Pubdate: Mon, 29 May 2000
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Copyright: 2000 The Dallas Morning News
Contact:  P.O. Box 655237, Dallas, Texas 75265
Fax: (972) 263-0456
Author: Richard A. Serrano / Los Angeles Times


New Procedures Helping Shape Up Departments Tainted By Corruption Scandals

DULUTH, Minn. - One day Officer Kerwin Hall climbed into his patrol car and
found two $100 bills lying on the seat. Before long, he was taking cash
directly from the hands of drug dealers. In return, he would steer his
police cruiser away from certain streets notorious for drug sales.

But soon enough, the law he had sworn to uphold caught up with him.

Arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison, he traded in police Badge No.
209 for Inmate No. 07441-424. He no longer sports the crisp blue colors of
the Ford Heights, Ill., police uniform. Instead, he wears a drab, green
inmate jumpsuit at the Federal Prison Camp in Duluth.

He is doing 11 years for criminal racketeering. He will be 50 years old when
he gets out. His eight kids will be grown.

"I faced up to what I did," he said in a recent prison interview. "But I
didn't think I was going to get this much time."

Mr. Hall has not journeyed alone from the life of an officer to a life of
crime. In the seven years that Attorney General Janet Reno has run the
Department of Justice, the number of law enforcement officers doing time in
federal prison has risen to 668 - an increase of nearly 600 percent.

Corruption crackdowns have been leaving deep scars on police forces across

In Los Angeles, a scandal in the Rampart Division of the Police Department
serves as some sort of nonfiction sequel to the movie L.A. Confidential.

In Ford Heights, Ill., one of the nation's poorest communities, seven of the
Police Department's 10 officers, including the chief, were convicted on
racketeering, bribery and other charges.

In West New York, N.J., about two dozen officers of a 100-member force were
prosecuted on similar racketeering and bribery charges, mainly for
protecting illegal interests in gambling, prostitution and strip clubs.
Among those now in prison is Chief Alexander V. Oriente, who sobbed when he
described to a judge his descent into infamy.

Each department was turned upside down by the corruption scandals. Each is
still struggling to rebuild its shattered organization, reform its internal
procedures and restore order on the streets.

Sam Walker at the University of Nebraska, a leading researcher on police
corruption, said more honest officers are blowing the whistle on colleagues.
And prosecutors are increasingly aiming their sights at the "good ol' boy"
network of policing.

"Why do cops go bad?" Mr. Walker asked. "It's because of bad organizations."

In Los Angeles, the Rampart scandal so far has resulted in two officers
imprisoned with three more under indictment. More than 30 officers either
have been relieved of duty, suspended, fired or have quit. More than 70 are
under investigation for such offenses as covering up unjustified shootings,
intimidating witnesses, planting evidence and perjury. Prosecutors have
overturned more than 75 felony convictions because of alleged police

In West New York, Mayor Albio Sires said that rebuilding the Police
Department "started by getting rid of the chief." Today, a police director
reports directly to the mayor. Police headquarters is in the basement of
City Hall. The result is a lower crime rate that began when many of the
gambling halls and strip clubs were run out of town.

"And as people retired, we brought in a lot of young people, and we
scrutinized these young people very closely," the mayor said. In Ford
Heights, Frank B. Martin Jr., a retired Army officer and former Green Beret,
runs the Police Department. He has six new officers and plans to hire 10
more. New measures include tough and thorough background checks on all
recruits, followed by physical, oral and psychological examinations. One of
the questions asked on the exams: What would you do if the chief were

Gone are officers such as Mr. Hall, who sits in prison in Minnesota.

With plenty of time on his hands, he offered this explanation for the
culture of police and crime:

"There's just too much wrong out there, too much temptation. There's too
much going down, too many people who aren't reporting things.

"You've got cops who actually make a better living getting money on the
outside, and it doesn't just go down to patrolmen. It goes higher. It's

"Because as a cop you go anywhere. You talk to anybody. You pull over a drug
dealer and roll down your window and say whatever you want to say. You
falsify reports.

"And cops are trying to make names for themselves. You've got people in jail
who shouldn't be there. You've got cops who hide behind their badge every
day, cops who profit off the badge.

"I tried to be an honest cop. But it wasn't easy. A guy gives you a few
hundred dollars, why aren't you going to take it?"
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