Pubdate: Sat, 23 Jun 2012
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2012 The Toronto Star
Author: Betsy Powell
Bookmark: (Corruption - Outside U.S.)


Tactical officers, guns drawn, crash through doors of a low-rent 
dwelling, followed by narcotics detectives who fan out to search for 
drugs and guns.

Cut to two coppers standing alone in a room.

"Let's do it," says one, before they flip the mattress, exchange a 
complicit glance, and stuff a bundle of bills behind their bulletproof vests.

Drug-related police corruption has long provided rich fodder for 
Hollywood, whether this scene from the acclaimed TV series TheWire, 
or the movie Serpico, the true story of an honest drug cop from the 
1970s who fought rampant dishonesty in the New York City Police 
Department, or the portrayal by Denzel Washington of a rogue Los 
Angeles narcotics officer in 2001's Training Day.

There's been plenty of real-life inspiration. No major North American 
city has been immune to police corruption, though the size of the 
problem has been debatable. The subject has been brought to the fore 
again by the just-completed trial of former Toronto police drug 
officers. The case is now in the hands of a jury.

Numerous studies and reports have drawn the inescapable conclusion 
that the enforcement of laws against vice - including prostitution 
and gambling - create an environment ripe for police corruption.

But nothing in the last 40 years has created greater opportunities 
for the crooked cop than the seemingly endless supply of illicit 
drugs and the people willing to sell them.

"Drug enforcement often exposes police officers to large amounts of 
cash and drugs held by individuals who are not likely to complain 
about illegal police behaviour," said a 1998 U.S. federal government 
report on drug-related corruption.

"The opportunity is huge, massive," agrees Rick Chase. He should 
know. In 2009, he retired from the Toronto Police Service after 
nearly 33 years - 24 of them on the drug squad, the last dozen as a 
detective with the major project section. He figures he had a hand in 
executing about 5,000 search warrants, including one haul of $1.2 
million in cash and 22 kilograms of cocaine.

He doesn't leap aboard an ethical high horse to explain why he was 
never tempted.

"For me to dip in, I'd have to make it worth my while and the chances 
are so great of getting caught. . . I didn't want to do time."

If or when there is corruption, Chase attributes it to the odd, 
renegade uniform officer, not a member of a drug team. "If somebody's 
dirty, others will find out pretty quick."

Walter McKay, an ex-cop who once patrolled Vancouver's gritty east 
side, doesn't think today's well-paid Canadian cops are as 
susceptible to corruption as they might have been 50 or 60 years ago. 
But he understands the self-justifying reasons one might succumb to temptation.

"Who's to know," goes the thinking, says McKay, now a security 
consultant based in Mexico City and a member of Law Enforcement 
Against Prohibition, which supports legalized regulation of drugs.

"What happens is there's, say, $10,000 in cash from a room and it's 
just you and your partner there, and the bad guys, or no bad guys, so 
did you actually seize $10,000 or was it $8,500?"

As the U.S. drug-related report noted, most dope dealers stay mum 
when money goes missing. "There's no way to prove it. It's a 
decorated cop versus a street criminal," says Toronto defence lawyer 
John Struthers.

Regardless, Struthers blames one culprit for any past and future scandals.

"The war on drugs corrupts everyone and everything. It corrupted 
Mexico, it corrupted the United States, it's corrupting Canada 
because there's so much money and there is so much demand for drugs," he says.

"We've caused the corruption," concurs defence lawyer Reid Rusonik.

"Zealous officers determined to enforce the drug laws will, over 
time, realize it's an unwinnable, stupid war. They become bitter and 
frustrated and figure they are justified rewarding themselves and 
rationalize the thievery."

Chase acknowledges that, despite his love of the work, he did grow 
cynical for many reasons, including the knowledge that "you're not 
making a dent" in the drug supply.

But there were significant perks: job satisfaction and a good paycheque.

"I loved getting up going to work," he said, whether it was 
cultivating informants, or being immersed in the criminal subculture 
as an undercover operative.

"We called them plays. We're all actors in a play," says Chase, 57, 
who runs his own Toronto-area security and investigation company.

Back in the day , Chase was accustomed to allegations of cops 
pinching drugs and cash, and he is not surprised to hear defence 
lawyers still making these claims.

"It's as regular as heartbeats," agrees Rusonik, who has practised 
for more than 20 years. He accepts that dealers are being ripped off, 
saying they tell him there is "nothing to gain" by accusing police 
and they are powerless to do anything about it.

"Week in, week out, how do you see that kind of cash and not be 
tempted? You'd have to be Eliot Ness," he says, referring to the 
legendary American anti-corruption crusader from the 1930s.

Leora Shemesh, another defence lawyer, represents a drug dealer who 
alleges Peel Regional Police drug squad officers helped themselves to 
$80,000, a PlayStation and flat-screen TV.

Her client didn't make an official complaint because "who was going 
to believe him anyway," she says, since he had no record of the money.

The Peel force's internal affairs department is investigating the 
yet-unproven allegations.

Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack dismisses claims 
against police made by drug dealers.

"People are going to make allegations to help their defence . . . the 
best offence is a good defence," he says.

The primary responsibility for battling police corruption within the 
Toronto Police Service falls to Professional Standards, Criminal and 
Conduct Investigations, a unit of about 40 employees once known as 
internal affairs.

It has introduced an "early warning" computer system that tracks 
information on officers and detects unusual trends or patterns of 
"high-risk behavioural factors."

An "anti-corruption" team investigates complaints against officers - 
whether criminal or conduct related - which includes surveillance and wiretaps.

Despite the elaborate safeguards and consequences involving 
corruption, McCormack prefers to think cops today simply would not 
want to sacrifice their positions.

"I can't see somebody risking their pension, a well-paying job and 
reputation for a few dollars."
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