gray, as the rookie is
indoctrinated. The phrases, “Others do it,” “The
insurance company will pay for it,” and “Us
against them” become commonplace. A mind
set is implanted.
Rookies go through many phases during
their early development. One is the John Wayne
syndrome. They become callous, crude, vicious,
greedy, and egotistical. Another syndrome
is Badge Heavy: officers arrest people
for almost no cause, violating their rights without
a second thought.
A common practice for the 25 percent (of
police officers) who do work is looking for a
DWI close to going off duty to get the overtime
for extended tour and court the next day and
future court dates connected with the case.
After a period of months, the job stress, shift
changes, and veteran indoctrination, and the
young rookies are usually changed forever. Because
they have been taught how to get around
the rules and regulations to suit the situation,
the notion of Professional and Proper Procedure
is lost. This process is of course different in
each officer depending on their psychological
makeup and personal background.’
Evaluation of Corruption Among
Law Enforcement Officers
Specific areas of corruption can be enumerated
in various categories. In personal
life, these include: maintaining a lifestyle
beyond one’s means; running with the
wealthy crowd; drinking, gambling,
and/or drug abuse; having sex with bosses
or politicians (for favors); letting the job
affect one’s marriage; getting involved
with pornographic materials; working
part time (against policy); limiting life to
the “police” world; booking horses or
numbers with officer or ex-officer; pulling
tickets for friends; owning a bar with
one’s spouse: accepting gratuities (from
bar owners, lawyers, etc.); and going to
police bars where “anything goes.”
In professional life, areas of corruption
may include: discharging a weapon and
covering it up; doing damage to city vehicles
and not reporting it; throwing away
parking citations on city or personal vehicles;
carrying unauthorized weapons, a
drop gun, knife, or illegal drugs in case
you need a bail-out; leaving the zone and
lying about it; coming to work late andlor
leaving early; stealing overtime; abusing
sick time; making an example of rookies
when they challenge the system; using
434 J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1998
Law Enforcement Corruption
police computers and obtaining confidential
reports (to sell the information); receiving
a finder’s fee (e.g., from a plate
glass, insurance, or towing company,
etc.); rolling drunks for their money; taking
guns or drugs off people and keeping
or selling them; planting drugs on people
(“snow flaking”); visiting friends or
sleeping while on duty; investigating burglaries
and stealing what one wants; paying
bosses or politicians for favors or
receiving kickbacks; treating the court
system as a joke: giving professional
courtesy to those violators carrying PPA
(Police Patrolman’s Association) or FOP
(Fraternal Order of Police) cards; using
the badge to get into sports events; taking
property from stolen cars; using unauthorized
bullets in service revolver: writing
phantom parking tickets on vehicles, or
giving tickets to specific classes of people
(e.g., “red necks,” young males with long
hair, etc.); making any and all arrest reports
fit the elements of a crime (“testilying”):
making improper arrests; damaging
property or the cars of “lowlifes”
(e.g., cutting the tires on the vehicle of
someone who has given you a hard time,
towing cars in reverse gear or with the
parking brake partially set); doing “creative”
report writing (lying, phony insurance
claims); cultivating attitudes such as
The End Justifies the Means, the Code of
Silence, Don’t Rock the Boat, Be a Part
of the In Crowd; and making an example
of rookies when they challenge the
In many law enforcement agencies, the
misuse of power by and the ineffectiveness
as well as the relative absence of
competent and ethical leadership tend to
demoralize the workers and predispose
them toward cynicism and breaches of
public trust, and therefore they fail to
adhere to their code of ethics. The arbitrary
use of their police powers occurs as
a means of resolving their conundrum,
giving them a sense of control over the
lives of others and consequently a sense
of control over their own lives. Some law
enforcement officers may justify corrupt
practices because “no one cares, and why
should we?” and have other law enforcement
officers support their beliefs. No
one seems satisfied with contemporary
law enforcement, least of all the law enforcement
officer. Policing may thus be
seen as indeed an impossible mandate.
In this article, personal integrity is defined
as “sincere devotion to honesty. justice,
and goodness” and implies an adherence
to a personal code of conduct. For
law enforcement officers to accomplish
their job, they should have personal integrity.
Personal integrity is a rigid adherence
to a personal code of conduct. Failure
to adhere to that code indicates lack of
integrity. Lack of integrity infers a breach
of trust, commonly known as corruption.
Although corruption is indeed a breach of
public trust, it may be more fully defined
as dishonesty facilitated by an individual’s
abuse of authority for wrongful gain
or for a benefit to self or others. The
person need not actually realize a gain or
benefit, but merely intend it.5 In the remainder
of this article, police corruption
will be defined as the use of one’s status
as a police officer for wrongful gain or
J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1998 435
McCafferty, Souryal, and McCafferty
The Corruptive Process
The corruptive process and occupational
deviance in law enforcement have
their counterparts in other professions.
Corruption occurs in all professions and
occupations. There is a crisis in medicine,
as managed care places the physician in
the ethical dilemma of providing high
quality care while facing a shrinking level
of reimbursement. Managed care, with its
business ethics and “bottom line” mentality,
is being substituted for medical ethics
and the noble ideals of the Hippocratic
oath. Managed care is changing the way
physicians practice as well as the way
physicians think and, consequently,
changing their medical judgment. Patients
lose their loyalty to an individual
physician, and the loyalty becomes transferred
to the insurance company that
promises to refer them to “great” physicians
or “world class7′ physicians. This
makes it easier for the subversion by the
physician of his or her ethical relationship
to patients as there is a shift in the physician’s
need to please the managed care
organization rather than the patient.
In the legal profession, the glut of attorneys
along with intense competition is
forcing some lawyers to reevaluate the
way they practice law. Some lower their
standards, cut corners, overbill, mingle
business and personal funds, and plea
bargain in cases to the detriment of the
clients; some lie to clients, miss deadlines,
practice corporate law to the detriment
of the masses, and often, ultimately
leave the profession for other occupations.
The intensity of the anger that attorneys
face, the manipulation and corruption
that they encounter, as well as the
stress of practice, incline some attorneys
to abandon personal integrity.
An attorney may feel that it is useless
to ever attempt to alter public perception
of the mass media’s scathing portrayals of
attorneys; this may leave some attorneys
feeling that it is useless to “buck the system.”
The prevailing climate may encourage
less conscientious or compromising
individuals to enter the profession. Additionally,
the promise of a large verdict
and press coverage lures many attorneys
to engage in unlawful solicitation of accident
victims, families of victims of airline
crashes, or the like. Overburdened
state bar associations are often illequipped
to deal with such violations of
barratry laws, and the attorney learns that
unethical solicitation is perceived as a
“victimless” crime, when the morality of
the entire legal system is lowered to a
level of belief in a “universal greed.”
In law enforcement, there are obviously
more opportunities for corruption
than in the other professions.
Many (law enforcement officers) realize that
while they were required to enforce all current
statues, the public does not tolerate the full
enforcement of all laws; while they were held
responsible for eradicating drugs and apprehending
drug dealers, their ability to cope with
the drug problem was substantially limited;
while they were expected to act in an impartial
and an apolitical manner, the infiltration of
politics in policing compelled them to use compromising
deals, deceptive means, and collusion
with crirninak6
The traditional sphere of corruption in
the police has been thought of as the
abuse of authority, kickbacks, opportunis436
J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1998
Law Enforcement Corruption
tic thefts, shakedowns. protection of illegal
activities, the “fix,” direct criminal
activities, and internal payoffs. Law enforcement
officers often justify breaking
the law to enforce the law when they pay
off informers, reduce charges to insure
convictions, allow “fences” to operate,
and partially enforce or fail to enforce
certain laws.’ However, corruption in law
enforcement involves more than these
Generally, there are two types of law
enforcement ethical problems that lead to
corruption: (1) those involving integrity
and (2) those involving hard choices in
law enforcement agencies. Heffernan and
Stroup state that:
The problems usually related to integrity include-taking
bribes, giving perjured testimony,
or using street-law justice on suspects
through the use of illegal force. These problems
are unethical and generally not acceptable to
other law enforcement officers.
The second problem involves difficult
choices in law enforcement with ethical evaluation
of the morality of the uncertain choices,
i.e., the extent of law enforcement discretion,
the level of deception permitted in law enforcement
investigations, the selection of whom to
target in an undercover investigation, when to
use deadly force and decisions involving affirmative
In choices related to these types of
problems, there is the constant threat of
the end justifying the means and subjective
ethics influencing the judgment of
those individuals whose ethical standards
have been eroded, or were never intact.
The cries of the statesmen in the ancient
Roman Senate of “Cui bone?”-whose
benefit?-are echoed in this type of selfserving
ethical choice.
Law enforcement work is, or should be,
one of the most ethical professions in
society. In the United States, the role of
the law enforcement officer signifies a
variety of complex functions that include
crime fighting, peace keeping, community
and social service. problem solving,
and more importantly, maintaining order.
In the United States, law enforcement is
expected to be conducted in a democratic
manner.9 The ethical standards of a particular
law enforcement agency are a reflection
of the standards of its leader.
In a democratic society, the conflict
between the freedom and privacy of the
individual, on the one hand, and social
control, on the other, is one of the most
difficult tasks. The heart of the conflict is
not over the ends but rather the means by
which society can operate an effective
social control mechanism, while maintaining
the freedom and privacy of the
individual. Ethical considerations determine
the resolution of this conflict.”
Despite advances in the scientific aspects
of criminal control, law enforcement
officers continue to face difficult
moral (and ethical) choices. These include
whether or not to make an arrest,
whether to use deadly force, to prosecute,
to permit participation in plea bargaining,
to impose punishment, and from an organizational
standpoint, whether to adhere
to law enforcement policy, cooperate and
comply with the orders of supervisors,
and whether to treat the public fairly. In
these areas, individual and institutional
ethics become major problem areas.
While the results of such choices continue
J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1998 437
McCafferty, Souryal, and McCafferty
to cause serious conflict, the moral (ethical)
grounds for these choices have seldom
been explored.” Institutional ethics
can be determined and applied by the
leader of the institution who is subject to
many pressures including political pressure.

The conflict areas in law enforcement
that may lead to corruption include the
processes of administration and management,
police discretion, the public not
wanting all laws enforced (with politicians
and citizens attempting to adversely
influence law enforcement agencies), the
“code of silence,” and racism and sexism.
Inadequacy of Administration The
lack of proper supervision and the improper
use of authority are salient factors
that contribute to the vulnerability of a
law enforcement officer to corruption.
“Authoritarian managers continue to have
an adverse impact on the quality of justice
administration”; and frequently, “Discipline
is maintained by a tyranny of proceduralism
that ensures absolute compliance
with agency rules of operation.
Regulations, for all practical purposes,
are effectively used to silence the nonconformists
who dare to deviate from the
administrative lines.”‘* It becomes almost
impossible to be a law enforcement officer
without violating some procedure or
regulation, and this violation can be used
against that officer under this type of authoritarian
manager as a means of intimidation,
for control or punishment of that
officer. This becomes a primary tool used
to maintain the code of silence. This can
also become a means of selective attrition
of law enforcement officers who are honest
or who do not go along with this type
of leadership, with a resultant shaping of
the law enforcement agency toward and
maintenance of corruption from one generation
to the next.
Unethical law enforcement leaders, operating
without integrity, may come to
view authority as an opportunity to reward
friends and to punish enemies; to
see their role as giving orders rather than
supervising, training, and counseling
workers; and to view loyalty to themselves
as more important than ethical values.
Furthermore, such leaders “in pursuit
of excellence,” treat supervision as a
means of finding subordinates doing
something “wrong” instead of supervising
them to do the right and ethical thing
and communication as a method of exchanging
favors within the “in group.”
Such practices, when used to enhance the
personal interests of a small number of
the “in group,” have led to the demoralization
of the ”out-group.”‘3 This type of
unethical leadership tends to lead law enforcement
officers to ignore their oath of
office, to overlook the ethical principals
and code of ethics that they were taught in
the academy, to abuse discretion, and to
use corrupt means as a way of reconciling
impossible demands.I4
It is believed that law enforcement officers
who are frustrated, angry, and resentful
over the lack of respect shown to
them by supervisors may attempt to compensate
by acting in an overly authoritarian
way on the streets. where they feel
free to express their feelings without fear
of retaliation. Further, as job dissatisfaction
increases among officers, their tendency
to act out against citizens on the
438 J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1998
Law Enforcement Corruption
streets on the basis of race or national
origin increases.”
Because of frustration with unfair departmental
rules and regulation~ and a
leadership without integrity, many law
enforcement officers find a solution in
corruption as a means of getting back at
their department.I6 Their frustration becomes
an excuse to justify corruption in
their own minds, with the ends justifying
the means.
The product of an unethical type of
management destroys morale, rewards
misplaced “loyalty,” and encourages the
“courting” of an unethical management to
be part of the “in-group.” It also destroys
initiative, places a stress on personal integrity,
and leads to corr~ption.’~
Ambivalence of Police Discretion
Another complex problem in law enforcement
that may lead to corruption is the
ambivalence of police discretion. “Discretion
is the authority to make decisions
of policy and practice. In policing, discretion
often includes command or patrol
authority to decide which laws shall be
enforced, and when, where, and how. It
also includes authority to decide which
means of helping the helpless, maintaining
order, and keeping the peace are best
suited to particular circumstances.”18
Law enforcement officers are given
discretion because no set of rules and
regulations or laws can cover every possible
circum~tance.’~ Not every criminal
statute should be enforced strictly. The
lower ranking officers should not have,
but do have, more discretion than higher
ranking officers. This may predispose to
corruption in the case of, for example,
lower ranking officers who are involved
in community policing.
Ideally, law enforcement officers
should not have discretion in general law
enforcement policy, but should have the
discretion to apply policy to the facts and
circumstances of each particular case.20
The problem is to know the limits of
individual discretion and to have the personal
integrity and wisdom to act within
the limits. This challenge requires an ethical
law enforcement officer to make the
proper choice.
Public Indifference The general public
and politicians are also involved in
conflict areas leading to corruption in law
enforcement. Law enforcement officers
generally will use the full extent of power
and discretion given to them, and citizens
generally encourage this by accepting
whole-heartedly the belief that these officers
must have unquestioned authority if
crime is to be controlled. However, this
authority, power, and discretion is often
used not to enforce the law but to extort
money or favors from those individuals in
the public who either want to avoid the
law (in gambling and liquor violations,
traffic offenses, etc.) or who desperately
need more of its protection.2′
Citizens also become involved in law
enforcement corruption. It is evident that
the roots of law enforcement corruption
go much deeper than the presence of “unenforceable”
laws and regulations. “Underlying
almost every kind of corrupt law
enforcement activity found during investigation
was the need of the public for
service and the freedom of the law enforcement
officer to decide whether to
provide it or not.”22
J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1998 439
McCafferty, Souryal, and McCafferty
The provision or nonprovision of service
by the law enforcement officer can
be lucrative for the unethical officer. For
example, an officer in community policing
performs many non-law enforcement
functions, ranging from managing domestic
disputes to confronting children
and teenagers on the streets to helping
store owners on their beat. As a result.
law enforcement officers frequently find
themselves in situations requiring the exercise
of discretion, which they can use to
extort money, other favors, or future
“IOUs” in return for performing or not
performing a service. The possibilities for
harassment. street-law justice, and withholding
services are limited only by the
level of integrity and the imagination of
the officer.
When law enforcement officers testify
in court, the slightest “spin” of their testimony
can make or break a case. How
they react to a suspect running from the
scene of a crime can mean the difference
between that person’s life or death. How
they handle those situations, which they
confront daily but which never result in
official action, will be dictated by how
they view the public and secondarily by
how the public sees them.23 The officers,
with their discretion, can influence a jury
to convict an innocent person, to acquit a
guilty individual, and in the extreme, to
permit a citizen to literally get away with
Law enforcement officers come into
constant contact with the good citizen and
the criminal or “underdog.” Ethical officers
treat them both in the same manner;
the unethical officers treat them in a way
that is contingent upon what the citizen,
criminal, or underdog may be able to do
for the officers in the present or the future.
Used to the idea of exercising total
discretion, unethical law enforcement officers
often do as they see fit and feel
little need to consider the impact of what
they have done. The temptation to be
corrupted by one’s own feeling of power
is a natural consequence.
Political Intervention Political efforts
at influencing the law enforcement
leaders or their officers may have many
negative consequences. Many officers
have access to confidential information
about the city’s leaders and politicians,
whether it is official law enforcement
records, information obtained from informants,
or mere rumors. Consequently,
law enforcement officers and politicians
often have a standoff: if, for example, a
politician makes accusations of corruption
or creates “waves” within the department,
he/she may find personal problems
or adverse information about himself/
herself being publicized. Politicians,
criminals, and citizens may also want to
be involved with law enforcement officers
so that they might influence the officers
in the event of future adverse involvement
with those officers or in the pursuit
of the goals of the citizens or politician~.~~
Politicians want law enforcement
discretion to favor politicians, and many
citizens want as much as they can get
from the officer.25
A veteran law enforcement officer succinctly
spelled out the problem of discretion:
“We all know what was right or
wrong, legal or illegal. The only difficulty
involved resisting temptation for personal
gain or peer pressure to be one of the
440 J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1998
Law Enforcement Corruption
boys.”26 It is evident that discretion is a
primary factor in the start of the “slippery
slope” to corruption.
The Code of Silence Another significant
problem in police corruption is the
“code of silence.” This code is a barrier to
the elimination of corruption and is related
to the law enforcement officer’s tendency
to become isolated from anyone
other than law enforcement office^-s.27
The Code or Conspiracy of Silence is
based on the implementation of a “code”
that defines the standard of practice,
whether legal or illegal, accepted as part
of an officer’s behavior. The Code sanctions
activities that fall within the Code
and are not to be shared with outsiders:
“They don’t understand.” It is a system
whereby officers lie for each other; if
someone “rats out,” then that person can
be “ratted out.”
There is also frequently a cover-up or
“whitewashing” of corruption investigations
in law enforcement agencies
because many leaders “have their own
skeletons to hide.” This leads to inauthenticity
(marginalized integrity) in that law
enforcement agency, which involves positive
overt appearances coupled with negative
underlying realities. Inauthenticity
takes place in the form of an official
cover-up. Subsequently, there is confusion
about what the truth is concerning
the real extent and cause(s) of public issues,
concerns, and accusation^.^^ When
the leadership of a law enforcement
agency states one thing and does the opposite
in its investigation, this action
leads to cynicism in the agency’s individual
law enforcement officers.
Because of the nature of law enforcement
work, an intense group loyalty develops
among officers. When law enforcement
officers develop a commitment
to what they perceive as a higher purpose.
it is their commitment rather than their
personality that becomes a primary determinant
of their behavior. Group loyalty
often overcomes a law enforcement officer’s
sworn oath and duty. It makes allegiance
to fellow officers-even corrupt
ones-more important than allegiance to
the ideals of the law enforcement agency
and the community. The code of silence
is strongest when corruption is more frequent.
Officers who report law enforcement
misconduct are ostracized, harassed,
called “rats” and “finks,” become targets
of complaints and even physical threats
and attacks, and are made to feel that they
will be abandoned on the streets in a time
of crisis. This enforcement of the code of
silence feeds corruption because it makes
corrupt law enforcement officers feel protected
and in~ulnerable.~~ Because of this
loyalty to their peers, law enforcement
officer also tend to become isolated from
the rest of the community.
Dr. Edward Shev, a veteran psychiatrist
for the Sausalito, California. Police
Department, noted that: “Because of their
work, cops are routinely subjected to
temptations he calls the three B’s: booze,
broads, and bribes (and today,
The mentality of the ends justifying the
means, or situational ethics, is one of the
factors that increases this vulnerability.
For instance, during the investigation of
corruption in the Chicago Police Department
(1970 to 1976), it was evident that
all possible types of law enforcement corJ
Am Acad Psychiatry Law, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1998 441
McCafferty, Souryal, and McCafferty
ruption existed. All of these types of corruption,
with the possible exception of
premeditated theft, were considered to be
“within the code” and consequently subject
to the code or conspiracy of silence.
They included: “mooching, chiseling, favoritism,
prejudice, shopping, extortion,
bribery, shakedown, perjury and premeditated
From this list, it is evident that “victimless”
crimes such as prostitution, possession
of drugs not for sale, and gambling
are more likely to encourage law
enforcement corruption, as law enforcement
officers are more inclined to look
the other way when confronted with this
criminal activity or take money and not
make an arrest. It is easier for officers to
invoke the code of silence in this type of
The feeling of entitlement (the “fringe
benefits” mentality) is also a factor that
contributes to the corruption process of a
law enforcement officer. A law enforcement
officer reported that he “got the idea
that a cop was pretty much entitled to
what he could get. No one sat around and
theorized why payoffs and shakedowns
were okay, but it was clear to him that
everyone verified the idea the police deserved
extra money and that the public
was happy to pay it. Those cops who
wouldn’t take money or accept favors
were allowed to go their own way as long
as they kept quiet. If not every officer
took money, few ever dared break the
conspiracy of silence.”” Examples of
those law enforcement officers who dared
to break the code of silence and suffered
as a result are Frank Serpico and Joe
Trjmboli (the “new Serpico”), law enforcement
officers for the city of New
York, who attempted. in separate generations,
to have anyone in a position of
authority in their law enforcement agencies
act upon evidence of corruption. An
example of the suffering endured by those
who became part of the “leper colony” is
the Serpico adventure, in which the hero
ended up with a bullet in his head and
subsequently became a recluse.33
A small percentage of law enforcement
officers involved in a post-officer-involved
shooting trauma (POST) experience
“a thrill” after exposure to violence
or shooting incidents, which may incline
the officer to subsequently rush into hazardous
situations, consciously or unconsciously,
in an effort to recreate the
These individuals have a tendency
to become involved in “streetlaw.”
(In addition, some law enforcement
officers rush into hazardous situations as
a means of committing suicide in a “noble”
Large law enforcement agencies frequently
have individuals who have been
involved in numerous shootings, many
times more than the average officer. At
times, the shootings and the patterns of
shootings are not adequately investigated
by that law enforcement agency through
Internal Affairs, which leads that officer
to become a “legend in hisher own time”
and in hisfher own mind, with a resultant
tendency to become involved in similar
shooting incidents. Other law enforcement
officers who are involved in numerous
shootings, however, are excellent officers
who are, unfortunately, in the right
place at the right time (for a law enforce442
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Law Enforcement Corruption
ment officer) and consequently become
involved in critical incidents.
Law enforcement officers may also
break laws to protect each other. The limited
videotape of the beating of Rodney
King by Los Angeles police officers was
a high-profile example. However, less
visible, more subtle examples happen every
day: offering favors for friends, filing
fake disability claims, or roughing up a
suspect in the back seat of a squad car.
Racism and Sexism Racism and sexism
are also problems for many departments
and officers. Integrating law enforcement
departments has been very
difficult, and minorities, including
women officers, have always had a rough
time of it.
The abuse of women law enforcement
officers by their fellow officers can be
extreme. Some female law enforcement
officers have experienced a growing pattern
of sexual harassment inside the station
houses: everything from male officers
making sophomoric and threatening
jokes at the women officers’ expense to
grabbing the women’s crotches and
breasts. Some of this behavior is actually
criminal assault. Women officers are an
unprotected minority. They comprise less
than 10 percent of the nation’s law enforcement
officers; even fewer women
populate the leadership positions where
evaluations are made and discipline decided.
Harassment of women officers is
something the public seldom sees.35
Etiology of Corruption in Law
Law enforcement agencies do not have
a monopoly on corruption. Where law
enforcement corruption exists, it has its
parallel in other agencies of government,
in industry, in labor organizations, and in
other professions. “It is indeed ironic that
one of the lessons learned from studying
police corruption is to better gauge corruption
in other components of the criminal
justice system.”36 The etiology of
corruption in law enforcement serves as a
paradigm of corruption in other areas including
law, medicine, and business, as
well as other professions. This corruption
involves the individual with his own
unique personality structure on which is
superimposed the effect of social pressure,
peer pressure, the institution’s code
of ethics, opportunity, the code of silence,
and di~cretion.~~
Development of Police Corruption
As with any social problem, corruption
within the criminal justice system is not
merely a “few rotten apples in a barrel.”
but it is the product of socially patterned
behavior originating from sociological
causes.38 Corruption within the criminal
justice system is an occupational crime,
arising from opportunities that are unique
to the Individual law enforcement
officers with their own personal codes of
ethics are placed into a law enforcement
institutional system wherein isolation of
the officers and dehumanization of citizens
occur in a closed society with its
own ethical standards, partly determined
by a code of silence. The values of the
institutional subculture (the law enforcement
agency) then become a potent motivator
of behavior. Parenthetically, “police
bashing” by the media may help
contribute to the development of the
J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1998 443
McCafferty, Souryal, and McCafferty
closed society of a law enforcement
For criminal activity to become acceptable
within organizations, especially law
enforcement agencies, it is necessary to
account for those factors that must be
present for criminal activity to become
acceptable.40 New employees who find
illegal activity to be the standard will tend
to go along with crime as just another
aspect of their jobs. Organizational crime
also frequently occurs in instances where
members do not consider themselves a
part of the community in which they live.
Criminal activity is widespread because it
is often learned and/or encouraged within
the corrupt organizational structures that
constitute some law enforcement agencies.
Further, an organization’s cultural
value system justifies and excuses such
beha~ior.~’ It appears likely that a community
has the type of law enforcement
services it desires or tolerates.
As previously noted, law enforcement
officers have a tendency to dehumanize
citizens, and consequently not to identify
with them, in part because law enforcement
officers usually see citizens at their
worst. They have a tendency to dichotomize
people as “assholes” (citizens) or
“cops.” The realities and severe stress of
law enforcement work bolster the corruptive
features of law enforcement cultures.
Officers may tend to identify the criminals
they must confront every day with
the community that they must serve and
to close ranks against a hostile environment.42
Dehumanization functions to
achieve freedom from fear via blindness
to the humanity of others. At an extreme,
dehumanization facilitates killing with indi~ference,~~
as in the killing of “gooks”
in Vietnam.
One significant aspect of law enforcement
corruption is related to “victimless
crimes” such as gambling, prostitution,
liquor laws, vagrancy. possession of narcotics,
and minor traffic offenses. It is
easier for an officer to “look the other
way” when investigating a “victimless
crime,” and consequently he or she will
be more susceptible to the pressure of
corruption and the code of silence.
Failures of Discretion Failure of discretion
is also a significant factor in corruption
among law enforcement officers.
The principle ethical considerations for
legitimate law enforcement discretion are
to have sufficient and legal authority for
making the discretionary decision along
with notification and extent of the guidelines
for discretion. Discretion can be authorized
or unauthorized. Some crimes
have no discretionary alternatives (e.g.,
major crimes).44 An example of law enforcement
discretion apparently inappropriately
applied is the case of a 62-yearold
woman who was charged with
disorderly conduct and obstructing official
business for putting a total of 15 cents
into two parking meters for other people,
after allegedly being warned by the arresting
officer not to do this. The arresting
officer testified that the woman was
arrested because she yelled at him. “She
continued yelling, I had to struggle with
her to get her hands behind her back.”45
In discretionary situations. the process
for arriving at a judgment is, in effect,
moral (ethical) reasoning, for which law
enforcement officers must be both ethical
and trained in its use. It becomes a ques444
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Law Enforcement Corruption
tion, when discretion is applied, as to
whom law enforcement officers serve: society,
the state, the law, themselves, victims,
their own ego, or street justice? “To
insist on strict enforcement of law and
policy at the expense of the possibility of
justice for individuals is to see the law
enforcement officer as an arm of the state
rather than an arm of society. That is, the
use of discretion by police to prevent
injustices is the one aspect of their job
that gives precedence to its moral content
rather than its formal demands for law
enforcement. It is this aspect which
makes police work more than rote administration
of law, and thus, more than a
mere execution of the will of the State.
Police discretion is an institutionalized
capacity to resist the will of the State
from within certain situation^.”^^ This,
however, may become another definition
of corruption, depending on the ethical
principles of the individual officer. It may
also be considered applied democracy
within a free society in which voluntary
compliance is the accepted practice.
Law enforcement discretion can occur
in situations in which an officer decides
whether to give a ticket for driving five
miles over a speed limit, to an extreme
case in which a corrupt officer could let a
person get away with murder. A corrupt
officer can avoid responsibility by using
the “never saw it” or “never heard of it”
defense in misapplying discretion.
Most law enforcement officers stop at a
certain level of deviance or abuse of discretion,
on the basis of that particular law
enforcement institution’s definition of
limits. An officer may become involved
in corruption to be “one of the boys,” to
retain his job, because of greed or feelings
of entitlement, or because helshe
fears retaliation (e.g., it wouldn’t be safe
working with a corrupt partner, if the
uncertain law enforcement officer didn’t
go along with the corrupt officer). No
matter how great the pressure and temptation,
corruption is still a personal
choice, and they (law enforcement officers)
are responsible.
Some law enforcement officers become
jaded and cynical at the nuances
and hypocrisy of the selective enforcement
of law by the administrations of
their law enforcement agency. Officers
see the application of discretion by the
leader of their law enforcement agency
and tend to develop a mentality in which
the “end justifies the means,” acting on
what they consider to be the greater
good-usually their own good. This principle
of utilitarianism basically indicates
that the rightness or wrongfulness of an
action is determined by the consequences
of that action and not by anything intrinsic
in the act itself.
Neutralization Theory Another possible
contributory factor to explain law
enforcement conuption is the Neutralization
Theory, which focuses on rational
explanations formed before crimes are
committed that allow individuals to escape
guilt feelings that would otherwise
prevent them from engaging in criminal
acts. Within law enforcement agencies,
such rationalizations include denying responsibility
(the criminal behavior is not
the fault of the law enforcement officer),
denying victimization (dehumanization),
authorization (appeal to higher authorities),
and condemning condernne~-s.47 DeJ
Am Acad Psychiatry Law, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1998 445
McCafferty, Souryal, and McCafferty
humanization, in which citizens are considered
to be “assholes,” is a significant
component of the Neutralization Theory.
An “asshole” is commonly defined by
law enforcement officers as a citizen who
behaves or acts flagrantly against his or
her own interests, for example, by taunting
or baiting officers. The definition may
vary depending on the integrity of the
There is an emphasis in the Neutralization
Theory on the learning of both criminal
and noncriminal norms in intimate
groups. It is organizations and their cultural
values that influence the behavior of
individual employees in the work environment.
Patterns of criminal activity differ
greatly between different cultures and
under different leaders. Institutions actually
select and shape the social character
of their members. Success in these settings
mandates that members accept (internalize)
the expectations of institutional
1eade1-s.~’ “Elite deviance” makes it easier
for lower ranking individuals or employees
to accept bribes, violate human rights,
and to engage in drug dealing and other
corrupt practices. The institution becomes
the lengthened shadow of the man (leader).

The rationalizations for corruption and
criminal behavior are frequently formulated
within small subgroups of the law
enforcement agency (crew corruption),
frequently led by higher ranking officers.
These subgroups take on a separate life of
their own, distinct from the primary organization,
with their own corrupt standards.
The criminal acts and rationalizations
are all agreed to by group members
before any crime is undertaken. Consequently,
criminal behavior becomes a socially
acquired, formal and deliberate attribute
of that instituti~n.~~ There is a
change in the current type of law enforcement
corruption in contrast to the past,
when there was an emphasis on pads and
payoffs (the “pad” being a notebook that
contained, usually in code, the names of
individuals who would be visited regulary
for purposes of collecting the “payoff’).
The “new corruption” involves groups of
law enforcement officers, with various
degrees of organization and sophistication,
actively seeking opportunities to
“score” from burglary, larceny, robbery,
protection rackets, and Officers,
in their closed institution, internalize the
standards of their leaders, and this sets the
stage for corruption supported by leaders
who lack integrity and an ethical sensibility.
Conversely, with ethical leaders,
officers will tend to develop into ethical
Some authors believe that cynicism
(not power) is the impetus for law enforcement
corruption. One career law enforcement
official has said that “It seems
rather futile to try to convince police to be
honest when better educated, better paid
and more respected members of the criminal
justice community are involved in
graft, bribery, payoffs, and other forms of
c~rru~tion.”~’ It follows from this that if
cynicism is the impetus for corruption,
then efforts to resolve law enforcement
corruption will fail unless other institutions
are changed at the same time. This
pernicious point of view leads to a belief
that because others are corrupt, then corruption
becomes legitimate. The corrup446
J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1998
Law Enforcement Corruption
tion of others becomes a license for corruption
by all.
The Impact of Stress The stress that
individual law enforcement officers encounter
is extraordinary. Symptoms that
in themselves constitute a diagnosis of
personality disorder may actually be secondary
to overwhelming stress and to an
individual’s attempts to cope with that
stress. Borderline Personality Disorder
syptomatology, in particular, reflects this
possible adaptation. The pattern of irrational
and intense interpersonal relationships
characterized by alternating between
extremes of overidealization (of
fellow officers) and devaluating (of citizens)
impulsiveness in self-damaging
areas (spending, sex, substance abuse,
and theft), affective instability, inappropriate
intense anger or lack of control,
suicide threats, gestures or behaviors
marked by persistent identity disturbance
(in self-image, long-term goals, types of
friends, and preferred values), and
chronic feeling of emptiness can be seen
in these overstressed office^-s.’~ The effect
of the overwhelming stress encountered
in law enforcement work exhausts
the adaptive capacities of some officers,
resulting in a demoralization and brutalization
in which former values become
meaningless. The values of the law enforcement
agency are then much more
likely to be reflected in the values of these
stressed individual officers. If this law
enforcement agency’s values are corrupt,
they are much more readily assimilated
by the brutalized and stressed officers.
Completed suicides are also seen in these
stressed officers, as well as in those who
are under investigation for corr~ption.~”
Incidence of Corruption in Law
Enforcement Departments
The extent of corruption in law enforcement
is more than just a few “rogue
cops” in the “rotten apple the01-y.’~ It is
more likely to be an institutional problem.
This does not, however, lessen the importance
of focusing on how the recruitment,
selection, training, and management of
law enforcement personnel resources may
contribute to the development of law enforcement
The institutional problems in law enforcement
are expressed through its individual
law enforcement officers. The percentage
of law enforcement officers
within an institution who are corrupt is a
reflection of the leadership of that institution.
Law enforcement agencies in
larger cities have a greater tendency to
have higher percentages of corrupt officers
than smaller departments in which the
institutional leader can more closely scrutinize
individual officers. It is obviously
difficult to get accurate statistics on the
incidence of corruption in law enforcement
agencies. No law enforcement
agency would want to advertise the extent
of corruption that exists within its agency.
As an example of creative thinking, the
Internal Affairs Division of one law enforcement
agency classified approximately
1,500 corruption allegations in
one year as law enforcement impersonation
cases.5s However, there are some
indicators of the extent of corruption in
law enforcement agencies. One psychiatrist
who worked extensively with law
enforcement officers in Sausalito, CA, reported
that in his experience:
J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1998 447
McCafferty, Souryal, and McCafferty
Working cops can be classified into three definite
categories. The “natural” cops constitute
only 5 percent of all police; these are men and
women who intuitively know how to handle
both the work and the pressures of being a cop.
Their own personalities form the basis for the
confidence and discretion that police work requires
daily, and they seem to absorb the cop’s
detailed knowledge and training almost as if
they knew it all beforehand.
The second category comprises 60 percent
of all police, the “treatable” cops. Most of the
time these persons perform their duties well,
but they have to work hard to master all the
skills of being a police officer. More importantly,
each man or woman in this majority has
a breaking point, an aspect to his or her personality
that may jeopardize police and citizens in
a situation of intense pressure or just the right
combination of forces. Yet, these basically
healthy cops can perform as capable as the
“naturals” if they are encouraged to recognize
their weaknesses and to overcome their tendency
to overreact under the pressures that affect
them adversely. (These individuals need
leadership and supervision.)
But the real dangerous police are the 35
percent who make up the third category. They
are the “untreatable” men and women-the bad
cops. Their personalities are not suited to police
work and they are unable to learn about themselves
or accept treatment that would allow
them to function adequately as police officers.
One cop in three is untreatable and the actions
of this minority are usually responsible for the
bad reputations of police in many communities.56

These untreatable law enforcement officers
are inflexible, repressive, and psychologically
~nstable.’~ A law enforcement
shield with this third group is not an
emblem of righteousness but a license to
steal. The political pressure to hire individuals
in this third category, coupled
with the civil service protection afforded
to this third category as well as the lowered
employment standards, will tend to
affect negatively the percentages in the
first and second category. How the leaders
of the law enforcement agency handles
its officers will determine the percentage
of the various types of officers
left in that agency, particularly in the
third category.
Obviously, not all law enforcement officers
are corrupt. If such activities as free
meals are excluded, a significant number
of law enforcement officers do not engage
in any corrupt activities. But, with
extremely rare exceptions, even those
who engage in no corrupt activities are
indirectly involved in corruption because
they do not prevent or report what they
know or suspect to be going on around
In some large urban departments, the
reported extent of corruption in investigations
is staggering: “. . . a 1972 study
revealed that one out of three police in
Chicago was guilty of a criminal act; one
out of four in Boston; and one of five in
Washington, DC. These crimes included
assault, theft, shakedown and extortion,
and acceptance of bribes. Despite efforts
to purge police criminals. these proportions
probably have not changed appreciably
in the last five years.”s9
Other indications of the incidence of
law enforcement corruption include the
Knapp Report, which states that as many
as one-half of all New York (City) Police
Department (NYPD) officers were corrupt.
“At the time of the commission’s
investigation, police corruption was
found to be an extensive, departmentwide
phenomenon indulged in to some
degree by a sizable majority of those on
the force and protected by a code of silence
on the part of those who remained
448 J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1998
Law Enforcement Corruption
honest.””‘ In addition, according to one
report, 100 of the 1,046 Miami police
officers have been, or currently are being,
investigated on corruption related matters,
and officials are predicting that as
many as 200 officers may face investigation.”‘
Further, a study in 1987 indicated
that 20 percent of the officers in that
department used marijuana while on duty,
twice a month or more often. Furthermore,
10 percent of the officers reported
they had used nonprescription controlled
substances (defined in the study as including
hallucinogenics, stimulants, or
barbiturates) while on Also, “Jordan
(local U.S. Attorney for New Orleans)
and several other watchdog groups
estimate that between 10 and 15 percent
of the 1,500 officer police department is
As an example of ethical problems in
law enforcement, and a possible indication
of corruption, the charges of excessive
force in the Los Angeles Police Department
(LAPD) in the years 1986 to
1990, with 8,450 sworn law enforcement
officers resulted in 1,800 complaints
against individual officers, who represented
21 percent of the force. Of the
1,800 officers against whom complaints
of excessive force had been made, more
than 1,400 had one to two allegations;
183 (or 2%) of the officers had 4 or more
allegations, 44 had 6 or more, 16 had 8 or
more, and 1 had 16 allegations. However,
of the total of 2,152 citizens’ allegations
of excessive force, only 42 were sustained.
The city of Los Angeles paid in
excess of 20 million dollars in judgment
settlements and jury verdicts against
LAPD officers alleging excessive use of
force.64 Corruption and brutality are often
linked. Corruption-prone officers were
more than five times as likely to have 5 or
more unnecessary force allegations
against them than the other officers in a
random sample in one law enforcement
The true incidence of corruption is unknown
because there is “institutional reluctance
to uncover serious corruption
with no outside pressure to counter it.”
Consequently, avoiding headlines, putting
up with corruption, and maintaining
the status quo becomes more important
than eradicating corruption. This institutional
cover-up sends a message to law
enforcement officers who are most susceptible
to the temptations of corruption
that corruption is tolerated in law enforcement
agencies, despite any contrary protestations.””

Patterns of Police Corruption Patterns
of police corruption fall into three
categories: corruption for power, corruption
for money, and corruption for the
ends of “street law” enforcement. The
personal integrity of an individual may
corrode gradually as helshe moves into
When the individual law enforcement
recruit is accepted into the law enforcement
agency, heishe undergoes training
to learn how to be an officer. What happens
to cause some individuals to become
corrupt? Corruption is an occupationally
induced problem rather than an occupational
ha~ard.”~ The moral and ethical
character of an individual recruit has a
great deal to do with the course of his or
her law enforcement career and ability to
resist the erosion of values, the cynicism
J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1998 449
McCafferty, Souryal, and McCafferty
that comes with law enforcement work
along with its institutional i~olation.’~
Family upbringing, education, religion,
and community values shape the character
of any individual. Consequently, standards
of selection should not be lowered
in law enforcement agencies.
The attitude of the training officers of a
law enforcement agency, and in particular
the field training officer, is a primary
factor in shaping the subsequent attitudes
and behavior of the rookie officer. The
field training officer’s attitude is, in turn,
a reflection of the attitude of the leader of
that law enforcement agency. Law enforcement
officers learn to be officers
primarily by example and by observing
how other officers act and what they do as
One scenario, which may be observed
in large metropolitan law enforcement
agencies, is that the rookie officer observes
the field training officer getting
free or half-price coffee and donuts, and
this sets the stage as to how the rookie
will subsequently view himselfherself as
an officer. Furthermore, the attitudes toward
the public that is manifested by the
administration of a law enforcement department
are subtly (and not so subtly)
inculcated into rookie officers by the field
training officer, as well as by what the
rookie officer actually sees in the behavior
of other law enforcement officers.
The mundane experiences of home,
wife, and children are superseded by the
excitement of law enforcement work. An
overly authoritarian attitude develops in
some officers as part of a way of relating
to citizens (“assholes”) whom the rookie
starts to perceive as dumb, ignorant, hostile,
and always at their worst. The rookie
now is able to further dehumanize citizens.
This authoritarian attitude is frequently
taken home from work by the
officer as helshe “matures,” and the resultant
attitude may begin to erode hisher
marriage and family life.
Drinking frequently becomes a way of
socialization with other officers and is
used as a means of reducing the excitement
and hyperalertness that occurs on
the officer’s tour of duty. The belief that
the law enforcement officer’s family
“does not understand” what the officer is
undergoing opens the door for involvement
with the cadre of willing sexual
objects that are available to the officer.
The heady experience of being “the
man” or “the woman” (when citizens are
seen as fearful, deferential, and angry at
the power and discretion of the law enforcement
officer) becomes intoxicating
and is a way of relating not only to citizens
but also to family. Along with this
way of relating to citizens is the realization
that officers are given special privileges
and gifts from citizens who want to
obtain, in return, the officer’s discretion
in applying the law. The officer develops
a cynical attitude in which a quid pro quo
or barter mentality originates. The officer
now has an attitude of entitlement, in
which helshe expects that citizens will be
deferential because of what helshe can do
or not do.
Many officers are able to maintain their
personal integrity. Other officers become
“passively” corrupt (i.e. “stealing” overtime,
taking “gifts” given to them by citizens
or by other officers who have stolen
these gifts from burglarized stores, etc.).
450 J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1998
Law Enforcement Corruption
Other officers become more aggressively
corrupt as their ethical and moral senses
decline. They become the “meat eaters”-those
law enforcement officers
who actively seek out illegal activity and
pursue their search for money and power.
Bribes, payoffs, theft, burglary, sexual
misconduct, vigilantism and “street-law”
enforcement, selective enforcement of the
law, violating constitutional rights, planting
evidence, robbing drug dealers and
citizens of money, drugs, and weapons,
and in the extreme, committing murder,
become the norm for some of these
Psychological Implications Not all
law enforcement officers become corrupt
or unable to function because of the stress
of being “the man” or “the woman.”
Some officers, however, because of the
stress and corruptive process involved in
law enforcement work, develop diagnosable
psychiatric conditions, for example
the symptomatology of a Borderline Personality
Disorder discussed previously. In
some officers, the lack of empathy, the
attitude of being interpersonally exploitative,
arrogance, and the sense of entitlement
of officers, as well as the belief that
one has special powers or abilities (including
police discretion), fulfill the diagnostic
criteria of Narcissistic Personality
Disorder as outlined in the DSM-IV.”
This narcissism that develops in some
officers as a result of their law enforcement
work is another factor that predisposes
them to corruption. Other types of
characters and individuals who are encountered
in law enforcement work in
addition to those with Borderline and
Narcissistic Personality Disorder symptomatology
include the following types.
The Antisocial Personality These are
the “untreatables,” the so-called “meateaters”
who profit by victimizing others.
Right and wrong have no meaning for
such an individual. These individuals are
shrewd and have no conscience. This is
the type of individual who comes upon an
unreported robbery scene and steals whatever
helshe can; or hears of a burglary
while on patrol and races to the robbery
scene to steal what is available. Such
individuals must be weeded out of the
police force by psychological testing and
background investigations, as well as by
observant academic instructors and field
training officers. Once the law enforcement
officer has been sworn in, the code
of silence starts immediately: “You are
one of us.” The Antisocial Personality
type of officer accepts the code of silence
and hisfher badge as a “license to steal.”
The Passive-Dependent or Inadequate
Personality These are the so-called
“grass-eaters” who cannot trust themselves
under any pressure from peers or in
positions of great temptation. They have a
price; these individuals rationalize their
behavior “because others do it.”
The Treatable These individuals conform
to the requirements of their profession,
but resent their conformity because
they see others getting away with dishonest
activity. They function in a state of
tension between their consciences and
what they would like to get away with.
These individuals need support and leadership
to encourage them to perform their
duties lawfully. These individuals are
“treatable” and can be helped by effective
J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1998 451
McCafferty, Souryal, and McCafferty
leadership to become good law enforcement
The High Quality These are individuals
of integrity and good character. They
are self-disciplined, honorable, honest,
and are not corruptible. These are model
law enforcement officer^.^
Statistics for these categories in law
enforcement departments are difficult to
obtain. A veteran law enforcement officer,
retired from a 75-man suburban department,
estimated that 1 to 3 percent of
law enforcement officers in his department
would be categorized as antisocial
personalities; 60 to 65 percent, the passive-dependent
or inadequate personality;
30 percent, the treatable; and 1 to 3 percent
would be high quality officers.72
Those officers with Borderline and Narcissistic
Personality Disorders symptomatology
would primarily be in an antisocial
personality or untreatable category,
but with some appearing also as passivedependent
or inadequate personality
Recommended Remedies The causes
of corruption are rooted in the interrelatedness
of an individual’s attributes, immediate
environment, and sociological
and institutional structure and values.73
The interrelatedness is between individual
personality traits, organizational environments,
and the influence of the larger
culture on personality and organizations.
No matter how carefully prospective law
enforcement officers are screened and
evaluated, there will always be those who
pass through the selection process and
eventually become involved in corruption,
or who were already corrupt when
hired-an example of the “rotten apple”
in the barrel.
Law enforcement agencies need adequate
salaries, high standards for selection,
the ability to attract high quality
candidates possessing personal integrity.
and training programs both for the rookie
and the veteran law enforcement officer.
To avoid the erosive effects of corruption,
law enforcement officers need leadership
that does not tolerate corruption and procedures
for accountability of officers, for
investigations of citizens’ and other officers’
complaints, and for unusual behavior
or circumstances, with an ethically principled
sense in both supervisory and patrol
personnel, as well as an ethical political
institutional en~ironment.~~ The
leadership of the law enforcement agency
needs to be isolated and protected from
the whim of politicians, to be free from
the fear of being fired or neutralized if
helshe does not go along with the wishes
of politicians. Ideally, he/she should be
under civil service protection.
The individual law enforcement officer
needs to be able to apply discretion in an
ethical, equitable, and just manner. He/
she needs to be a “street corner” expert in
ethics and morality. Helshe needs to be
mature, both ethically and psychologically.

Law enforcement departments must
ensure that only officers of the highest
standard of integrity are hired. The law
enforcement agency must then train these
individuals adequately and monitor their
activities to prevent the erosion of the
officers’ integrity. In one study involving
the NYPD, 24 percent of the officers who
had been dismissed or suspended had a
452 J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1998
Law Enforcement Corruption
prior criminal arrest record. Approximately
20 percent of the suspended or
dismissed officers should not have been
admitted into the department, based on
information in the officers’ personnel
files at the time of hiring.75
All law enforcement agencies want to
recruit the best possible candidates, those
who possess integrity, and have them
maintain their integrity. Establishing and
applying standards in the recruiting of
officers is of the utmost importance in
maintaining the integrity of a law enforcement
department. Candidates should
be mature, psychologically stable, ethical,
and preferably graduates of a four-year
college. Polygraph screening, as done by
the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is
exceedingly important. Those who are involved
in the hiring process must maintain
these criteria of personal integrity.
Candidates should be able to see citizens
as individuals and not dehumanize them.
Not all candidates have such integrity,
nor do all individuals who are involved in
the hiring process.
The past behavior of an individual is
the best predictor of his or her future
behavior. Other noteworthy indicators are
prior drug use and possible damage to the
brain, disinhibition and erosion of the
candidate’s ethical sense, induced by
drugs (eg, MDMA, LSD, and PCP),
trauma, and alcohol. A juvenile record,
relationship to authority, respect for the
law, job history (e.g., misconduct in
former jobs), and financial records76 are
also factors to consider. The way an individual
handles hisfher anger and aggression
is a salient factor that needs to be
explored. Family history is exceedingly
important in determining possible identifications
and dynamics in an individual
(e.g., family history of criminal activity).
The Importance of Occupational
Standards The ideal standard for hiring
is the absence of a history of deviant
behavior and absence of alcohol and drug
abuse. Every indication of deviant behavior
should be evaluated as fully as possible.
The evaluation of an individual psychologically
needs to be done by a fully
qualified psychiatrist or psychologist.
Background investigation should be obtained
on the psychologists and psychiatrists
doing the evaluations. These evaluators
should be knowledgeable about law
enforcement work and the demands it
makes on a person.77 The evaluation of
law enforcement candidates should consist
of the psychological test data, a full
social service history, the clinical interview,
and the personal history, to establish
a person’s psychological stability and
suitability to be a law enforcement officer.

Once an individual is hired as a law
enforcement officer, the department has
the responsibility of reinforcing standards
and individual values. The law enforcement
leader is the individual responsible
for a law enforcement department’s values,
standards, leadership, and supervi-
ion.^^ The former head of the Internal
Affairs Department of the NYPD, John
Guido, who put more police officers in
jail than any other law enforcement officer,
put it quite succinctly when he spoke
on the etiology of corruption. “There was
a breakdown in leadership. It all comes
down to the same thing-leadership. And
the biggest deterrent to corruption is the
J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1998 453
McCafferty, Souryal, and McCafferty
certainty of being punished.”7″he personality
and style of the law enforcement
leader are the factors that determine the
moral and ethical tone of an organization.
At times, the leader contributes to the
disturbances and the problems of a department
because his or her personal
stresses, strains. lack of ethical sense or
integrity, and corruption interfere with organizational
imperatives. The leader of
the law enforcement agency should be a
mature, seasoned individual with a fully
developed sense of integrity and ethical
sense. It is difficult for a law enforcement
officer who has come up through the
ranks to become the leader of that same
law enforcement agency. Unless there is
great confidence that the agency is free
from corruption and favoritism, the appointment
of a member from the ranks of
that law enforcement agency would tend
to perpetuate the problems. The leader of
a law enforcement agency. likewise,
should not name his or her own successor,
nor is it good policy for the acting
leader to be appointed leader.
There is no guarantee that an individual
of good moral and ethical background
will remain so under the stress of law
enforcement work. There are many factors
that determine an individual’s commitment
to hislher own ethical standard
and personal integrity. There must be a
strong message sent to the individual officer,
by the law enforcement leader, of
the necessity of a commitment to ethics
and personal integrity. A law enforcement
leader with a lack of personal integrity
is not able to demand personal integrity
from the officers under him.
The Need for Reinforcement and
Evaluation There is a need for positive
and negative reinforcement of behavior to
ensure adherence to the policies and procedures
of the law enforcement department.
Integrity should become more important
than the appearance of integrity.”
There should be no compromise.
The officer’s evaluation process and
the evaluation of citizen and peer complaints
against individual officers are two
primary methods of maintaining adherence
to the standards of the law enforcement
department after an officer is hired.
Any proposal for dealing with corruption
must, therefore, provide a place where
officers as well as the public can come,
with confidence and without fear of retaliation,
to report complaints against law
enforcement officers. There must be confidentiality
in reporting complaints. There
should be no anonymous “heads up” calls
from Internal Affairs warning a suspected
officer of an investigation. Internal Affairs
needs to do more than “damage control.”
There must be a reduction in opportunities
for corrupt activity. Petty graft
opportunities must be reduced as much as
possible, so that a law enforcement
agency can change the current attitude
that such graft is an accepted part of police
work, making it more difficult for an
officer to accept or solicit graft of a more
serious nature when the opportunity presents
The code of silence and the “us versus
them” mentality must be altered by the
law enforcement agency, changing law
enforcement culture and its attitude of
concealing and perpetuating corruption.
The law enforcement agency must de454
J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1998
Law Enforcement Corruption
mand integrity from its officers and create
an atmosphere in which dishonest officers
fear honest officers and not the other way
around. Photographs of officers should be
taken every five years and a copy maintained
both in the personnel department
and in Internal Affairs for ready identification
of officers who solicit bribes.
Ultimate Responsibility It is the responsibility
of the leadership and management
to ensure that supervisors are
made aware of behavior that is indicative
of individuals with possible problems involving
corruption. Officers who are engaged
in corrupt activities may also be
those who chronically manifest other
questionable behavior, including the
abuse of sick leave, tardiness, failure to
meet commitments such as court appearance,
inability to speak clearly or coherently
(suggesting alcohol or substance
abuse), and implausible excuses for suspicious
and/or unusual actions. It is especially
important to alert new supervisors
of the importance of these indicators of
possible corruption. There are cases in
which supervisors are aware of these indications,
but ignore them because of
friendship with the officer or because the
officer is considered an outstanding officer.
“Corruption will flourish when questionable
conduct is ignored.”‘l Allegations
of corruption of law enforcement
officers can be a career threat to their
supervisors; it is difficult to be promoted
when there are ongoing scandals involving
officers under your supervision. The
code of silence must be eliminated. Another
problem is that when some officers
are promoted to supervisory positions,
they basically become semiretired and
lazy. Monitoring young law enforcement
officers on the street requires work; if the
rookie is put up on charges, there are
many reports to done. A corrupt supervisor
will “look the other way.”
The internal audit process. staffed by
experienced officers of integrity, is paramount
for identifying corrupt practices.
When corrupt practices are identified, it is
necessary for the investigating officers to
evaluate the supervisors’ performance as
well, to determine whether the supervising
officers did not adequately supervise
or whether the supervising officers are
involved in the corruption. The officers
who are in Internal Affairs, either by
themselves, on orders, or through collusion
with their supervisors, can determine
whether a criminal case is made, prematurely
closed, or concealed.
The repertoire of corruption is finite.
There are only a limited number of ways
of being corrupt as a law enforcement
officer. Knowledge of the methods of
corruption are imperative to be able to
evaluate the current functioning of a law
enforcement department and its individual
officers. As an example, “For the past
century, police corruption scandals in
New York City have run on a regular
twenty year cycle of scandals, reform,
backsliding and fresh scandals.” This
started in 1894 with the Lexow Commission,
approximately 20 years later came
the Curran Commission, in 1932 was
Samuel Seabury’s investigation, in 1950
the King’s County District Attorney’s investigation,
in 1972 the Knapp Commission,
and the latest was the Mollen Commission
in 1994.’~
J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1998 455
McCafferty, Souryal, and McCafferty
Some measures to eliminate police corruption
include the followings:
1. Leaders of a law enforcement
agency must keep in close contact with
the officers involved in the internal audit
process to ensure that the policies and
procedures of the agency are being administered
and followed correctly and equitably.

2. All complaints about individual law
enforcement officers should be thoroughly
investigated. Every investigation
should be completed, even if the officer
in question resigns. Resignations for the
“good of the agency” should be evaluated.

3. A permanent, independent monitor
of law enforcement departments with
subpoena power, access to law enforcement
records, and the ability to administer
oaths is indicated to investigate
charges of law enforcement corruption
not being adequately handled by the internal
audit process in a law enforcement
agency in which command accountability
has never existed or has deteri~rated.~~
4. Probation periods of one year for
new law enforcement officers are typical
for law enforcement agencies. A longer
period of probation, 18 months to two
years, would be more helpful in uncovering
problem officers, thereby enabling
law enforcement agencies to eliminate
those who are unsuited for law enforcement
5. All officers should be reevaluated
after every five years of service for psychological
stability, with an accompanying
background investigation, including
an evaluation of the standard of living of
the individuals in comparison to his or her
standard of living at the time of admission
to the law enforcement department, taking
into consideration alternate sources of
legitimate income.
6. Those individuals who work in areas
of law enforcement that have a high potential
for corruption should be monitored
even more closely. These include officers
in drug enforcement units, undercover
operations, vice squads, and those involved
in handling and storage of evidence
in property rooms. Discretionary
practices need to be monitored closely by
supervisors to prevent abuse. Discretionary
practices at the lower levels of the
chain of command, in particular, need to
be monitored closely. Those individuals
who are corrupt must be indicted and
dismissed from the department.
7. Positive and negative discipline
should be consistent, impartial, immediate,
and definitive. This becomes difficult
because of the present judicial system,
resulting in a consequent decreased ability
to remove problem officers, with resultant
impairment of a law enforcement
department’s ability to maintain its level
of integrity. The ability of a department to
dismiss a corrupt officer may be defeated
by the code of silence, peer pressure, and
civil service rules. “Without a well functioning
disciplinary process and an aggressive
removal process, all other procedural
safeguards and anticorruptive
initiatives are merely paper tigers.”84
Another measure designed to instill
new ethical leadership into a law enforcement
department would involve the formation
of a National Police Academy at a
graduate level, wherein college graduate
law enforcement officers who have com456
J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1998
Law Enforcement Corruption
pleted their training and at least one year
of service would be accepted into a oneor
two-year Master’s Program designed
to instill in the officers the professionalism
and the knowledge, awareness, and
ability to combat involvement in corruption.
These officers would then return to
their respective law enforcement departments,
supported by grants from the Federal
Government and changes in civil service
regulations. to assume leadership
roles, to help their respective law enforcement
agencies control corruption. An offshoot
of this plan would be a modified
program similar to an officers’ candidate
school that could be accomplished on a
part-time basiss5
The most important factor in the prevention
of corruption in a law enforcement
agency, besides the personal integrity
of the individual enforcement officer,
is a leader who is mature, seasoned, stable,
with personal integrity and a strong
personal ethic. Ideally, he or she should
also be an attorney, to understand and
more effectively deal with the more subtle
forms of corruption in law enforcement
and to prevent contamination of that
leader’s department.
Conclusions and Future
The integrity and ethical behavior of a
law enforcement agency is contingent
upon its administration for the selection
of prospective officers, their training and
supervision, and monitoring their behaviors,
ethics, and development as law enforcement
officers. The law enforcement
Oath of Honor should be prominently displayed
in each law enforcement station.
Officers should be required to sign off on
the Oath every six months, to help the
individual law enforcement officer develop
a mind set of integrity. Only the
most mature individuals who have integrity
should be accepted as officers, and
even more, only the most mature and
ethical individual should be the law enforcement
leader. As Emerson said, “The
institution is the lengthened shadow of
the man.” The law enforcement leader
and his or her ranking officers are responsible
for the conduct of those whom they
lead and for the factors that lead to corruption
in law enforcement that need to
be changed, modified, and monitored on
an ongoing basis. An understanding of
the corruption problem among law enforcement
officers will serve as a paradigm
for evaluating, understanding, correcting,
and preventing corruption in
other occupations and professions.
Wilson OW, Clinton R: Police Administration.
New York: McGraw, 1977, pp 8-9
This Oath of Honor was recommended as the
International Association of Chiefs of Police
(IACP) symbolic statement of commitment to
ethical behavior. See The Police Chief, January
Personal communication, Retired police officer,
Personal communication, Retired police officer,
1996. A similar type of listing is given by the
Ethics Training Subcommittee of the IACP, The
Police Chief, January 1998, pp 14-28
Rosenblott DN: Building Integrity and Reducing
Drug Corruption in Police Departments.
Arlington, VA: U.S. Department of Justice,
Office of Justice Programs, September 1989
Souryal SS: Ethics in Criminal Justice: In
Search of Truth. Cincinnati, OH: Anderson
Publishing Company, 1992, pp 282-6
Roeburk JR, Barker T: Topology of police
corruption. J Soc Prob 3:21, 423-7, 1992
J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1998
McCafferty, Souryal, and McCafferty
8. Heffernan WC, Stroup T: Police Ethics. New
York: John Jay Press, 1985, p IV
9. Supra note 6, at 287
10. Ibid., 283
11. Ibid., XI
12. Ibid., 185
13. Ibid., 185
14. Ibid., 286
15. Ibid., 184
16. Ibid., 286
17. Ibid., 185
18. Delattre EJ: Characters and Cops: Ethics in
Policing. Washington, DC: American Enterprise
Institute for Public Policy Research,
1994, p 45
19. Ibid., 45
20. Ibid., 49
21. Beigel H, Beigel A: Beneath the Badge: A
Story of Police Conuption. New York: Harper
and Row, 1977, p 69
22. Ibid., 69
23. Ibid., 147
24. Shev EE, Hewed JJ: Good Cops, Bad Cops. San
Francisco: San Francisco Book Co., 1977, p 150
25. Hirschorn M: Good Cop, Bad Cop: Police
Corruption in New York). New York: Special
Report, July 1 1, 1994, at 15
26. Supra note 8, at IV
27. Mollen M (Chair): Report: Commission to
Investigate Allegations of Police Corruption
and the Anti-corruption Procedure of the Police
Department. New York: Commission Report,
July 7, 1994, p 53
28. Henderson JH, Simon DR: Crimes of the
Criminal Justice System. Cincinnati, OH:
Anderson Publishing, 1994, p 36
29. Supra note 27, at 53
30. Supra note 24, at 137
3 1. Supra note 2 1, at 277
32. Ibid., 53
33. McNeary M: Good Cop, Bad Cop. New York:
Pocket Store Books, 1994, p 207
34. Thomas CC: After the Smoke Clears: Surviving
the Police Shooting. Springfield, IL:
Springfield Publications, 1989, pp 36-7
35. Male chauvinist cops. San Francisco Examiner.
Feb 19, 1992
36. Supra note 6, at 282
37. Barker T, Carter D: Police Deviance. Cincinnati:
Anderson Publishing, 1994, pp 52-3
38. Supra note 28, at 12
39. Ibid., 22
40. Ibid., 28
41. Ibid., 37
42. Supra note 27, at 52
43. Supra note 37, at 40
44. Supra note 8, at V
45. Nolans J: Officer says he told woman not to
feed meters. Cleveland Plain Dealer. Nov 23,
1996, at 5B
46. Supra note 8, at 20
47. Supra note 28, at 29
48. Ibid., 28-34
49. Ibid., 30
50. Supra note 27, at 8, 93
51. Supra note 21, at 70
52. McCafferty FL, Domingo GD, McCafferty
EA: Postraumatic stress disorder in the police
officer: paradigm of occupational stress. So
Med J 83545, 1990
53. McCafferty FL, McCafferty E: Stress and suicide
in police officers: paradigm of occupational
stress. So Med J 85:236, 1992
54. Brazelle G: The Knapp Commission Report
on Police Corruption. New York: Knapp
Commission, 1973, p 11
55. Supra note 27, at 88
56. Supra note 24, at 54-5
57. Ibid., 55
58. Supra note 54, at 3
59. Supra note 24, at 142
60. Supra note 54, at 61
61. Supra note 37, at 65
62. Ibid., 106
63. Crime: on the take in the big easy. Time
Magazine. March 20, 1995, at 45
64. Commons C: Report of the independent commission
on the Los Angeles Police Department.
Los Angeles: Commission Report,
1991, pp 36-56
65. Supra note 27, at 46
66. Ibid., 71
67. Supra note 6, at 307
68. Supra note 27, at 46
69. Supra note 54, at 4
70. American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
(ed 4). Washington, DC: APA, 1994
71. Supra note 18, at 8-10
72. Personal communication, Retired police officer,
73. Supra note 37, at 47
74. Supra note 18, at 87-8
75. Supra note 27, at 113
76. Supra note 5, at 16-25
77. Ibid., 36
78. Ibid., 53
79. Supra note 33, at 228
80. Supra note 54, at 261
81. Supra note 5, at 56
82. Supra note 27, at 148-9
83. Ibid., 17-18
84. Supra note 5, at 89
85. Supra note 54, at 32-3
458 J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, Vol. 26, No. 3, 1998

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