Here's what I saw. If you have no first-hand experience, please don't try and convince me otherwise. It's the old line about "Who are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?"
This comes from Cop in the Hood:
Temptation is everywhere. Given the prevalence of drug dealing and the fact that drug dealers hold hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars in cash, police officers routinely face the opportunity for quick and illegal personal gain. Police could get away with stealing drugs or money, at least for a while. But robbed drug dealers can and will call Internal Affairs. And officers with criminal dealings will usually be ratted out by another criminal. Putting a dirty cop behind bars is as good a get-out-of-jail card as exists.
I policed what is arguably the worst shift in the worst district in Baltimore and saw no police corruption. I know there are corrupt police officers. After three years on the street, one Eastern District officer stopped a man who drove his motorized scooter through a red light. The man had $6,300 in his pocket. The officer counted the money and allegedly returned $4,900 of it. The man called police to report the missing money and the officer was arrested and indicted on felony theft charges. One year later, these charges were dropped on condition that the officer resign from the police department and agree not to work in law enforcement again. When a cop is dirty, there is inevitably a drugs connection. Over a few beers after work, the subject of the drug squad came up. An older cop warned me to “stay away from drugs [in your dealings as a cop]. They’ll just get you in trouble in the long run.”
Incidents do happen, but the police culture is not corrupt. Though overall police integrity is very high, some will never be convinced. But out of personal virtue, internal investigation stings, or monetary calculations, the majority— the vast majority—of police officers are clean. A greater problem is that high- arrest officers push the boundaries of consent searches and turn pockets inside- out. Illegal (and legal) searches are almost always motivated by a desire to find drugs. In the academy, an officer warned the class, “Corruption starts six months to a year after you’re out of the academy. When you’re on the streets and you start shaking down drug dealers because they’re worthless shits.” Similarly a sergeant explained:
You’ll get out there, thinking you can make a difference. Then you get frustrated: a dealer caught with less than twenty- five pieces will be considered personal use. . . . Or you go to court and they take his word over yours. You’re a cop and you’re saying you saw something! . . . After it happens to you, you don’t care. It’s your job to bring him there [to court]. What happens after that is their problem. You can’t take this job personal! Drugs were here before you were. And they’ll be here long after you’re gone. Don’t think you can change that. I don’t want you leaving here thinking everybody living in this neighborhood is bad, does drugs. Many [cops] start beating people, thinking they deserve it.
Police officers are often in a position to hold various amounts of drugs and money. Legally seized drugs and money are kept in one’s pockets (carefully separated from personal belongings) before being taken to the station house and submitted in the proper fashion. Officers have to be careful not to make honest mistakes. They could put something in the wrong pocket. Something could fall out of a pocket. The night gets busy and they might forget to submit. Before each shift, police officers search the squad car for anything left behind.
Many residents, after repeated calls to police about drug dealers, assume that officers are either incorrigibly corrupt or completely apathetic:
I understand what you [police] deal with. But you got to understand. People see police drive right by the dealers, don’t even get out of the car. Or they [police] got them [dealers] with their legs spread [being searched]. Who’s to say you ain’t taking a little something on the side? You can’t have drugs on this scale without somebody letting it happen.
Police discount such accusations:
People get bad ideas from the media or from criminals that we’re corrupt or brutal. But we’re not. Or they refuse to think that their son could be involved with drugs. They want the corner cleared, but if we pick up their son it must be the racist cops picking on him because he’s black. And with the amount of drugs you’ve got in this area, of course they aren’t going to like police because we’re trying to lock them up. Too many people here are pro-criminal.
Even financially, it pays to be straight. A New York City police officer explained:
My pension is worth between one and two million dollars. I’d have to be a fool to risk that for $100, even $1,000. I’ll tell you when I’ll be corrupt: the day I walk into a room piled with drugs, five million dollars in cash, and everybody dead. For five million, I’d do it. I’d leave the drugs and take the cash.
Some officers enter the police department corrupt. Others fall of their own free will. Still others may have an isolated instance of corruption in an otherwise honest career. But there is no natural force pulling officers from a free cup of coffee toward shaking down drug dealers. Police can omit superfluous facts from a police report without later perjuring themselves in court. Working unapproved security overtime does not lead to a life in the Mob. Officers can take a catnap at 4 am and never abuse medical leave. There is no slope. If anything, corruption is more like a Slip ’N Slide. You can usually keep your footing, but it’s the drugs that make everything so damn slippery.