Michael Tabman

Drew Peterson Conviction – The Thin Line Between Cop and Criminal

In Crime and Security on September 6, 2012 at 4:24 pm

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.  I remember my shock as a young FBI Agent in 1990, when I learned that 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.

  1. Hi Mike, being convicted of the crime does not mean Drew actually did the crime as proven by the thousands and thousands of convictions overturned and later released.

  2. Interesting. I just used the term poster boy in a different sense in my post on the conviction. Two sites on this topic you might find interesting are http://behindthebluewall.blogspot.com/ and http://www.policemisconduct.net/. Tim Lynch of the Cato Institute is now running the latter.

  3. Not to mention, along all you cited, the deeper human element of what makes them act like that. The part of our pewrsonality that determines what we are and what we might or will do. The elements you mentioned usually act as tyriggers or just enhancers for what one has inside, resulting on what we see on not so uncommon cases of cop violence. Kinda wish agencies and politicians would consider a way of balancing all that to make sure that law enforcement agents can be effective and less prone to violent acts.

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