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October 2006
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Corrupting Cops

The drug war that we have created and enhanced through our legislators has a horrible and continual corrupting effect on those we depend on for public safety — our police forces. That alone should be reason to end the war.
Now some will say: “Wait a minute — cops are corrupt or they aren’t. The drug war didn’t make them corrupt.”
That’s fine if you live in a black and white world. But most people live in a gray-scale world. In the real world, there are a lot of people who are good in many ways, but subject to temptations and pressures.
I teach Theatre Management, and one of the things I talk about is systems of control for ticket offices. These systems involve a variety of means of being able to verify your sales income (particularly when cash is involved), including ticket stubs or electronic records, and the rotating two-person rule (it’s harder to steal if you have to involve someone else that you may not know well). One of the things I’ve learned is that these systems can actually be quite comforting to the employees. If you’re getting paid very little and you’re working with thousands of dollars of cash each day and there’s no system in place that would alert someone and get you in trouble if some of it went missing… Well, even an honest person is bound to hear that nagging tempting voice in their head. They may not act on it, but it’s going to bug them.
This temptation increases ten-fold for police officers, partly because they’re fighting a “war” and therefore the people they steal from are the “enemy.”
This article in the Dallas News about cops going to prison, includes this illuminating story…

At 23, and fresh out of the Dallas Police academy, Joe Smith had never broken the law. He became a cop to fight criminals not turn into one, he says. He couldn’t imagine ending up behind bars.
“I had a strong sense of right and wrong,” he says. But “the lines become gray when you’re fighting a war. That’s what it is — drug war.”
Now 34 and with prison behind him for stealing more than $20,000, Mr. Smith says his crime “really wasn’t about the money.” He turned most of it in when he confessed.
He blames a charismatic partner and disillusionment with the criminal justice system for his downfall.
“It didn’t happen overnight,” he says. “It happened gradually over the course of a year.”
Mr. Smith says he began taking money at the urging of his partner, who also went to prison. If they seized $100,000 in a drug arrest, the lion’s share went to the evidence room — the rest into their pockets, with no one the wiser and the drug dealer still facing charges.

This is a very common type of story. So common, that Law Enforcement Against Prohibition’s Captain Peter Christ uses something remarkably similar to talk about the most common way that police officers are drawn into corruption…

Now you came into this thing a bright eyed, shiny young recruit… You’re a police officer four or five years — you see the wasted energy you spend on this drug war. And now you’re standing in a motel room where a drug arrest has just been made. Laying on the bed is a hundred and some thousand dollars which hasn’t been counted yet in cash… In your back pocket is a thirty-eight hundred dollar bill from the plumber that you didn’t know how you were going to pay… And, it doesn’t make any difference anyway. And you take your first taste. And then you’re gone.

As long as we continue this failed prohibition that puts obscene amounts of cash profits into the hands of criminals, we will also have a police force that is constantly tempted into corruption.
And while most cops are not corrupt, the drug war system that exists puts us in a position where the people do not have confidence in the integrity of those whose purpose is to protect and serve.

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