Brian Thiem Blogging Today:
I opened an email a few days ago and felt like I was punched in the gut. A brother police officer who I’ve known for nearly forty years plead guilty to federal corruption charges. Harry came on Oakland PD a year after I did and worked with me in patrol and investigations. He was the gang unit sergeant under me when I commanded the Special Investigations Unit, was assigned to FBI organized crime task forces, and was one of the nation’s foremost experts on Asian Organized Crime. He was so well respected that when he retired from OPD ten years ago, the DA’s office hired him as an investigator.
A few years ago, Harry began accepting gratuities from a man linked to Asian organized crime, and in exchange, protected him from prosecution.
Many crime novels and movies include crooked cops, and that leads the public to believe corruption among police officers is rampant. However, in most modern police organizations, it’s extremely rare. And when it does occur, organizations seldom turn a blind eye as occurs in fiction and film.
I’m reading a fellow author’s crime novel manuscript right now. The premise includes a team of corrupt cops who steal money from drug dealers and commit kidnappings and murders to cover it up. Although that scenario is a work of fiction, the plot creates wonderful conflict for the story’s hero to overcome.
But I hate reading about it. I hate it because it reinforces a belief by too many people that police corruption is common. And I hate it because it sometimes happens in the real world.
I wonder why a law enforcement officer would take bribes in exchange for helping a criminal. Why would they go against everything our profession stands for? And why would they risk losing everything—their freedom, family, life savings, reputation—for dirty money?
The temptation was always present when I carried a badge for a living. When I worked Vice Narcotics, I recovered huge stashes of money on drug raids, and could’ve easily grabbed tens of thousands of dollars without anyone knowing. I could’ve negotiated huge payoffs from drug gang kingpins when working Homicide to steer investigations away from them. But it never crossed my mind.
What causes some officers to fall to the temptation? Were they unethical before they were hired, or did the job change them? Did they see the limitations of the criminal justice system, with bad guys living lavish lifestyles from the proceeds of crime and decided they deserved the same? Did they rationalize it by watching politicians and corporate executives receive “perks” as accepted “rewards” for their positions? Or does it just come down to the innate character defect of greed inside all of us, fighting to get out? Why do some succumb to it while others don’t?
I’m deeply disappointed that my friend and brother tarnished the badge and the reputation of the profession so many of us hold in such high regard. It might take a while for me to recover from that punch in the gut, even though I understand that every profession includes some bad apples and that good men and women occasionally fall victim to their human desires and weaknesses. I just wish it didn’t hurt so much when it’s a brother cop who I liked and respected.