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Corruption in Law Enforcement

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Ronald K. Noble, founder, RKN Global

Corruption in government, especially in law enforcement, engenders a high level of cynicism in the general public, to the extent that at times police and other authorities are always suspect and abusive of their power in the popular mind.  The anger towards police at some Black Lives Matter protests in the United States, for example, is partially the natural result of seeing abuse of black men by police continue unabated.  Nevertheless, the vast majority of law enforcement officers—in the U.S. and in most countries of the world—are honest, hard-working, and dedicated.  The public owes them a debt of gratitude.

I served as the head of numerous national U.S. law enforcement agencies as Under Secretary for Enforcement of the U.S. Treasury Department, and led INTERPOL, the world’s largest international police organization, for 14 years as Secretary General.  I am aware of the high quality and professionalism of most law enforcement officers.  Nevertheless, I am also aware that corruption affects law enforcement as well.

Sometimes even those who are revered by the community and their peers can fall prey to the lure of corruption. Damacio Diaz was a police officer in Bakersfield, California, with almost two decades of experience behind him.  In early 2015, he achieved a level of public prominence and accolade after his younger self was portrayed in the Disney movie “McFarland, USA,” and his ultimate career as a distinguished police officer was portrayed in the movie credits as part of the positive results of the story told in the movie.

In 2012, however, Diaz accepted a $1,000 bribe from a drug informant, and began a slippery slide into corruption and criminality, accepting more than $5,000 from the drug dealer in bribes each year.  Soon, he and his partner were robbing drug dealers and reselling the methamphetamine that they sold to others.  Diaz even tipped off his drug dealer informant of a Federal wiretap that had captured some of his conversations.

The effects of Diaz’ transformation from cop to criminal had a wide-reaching effect.   The public suffered at the loss of one of its heroes and the revelation that it could not really trust those who represented the law.  The public and law enforcement suffered even more, as criminal cases involving Diaz and his partner, including individuals serving sentences in 64 different convictions, may be reopened, dismissed, or overturned.  People undoubtedly used the methamphetamine that Diaz sold—instead of becoming part of the solution, his corruption led him to become part of the problem, harming the public and hurting people.

It is essential to implement systemic safeguards in law enforcement agencies, as well as in other government agencies where power can lead to corruption. These safeguards should include checks and balances, regular comprehensive review of activities, and continuing education that might alert officers like the once-honest Diaz about how criminals might target them with bribes and favors.  With a comprehensive anti-corruption plan in place, those officers who might give in to corruption might be saved and remain on the right side of the law, for their sake and for ours.