Drug War Takes Its Toll on Integrity of US Law Enforcers

Article excerpt

AMERICA'S war on illegal narcotics has a new worry: corrupt cops.

Huge bribes from drug smugglers and dealers are threatening law enforcement efforts along the Southwest border, as well as in major cities and small towns. Officials are troubled.

"There's a lot of concern among police chiefs about the corruption," says Patrick Murphy, director of the Drug Policy Board of the US Conference of Mayors.

Mr. Murphy, who was police commissioner of New York City during the early 1970s, says the amount of drug money used for bribes is mind-boggling. "Gambling money was peanuts compared to this," he says.

George Heavey, assistant commissioner of the US Customs Service, observes grimly that "if a smuggler offers $50,000, $100,000, or $200,000 to an officer, it has to be tempting."

Sometimes the offers are even higher. Edwin Delattre, author of "Character and Cops: Ethics in Policing," says he has "friends in law enforcement who have turned down cash bribes greater than their entire career earnings."

How much is that? "More than $2 million apiece," he says.

All this money is taking a toll.

- Customs officials are probing 300 potential cases of possible corruption or malfeasance within the ranks of the service. The preponderance of the cases involve narcotics.

- Los Angeles County officials suspended 26 deputies earlier this year in an ongoing probe of corruption that may have involved the skimming of at least $1.4 million in drug money.

- Prosecutors won guilty verdicts this year against four Philadelphia narcotics officers, who were convicted of stealing money and drugs from dealers.

Not all the cases are so dramatic. Many involve sheriffs in rural counties, small-town policemen, or lone federal agents in cahoots with smugglers.

Nor are bad cops the only culprits. Dr. Delattre, who is the Olin scholar of applied ethics at Boston University, says: "You will mislead readers if you say that police corruption is a problem, and ignore more widespread problems in the private sector, or other parts of government."

The professor says drug corruption "involves judges in some cities, and other public servants in both the legislative and executive branches."

Drug corruption also taints the private sector. Delattre notes that "17 people were indicted on Wall Street in (the past two years) for dealing in cocaine, or giving inside information in exchange for drugs."

But bad cops are foremost on the minds of many officials.

William Rohde, director of investigations for Customs, points to a case in which a Customs inspector was arrested in Arizona, and now awaits trial, on charges of conspiring to smuggle cocaine. …