In order to understand contemporary law enforcement, we should recognize the conditions that impact our profession. It is agreed upon by many scholars that major changes in law enforcement occur every five years. Policing is sometimes characterize”… like a sandbar in a river, subject to being changed continuously by the currents in which it is immersed…” (Swanson, Territo and Taylor, p. 2). However, in recent years some major changes have occurred in a shorter time period.
Innovations in law enforcement
During the past two decades, I have observed major changes in the viewpoint of society towards police officer’s as the symbol of trust and dignity, the technological advances of communication and information systems in law enforcement, and the revision of selection and hiring practices for police officers. Organizational change occurs both as a result of internal and external agents (Swanson, Territo and Taylor, p. 664). These changes have manifested both positive and negative reverberations in the way we perform our job.
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Police officials have contemplated for years over the key to maintaining a positive image for their organization. Unfortunately, several incidents in the past years have altered society’s perception of police in some communities. Police in America is no longer strangers to innovation born of scandal. Law enforcement agencies nationwide have repeatedly been shaken by controversy and forced to make undesirable concessions. Has law enforcement failed to maintain the high standards required by the profession? The cost of public trust is high. It increases each time faith must be regained.
Historically, law enforcement agencies throughout the nation have experienced periods of low confidence in communities preceding episodes deemed to be a breach of trust. Early pioneers in law enforcement history such as August Vollmer (1902 – 1932). Berkeley Police Department and J. Edgar Hoover (1924) the Federal Bureau of Investigation made numerous advancements towards improving the professionalism of law enforcement (Anderson and Newman, p. 119 – 120). Other attempts were made in 1956 by the International Association of Chiefs of Police adopted “The Law Enforcement Code Of Ethics” (Wilson and McClaren, p.8)
Examples of several historical events locally have attributed to society’s decline in respect for police. For example, nine members of a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department special narcotics squad were charged with misappropriating tens of thousands of dollars confiscated in drug raids (L. A. Times, p. 4, Sept. 9, 1989). Another local incident involved 80 Los Angeles police officers stormed and wrecked an apartment and allegedly beat several residents on “Dalton Street.” The city was forced to settle in a civil lawsuit by the resident with a settlement of $3 million dollars of taxpayers money (L. A. Times, p. 1-2, August 1, 1988). This incident generated major outcry from the minority community to overhaul the use of force policy and procedure within the department.
Nationally, five New York City police officers were charged with murder in the slaying of a suspect in Queens. All five officers were arraigned on murder charges in the death of Federico Pereira, 21 years of age, a car theft suspect who was punched, kicked, and strangled as he was being arrested. This is one in a string of accusations of brutality made against New York officers in recent years (The New York Times, March 21, 1991, p. A 1). In the south, the incident of Officer Donald Jeffries who was honoured as Mississippi’s officer of the year in 1993. He alleged that mental stress was a factor in his robbery of a bank, however, a federal judge in Mobile ruled that he was competent to stand trial for the charge (USA Today, May 13, 1994, p. 8 A).
In the case of Arthur McDuffie (Dec. 17, 1979) in Miami, a black male died after a high-speed police chase. The police reports indicated that McDuffie died from being thrown from his motorcycle during the chase. The result of Police corruption is a complex issue. Police corruption or the abuse of authority by a police officer, acting officially to fulfil personal needs or wants, is a growing problem in the United States today. Things such as an Internal Affairs department, a strong leadership organization, and community support are just a few considerations in the prevention of police corruption. An examination of a local newspaper or any police-related publication in an urban city during any given week would most likely have an article about a police officer that got caught committing some kind of corrupt act.
Police corruption has increased dramatically with the illegal cocaine trade, with officers acting alone or in-groups to steal money from dealers or distribute cocaine themselves. Large groups of corrupt police have been caught in New York, New Orleans, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles, as well as many other cities. Corruption within police departments falls into 2 basic categories, external corruption and internal corruption. In this research project, I will concentrate on external corruption. Recently, external corruption has been given a larger centre of attention. I have decided to include the fairly recent accounts of corruption from a few major cities, mainly New York because that is where I have lived in the past year. I compiled my information from a number of articles written in the New York Times over the last few years.
My definitional information and background data came from books that have been written on the issues of police corruption. Those books helped me create a basis for just the different types of corruption, as well as how and why corruption happens. Corruption in policing is usually viewed as the mistreatment of authority by a police officer acting officially to fulfil personal needs or wants. For a corrupt act to occur, three distinct elements of police corruption must be present simultaneously: 1) mishandling of authority, 2) mishandling of official capacity, and 3) mishandling of personal attainment (Dantzker, 1995: p 157). It can be said that power, inevitably tends to corrupt. It is yet to be recognized that while there is no reason to suppose that policemen as individuals are any less fallible than other members of society, people are often shocked and outraged when policemen are exposed to violating the law.
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