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Police Leaders: Illicit Drug Markets Contribute to Police Corruption


July-August 1998

Across the United States, illicit markets for drugs have fueled law enforcement corruption, according to a study titled Misconduct to Corruption, compiled by officials from 15 cities with assistance from the FBI (Jack Nelson and Ronald J. Ostrow, "Illegal Drug Scene Spurs Rise in Police Corruption," Los Angeles Times, June 13, 1998, p. A1).

The number of known federal, state and local law enforcement officers in prison has increased fivefold in four years, from 107 in 1994 to 548 in 1998. Thirty-seven cities were questioned about their police officers' conduct, and all acknowledged problems with misconduct and corruption. "It's a big problem across the country, in big towns and small towns, and it's not getting any better," said Mike Hoke, Chicago Police Superintendent. Neil J. Gallagher, deputy assistant director of the FBI's criminal investigative division, noted, "Corruption erodes public confidence in government."

Joseph McNamara, a former police chief, now a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, called policing of drug trafficking "impossible." He explained that for this reason many officers feel little guilt when defying the law. "The sheer hopelessness of the task has led many officers to rationalize their own corruption. They say: `Why should the enemy get to keep all the profits?' Guys with modest salaries are suddenly looking at $10,000 or more, and they go for it."

McNamara told NewsBriefs that he has been researching and writing a book for several years about the corruption among police officers that stems from the "war on drugs." He said that policemen everywhere are becoming the criminals -- robbing, stealing drugs and money -- a national phenomenon that has gone largely unrecognized because police operate on a local level.

"Current drug policies are paralyzing the criminal justice system," said Nick Pastore, former chief of police of New Haven and now a research fellow in police policy for the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "Like Prohibition in the 1920s there will always be opportunities for corruption on the part of law enforcement in the `war on drugs.' Until we stop looking at it as a `war' and begin to see it as a serious public health issue, we are destined to lose the `war,'" Pastore told NewsBriefs.

Joseph McNamara, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-6010, Tel: (650) 723-1754, Fax: (650) 725-5677, E-mail: <>.

Nicholas Pastore - Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, 109 Church St., Suite 604, New Haven, CT 06510, Tel: (203) 777-7836, Fax: (203) 773-9570, E-mail: <>.

For a copy of Misconduct to Corruption, write to: Hugh McKinney, (MCCNEIA), FBI Academy, Quantico, VA 22135.