“To protect and serve” is the police credo, but sometimes that turns into protecting and serving their own interests. Power corrupts, and cops have a lot of power. In this piece, we’ll run down 10 of the worst police scandals in the history of law enforcement, where cops turned to the wrong side of the law and got caught with their hands in the proverbial honey pot.
Johnny’s Boys – 2004
Drugs almost always make cops cross the line. Something about the huge amounts of easy money that illegal substances make tempted five officers in Toronto’s elite Team 3 squad to put aside their daily duties to shake down dealers, bar owners and other people who couldn’t turn to the law for protection. Under the leadership of officer John Schertzer, “Johnny’s Boys” became more feared in the Canadian underworld than any gang. When one officer’s apartment was searched to turn up cash, drugs, and a veritable diary of their misdeeds, charges were filed, and the case is finally coming to court this year.
Rampart - 1997
One of the most notorious cop scandals of all time, the Rampart affair was the basis for the TV show "The Shield." More than 70 police officers in the LAPD Rampart division’s anti-gang squad were implicated in a number of insane crimes, including planting false evidence, framing suspects, unprovoked shootings and more. Even scarier, some of the cops were on the payroll of Death Row Records CEO Suge Knight. These corrupt cops carried extra guns in their bags to plant on dead suspects in order to claim self-defense, and awarded each other plaques for each gangbanger they killed.
Summerdale – 1960
Chicago is a city that’s no stranger to corruption, but things really got out of control in 1960 when the antics of the Summerdale police district on the north side of town came to the public’s attention. It all started when a crook named Richard Morrison made a deal with eight cops. They’d look the other way when he committed crimes and in return he’d steal them whatever they wanted. By the end of their association, the cops were in so deep that they were actually coming along on jobs and carrying their ill-gotten gains out the door with the criminals.
New Orleans – 1994
If you’ve ever been to "The Big Easy," you know that outside of the tourist area, it can be a lawless terrorland overflowing with corruption. In the 1990s, New Orleans cops had the lowest salaries in the United States, so it’s no wonder that they turned to other means to fill their pockets. In 1994, a group of nine officers led by Len Davis were busted in a drug sting, but it was already too late for a woman named Kim Groves. Groves had filed a brutality complaint against Davis, and he responded by hiring two gang members to shoot her to death.
Charles Becker – 1915
Don’t think that police corruption is a recent development. Crooked cops have been a fact of life for as long as there have been police. Charles Becker was a New York City vice cop who ruled the streets from 1890 to 1915, extorting massive amounts of cash from brothels and other illegal businesses in exchange for police protection. His scams went so under the radar that the NYPD even put him on the board that investigated other corrupt cops. When a bookie came forward and blew the whistle, Becker had him shot and became the first police officer in American history to sizzle in the electric chair.
L.A. Robbery Ring – 1999
We’re back to the City of Angels, which has been proven to be a hotbed for police corruption. In 1999, in the wake of the Rampart scandal, another group of dirty cops were keeping busy cleaning out civilians. The group of officers led by veteran cop Ruben Palomares would shake down drug dealers for information on their rivals, and then break into their houses to steal massive amounts of drugs and guns. They’d do this all in full uniform to make their victims and any witnesses think they were conducting legitimate police work, even stealing police cars from the LA Police Academy to ride in because they couldn’t be traced back.
Miami River – 2001
One of the most disturbing police scandals ever first floated to the surface in 1985 when the corpses of three drug dealers were found in the Miami River. A witness reported that the last people to see the trio alive were a cadre of police officers performing an off-the-books raid, and when a task force managed to flip a man on the inside, they opened the door on a hideous viper’s nest of corruption. 18 cops ended up facing charges, and one -- the steroid-crazed Armando “Scarface” Garcia -- even wound up on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
Operation Lost Honor – 2001
Puerto Rico’s police department was rocked to its foundation in 2001 when a massive FBI sting revealed a network of 32 officers who had been using their jobs to protect cocaine smugglers. The damning proof came when an evidence technician gave an undercover agent tips on the best way to dispose of a body. Almost half of the cocaine coming into the United States passes through Puerto Rico, but the sad thing is that some of these cops only got $2,000 for risking their jobs and their lives for their criminal bosses.
Cleveland Ring – 1998
One of the biggest FBI stings in American history happened in Cleveland, Ohio. Over a period of years, a group of 44 law enforcement officers spread over five different organizations in Cuyahoga County became involved with a Mafia-run cocaine ring, hiring themselves out as bodyguards and escorts for shipments, as well as smuggling illegal gambling machines. One of the men in deepest, Michael Joye, was even sworn in as a made man by the Mafia, or at least what he thought was the Mafia. They were actually undercover FBI agents.
Next: 10 Things Every Man Has to Own
Special Operations – 2004
Back to Chicago to close out this list. One commonality among many of these scandals is that when cops get organized into special units, all hell breaks loose. The Special Operations Section of the Chicago Police Department was instituted to give a rapid response on the street to drug dealers. Unfortunately, many of those responses were along the lines of beating them up and taking their money and drugs. And also beating up non-drug dealers as well. The group dominated the streets for years until misconduct investigations started in 2004. The biggest shocker was voice recordings of cop Jerome Finnigan trying to pay to have other police officers killed.