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6.7: Police Misconduct, Accountability, and Corruption

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    Learning Objectives

    • Discuss the different corruption types in policing
    • Explain the difference between a meat eater and a grass eater
    • List the different ways an officer engages in noble-cause corruption
    • Describe how a police officer uses stereotyping on the job
    • Discuss the importance of having a reliable internal affairs division/bureau
    • Explain why excessive use of force is difficult to quantify

    Critical Thinking Questions

    1. How are grass eaters and meat eaters different?
    2. What is noble cause corruption?
    3. Why are there misunderstandings of police accountability?
    4. What are the functions of an internal affairs division/bureau?
    5. What happens if a police department shows a pattern of excessive use of force?

    Corruption Types

    Grass Eaters

    meat eaters’and ‘grass eaters’ after an exhaustive investigation into New York Police Department corruption. Police officers that were grass eaters accepted benefits. Whether it was a free coffee at the local coffee shop, fifty percent off lunch, or free bottled water from the local convenience store, these cops would take the freebie and not attempt to do the right thing by explaining why they cannot accept the benefit and then pay for the benefit. By accepting benefits, the officer was, in turn, agreeing that whoever gave the benefit, i.e., coffee, or lunch, etc., was to receive something in return. What if the coffee shop wanted the officer to patrol their shop every morning between the busy hours of six and seven a.m.? Would that be fair to other coffee shop owners that did not give free coffee to the officer? [1]

    Meat Eaters

    Noble Cause Corruption

    noble-cause is the goal that most officers have to make the world a better and safer place to live. “I know it sounds corny as hell, but I really thought I could help people. I wanted to do some good in the world, you know? That’s what every cop answered when asked why he became a police officer. [2]

    1. “Forget everything you learned in training (school), I’ll show you how we really do it out here.”This what an officer often first hears from a TO (training officer). The statement is only superficially about the lack of utility of higher education. What it is actually about is loyalty and the importance of protecting the local group of officers with whom the officer works.
    2. Mama Rosa. It looks like a free meal. This is not to test willingness to graft, but whether an officer is going to be loyal to other officers in the squad. It also serves to put officers together out of the station house.
    3. Loyalty Back-up. Here, an officer is tested to see if he or she will back up other officers. This is more involved because officers may have to ‘testify’ (give false testimony), dropsy (remove drugs from a suspect during a pat-down and then discover them in plain sight on the ground), the shake (similar to dropsy, only conducted during vehicle stops), or stiffing-in a call. These are like NC (noble-cause) actions, and may indeed by NC actions, but their purpose is to establish loyalty.
    4. Routine NC (Noble-Cause) Actions Against Citizens. Magic pencil skills increase penalties by shifting the crime upwards. Protect fellow officers with fictitious chargers. Construct probable cause. Illegal searches of vulnerable citizens.

    I am the Law. This is the belief that emerges over time, in which officers view what they do as the right thing to do. This is the practical outcome of the old adage ‘power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ A police officer does not have absolute power, but he or she has the backing of the legal system in almost all circumstances. Behavior can become violent, as with the Rampart CRASH unit.” [3]

    1. Caldero, M. A., Dailey, J. D., & Withrow, B. L. (2018). Police Ethics: The Corruption of Noble Cause (4th ed.). New York, NY, USA: Routledge/Taylor and Francis.
    2. Baker, M. (1985). Cops: Their lives in their own words. New York: Pocket Books.
    3. Withrow, B.L., Dailey, J.D., & Caldero, M.A. (2018). Police ethics: The corruption of noble cause. New York: Routledge.

    This page titled 6.7: Police Misconduct, Accountability, and Corruption is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Alison S. Burke, David Carter, Brian Fedorek, Tiffany Morey, Lore Rutz-Burri, & Shanell Sanchez (OpenOregon) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.