I originally wrote a blog on this subject more than a year ago when I noticed news stories of police officers turned criminal. While “cops going bad” is nothing new, and is what Hollywood is made of, the true stories are never less astonishing or confounding.
Drew Peterson is now officially the poster-boy cop turned criminal, having been found guilty of murdering his third wife. In an internet search of police officers being convicted of crimes, I found several recent stories such as: a Newark police officer convicted of bribery, a former New York City police officer convicted of sexually assaulting a woman, while he was still employed as a cop, but off-duty and a Baltimore police officer convicted of drug dealing. There were more, but the point is made.
Police officers, as with any group, are drawn from the population, and therefore will reflect the characteristics we possess as a society. Accordingly, there will always be police officers who are mean, bigoted, bullies and criminals, even to the point of committing murder. As the level of police officer pre-employment screening continues to improve, these instances will occur even less often than currently. However, no tests or screening will completely eradicate the criminal cop. Why? Because, most police officers do not come on to the job with bad intent. When I was in the police academy, almost all of us became police officers “to help people.” Yet, in my three years as a police officer I knew of officers fired and prosecuted for theft and crimes of moral turpitude. Even the FBI, which had extensive screening, experienced Agents committing crimes. In recent history, an FBI Agent was convicted of aiding mobster Whitey Bulger. As a young FBI Agent, I was shocked in 1990 when an FBI Agent was convicted of manslaughter for killing his lover-informant.
Drew Peterson is not alone. How and why do good cops turn bad? First, we must recognize that those attracted to the law enforcement field are usually aggressive by nature. Imagine a cop who shied away from confrontation. Next, they are immersed in an environment that thrives on machismo, physical and mental toughness and winning when challenged. As law enforcement officers, we become accustomed to getting our way through intimidation or actual use of force. These experiences mold a new persona within us. Then, add the stress that comes from the job – not just long and unusual hours, and not just facing danger, but our own agencies that have no shortage of office politics, bureaucracy and often general unfairness. After all, every law enforcement agency is made up of people – a reflection of society. Money, kids, spouses, relationships all combine to create a situation the law enforcement officer cannot control. The gun, the badge and the authority are no match for what life can sometimes throw at us. While most will find their way, some will crack.
In my first book, “Walking the Corporate Beat,” I discuss the many of our not-so-rational thought processes that lead to trouble. In my novel, “Midnight Sin,” the cop psyche and lifestyle are explored in depth. These stories straddle that thin line between cop and criminal.