TalkLeft picked up an interesting post over at the Dallas Morning News’ Crime blog on police corruption. It relates to a recent story where a Dallas police officer “doused” a man with pepper spray in what appeared to be a fit of rage and when confronted about the incident by superiors claimed that the spray canister had “malfunctioned.” The truth did not come to light until a rookie officer belatedly blew the whistle on the spray-happy officer.
In analyzing why the rookie officer failed to immediately report the incident – his excuse was fear of retaliation – the blog post distinguished between two types of police corruption: “noble cause corruption” and “bad corruption.” Quoting a police misconduct expert:
“Bad corruption” would be something like taking a bribe or robbing a drug dealer, and they would not hesitate to report such criminal behavior.
The line gets blurry when dealing with so-called “noble cause corruption” — the idea that police are at war and the ends justifies the means, i.e. raiding a drug house without having probable cause to do so or roughing up a gang member.
It’s in those cases that officers often suddenly get the “I didn’t see or hear anything” syndrome.
As with anything else, once an officer crosses that line, it’s a slippery slope to doing something far worse.
At the risk of starting a chicken-or-the-egg debate, I wonder whether noble cause corruption will actually result in more crime. It is true that the tactics employed in situations of noble cause corruption will free an officer from the restraints, i.e., search or arrest warrants, that might otherwise prevent him from catching a suspect. And in the short run that may mean higher arrest rates and good PR for the police department. But in the long run, such corruption will almost certainly turn the community against the police, whose reaction to the unjust treatment will be more crime.