"When I grow up I want to be a police officer." Most young kids don't aspire to be lawyers, architects, doctors and dentists. They want to be cops or firefighters. I don't think little kids want to become cops because of a deeply ingrained sense of public service. They think it's exciting - and more importantly, they get to wear a uniform and boss people around.
Kids are generally powerless, so it's not surprising that they'd be attracted to something as intoxicating as power and authority.
Knowing that some young people eventually enter the force in search of power helps in understanding the recent wave of scandal and corruption rocking the world of Toronto crime fighters. We should not be so smug and complacent in thinking the problems with our police will be solved if we just catch and punish the few bad apples.
There are two aspects of modern police culture that foster corruption.
First, we do not like to discipline or punish police misconduct. The absence of meaningful review and accountability is like handing over a blank cheque to those officers inclined to misconduct. In the past two years I have initiated formal police complaints on behalf of clients and have been met with stonewalls, double-talk, endless delegation, delay and indecision.
But secondly, police culture fosters corruption by upholding bad laws.
All the current allegations of corruption seem to relate to the enforcement of drug and liquor licence laws, with smatterings of elements of prostitution and gambling. Enforcing laws relating to private morality among consenting adults brings out the worst in police.
Mayor David Miller felt compelled to apologize for joking that his entire police force was in jail. Perhaps an apology would be in order for implying that we seriously punish our police wrongdoers. If we actually did, maybe we wouldn't be in such a mess today.
It's well known that alcohol prohibition in the 1920s led to an epidemic of police bribery. The underground speakeasy flourished in this era, its success largely due to the fact that owners could pay police for protection from arrest and prosecution.
In consensual pleasure-seeking crimes there is no ascertainable victim calling upon the police to take action, so it's easy for the cop on the beat to turn a blind eye for a fee. Bribery is less of a problem these days, but there's little question that the prohibitory drug policies of this century can undermine the integrity of modern policing.
Drug law enforcement is a "high-risk" activity not so much because officers work in plainclothes, unarmed and often alone, but simply because they come in contact with large sums of black market money.
Of course, there will always be a few officers who live by Oscar Wilde's maxim: "I can resist anything but temptation."
We rarely hear stories of theft and corruption within fraud squads or other police departments that come into contact with large sums of money. Drug law enforcement is uniquely corrupting.
The police spend billions and billions on helicopters, wiretap operations, infra-red detectors and lengthy undercover investigations ending in SWAT-team raids on our homes - with no apparent results.
They throw one trafficker in jail and three more step up to bat. The dealers are winning, so the crusading cop believes that legal shortcuts must be taken to properly enforce the law.
In the face of a losing battle, some cops end up violating constitutional rights - and, scarier still, believing that their sacred mission puts them above the law.
The police know they are pursuing a failed public policy, but they will not give up. Enforcing a bad law, or fighting a war that cannot be won, is bad for the spirit, and in an environment of cynicism and despair the jaded police crusader is vulnerable to greed and corruption.
There is now talk of initiating random drug testing for police officers.
I don't really see the point of drug testing unless we have developed the technology to detect traces of the neurotic drive to power and greed in a police officer's urine.