Police Corruption and the Importance of Whistleblowers
Police Corruption: We’ve All Heard About Frank Serpico
They made a movie about him, his story is that important to share. Sadly as a whistleblower, it didn’t get him far in his career.
Born to two highly principled and hard working Italian immigrants in 1936, his dream was one day donning that iconic blue and becoming one of New York’s finest. Well it happened. And his incredible work ethic in the uniform got him promoted to plainclothes, where he continued his incredible work ethic.
He refused to accept ‘his share of bribes’ from certain arrests – his partner taking Frank’s share for himself. After other officers put constant pressure on Frank to accept ‘his share’ of bribe money, Frank reported the corruption to his superiors. When no change happened, Frank eventually took his complaint to highest level, but nothing was done. Pushback escalated and Frank started to accept that he may in danger.
His story climaxed after moving to the Narcotics division of NYPD, and moving in on a drug bust. Altercation with the perpetrator, and lack of help from the backup officers, left Serpico with a gunshot to his face, and after regaining consciousness at the scene, his ‘backup’ was nowhere in sight.
Sadly corruption continues to this day, in various forms.
- Judge accepts former South Carolina sheriff’s guilty plea for bribery
- Former corrections officer charged with bribery
- Huntsville police officer indicted over bribery scheme to ‘fix’ cocaine trafficking charge
- Toronto Police Drug Squad Corruption Trial: Years Of ‘Violent Shakedowns,’ Beatings, Court Hears
- West Van Police Chief retires as department morale plunges
Internal Whistleblowers Shed Light on Corruption
And the latest headline coming out of Abbotsford, BC is that 17 officers are being investigated for alleged misconduct. This investigation would not have started if it wasn’t for other police officers who came forward with information, and the Abbotsford Police Chief is grateful to these individuals. The department has also been open and transparent about investigations. They had asked the Vancouver Police Department to come in and investigate one officer of his misconduct for the purpose of public confidence and transparency, and they knew that more than likely a wider net would be cast. Well now 16 other officers have been found to have engaged in questionable activities.
Corruption in the police force is not a new topic. It’s been around since the beginning of policing. There are rogue cops all over the world violating the trust of citizens and jeopardizing the reputation of their departments. One could argue various reasons why this happens – is it an individual power trip, or is there pressure from the leader. Perhaps it’s because certain incentives exist for police officers to arrest more drug dealers and to plant evidence on those suspected of knowing were drug deals occur. These incentives exist in the form of supplementing the annual budget, which translates into better equipment, higher success rates in convictions, and possibly higher wages. When the equipment manager approaches the chief about the meager amount of funding in the budget allotted for equipment, and the chief retorts that he expects it to be made through drug busts, there exists a tremendous incentive to seize drugs and contraband, legally or not.
Not all police officers are rogue, and not all department have corruption. But it seems that ‘police culture’ in North America needs a bit of work in order to build up reputations and earn more public trust. Starting by listening to those ‘good cops’ who do come forward with information to report, and responding and rectifying those reported allegations, over time will help in the strengthening of reputations and trust.
Police departments are like any organization. Tone at the top from the leaders determines how employees will behave. Employees take their cues from the top. What leaders do reflects the creation of the company culture within an organization. If management does not lead with integrity, employees are not likely to report on any unethical conduct.
It’s also important that organizations implement or create a place where employees can come forward and report any wrongdoing they see. Employees need to know that when they see wrongdoing, those unethical actions affect everyone negatively in the organization. And for those who do uphold integrity when going about their daily business in the organization, it’s important to reward that positive behaviour.