Posts Tagged ‘police deviance’

The Shield: Police Corruption and What it Teaches us

The Shield, an American drama series premiering March 12, 2002, is notoriously known for its reoccurring theme of police corruption and misconduct. This is a popular series focusing on a group of detectives from the LAPD called the Strike Team, which is essentially portrayed as an anti-gang division. The Strike Team is lead by detective Vic Mackey, a crude man that promotes his unethical and deviant police problem-solving tactics which include excessive force, lying, and stealing, among others, with the intention of protecting his team, prosecuting criminals, and maintaining order on the streets. Even focusing on the first episode only, there are several examples of Vic demonstrating police deviance and misconduct that are presented and dealt with in a way that infers it is not out of the norm.

Vic is first introduced chasing a suspect alongside other officers. Once cornered, the suspect surrenders prompting a punch in the stomach from Vic for “making [him] run”, displaying clear police brutality. The next time we see him he’s lying to his department about an offender’s complaint against him of excessive force (in this case, involving a pair of pliers). His denial was followed by him stating that his team will back him up as well. Later on while looking for information, Vic runs into a well-known prostitute with who he exchanges a bag of drugs (recently confiscated from a dealer) for information. A major theme within this team, especially promoted by Vic, is that, to quote him, “Team comes first. We take care of each other” , and “We’d kill to protect each other.” This code strays away from the ideal fundamental principals that the officers of British Columbia operate, such as democracy & the rule of law, safeguarding the public trust, justice and equality (British Columbia Code of Ethics, 2011).

Vic later, as a last resort, joins the interrogation team and has a one-on-one sit down with a suspected pedophile in hopes of revealing of a little girl, Jenny Reborg. Following his statement “Good cop and bad cop left for the day. I’m a different kind of cop”, Vic struck him in the throat and begins beating him with a phone book. Vic successfully obtained his confession via his old school, and clearly illegal, interrogation tactics. Whilst watching Vic beat the suspect through the window, one of the female detectives speaks on the topic of police use of excessive force: “What people want these days is to make it to their car without getting mugged…finding out a murderer is caught…if all that means that some cop roughed up some n****r or sp*c in the ghetto, well as far as most people are concerned, it’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’. How do you figure on changing that?” None of his team members observing through the one-way mirror spoke out about the incident.

The last few minutes of the episode ends with the strike team doing a raid of a suspected drug dealers house; this raid included detective Terry Rowley who was new to the department and a rookie to raid assignments. After shooting the drug dealer in the bathroom who was flushing his stash, there was no longer any perceived danger. Vic turns around and shoots his collegue Terry Crowley in the face. He was pronounced dead at 2:13pm. When confronted about the incident, Vic and his team are adamant that it was the drug dealer who shot detective Crowley in the face. It is revealed later that the detective was added to the team to “take Vic Mackey down”. The fact that none of Vic’s team members spoke out about this incident or any before it, enforces their code of “Team comes first. We take care of each other” and normalizes this behaviour. This only further encourages these kinds of actions; silence is the voice of complicity.

The police deviance and corruption typologies that Vic Mackey best exemplifies based on his actions in this first episode are those of the “meat-eaters” and the “Dirty Harrys” / “Noble Causers”, with a slight undertone of “Cowboys”. The “meat-eaters” fall under the Knapp Commission typology and they actively seek opportunities in which they can exchange their power for some kind of benefit (Punch, 2009). In Vic’s case, he displayed characteristics of a meat-eater when he exchanged drugs for information with the prostitute. “Dirty Harrys” / “Noble Causers” on the other hand, are officers that use deviant and unethical tactics in order to obtain their desired outcome (Punch, 2009). Vic proved to be a Dirty Harry when he unethically assaulted the pedophile suspect aiming for a confession. The “cowboys” are known for their high levels of aggression and propensity to act tough, lack discipline, and be action-focused (Punch, 2009), which Vic assumed the role of in the beginning of the show when he punched the suspect in the stomach for causing a chase.

This fictional portrayal of law enforcement officers focuses on their corruption and deviance, and places them in the antagonist position. This representation does not emanate positive, trust-worthy vibes to its audience. Its audience is majorly regular, non-police affiliated individuals who, after watching media portrayals such as this, do not walk away feeling a healthy and more trustworthy bond with law enforcement. Instead, because their only peak into what police conduct looks like has been through the lens of fictional media. There is a lot of negative stimuli being presented through the media pertaining to police corruption and deviance, the public sees a lot of it, and for those that have very little pre-existing knowledge or information , they may be influenced and that allows the potential for their perception towards law enforcement to change. The line between entertainment and reality becomes blurred.

Vic’s blatant displays of police deviance through abuse of authority, unethical practices, and use of excessive force illustrates model officer-deviant behaviour. These corruption-oriented, emphasized, and normalized media representations of law enforcement may have a potential impact on the audiences’ perception of positive and trustworthy qualities pertaining to police officer conduct. That potential blur between fiction and non-fiction holds the possibility of bruised perceptions and subsequent trust with the police.

IMBD.  (N.D). The Shield. Summary. Retrieved at

NA. (2011). British Columbia Code of Ethics. Course Material. Crim 2355

Punch, M. (2009.). What is Corruption? In Police Corruption: Deviance, Accountability and Reform in Policing (pp. 18-52). Portland: Willian Pub.

Roebuck, J.B. and T, Barker. (1974). A typology of Police Corruption. Social Problems 21(3): 423-437

Police Deviance in Popular culture


Fictional representations of policing through Television (TV) programs and movies often portray police officers in an unrealistic manner. Unfortunately, many people (including myself) receive their information and knowledge about police through mass media (Reiner, 2010). This can be a cause for concern, as what is shown on TV or films, in regards to policing and police deviance are generally glamorized, or overly exemplified. The media’s image of policing does not depart from actual policing, but cannot be considered a mirror reflection either (Reiner, 2012).

Many police programs demonstrate rule- bending as an essential part of effective policing (Surette, 2007, as cited in Dirikx, Van den Bulck & Parmentier, 2012). The TV series “19-2” centers on two beat cops of the Montreal Police Department, Nick Barron played by Adrian Holmes and Ben Chartier played by Jared Keeso. This TV series provides many instances when police deviance and police misconduct occur and is normalized or not spoken of. Nick, a veteran cop gets partnered with a new transfer from a rural Quebec town (Ben) and from the very beginning Ben is introduced to the police culture at his new department. The police culture as Loftus, (2010) states are norms and values that shape officers everyday decisions and practices. We see many occasions where the actions of police officers are a result of the police culture. For example, every rookie must have an initiation and this series does not deviate from that cultural norm. Ben gets invited to the tavern which is the police pub and is offered his first drink (for free of course), and he takes it. While watching this I thought why he wouldn’t take the drink, had he refused he would have looked a fool.

The police culture is such that had Ben not taken the drink he would have been called on it, and would be considered more of an outsider than he already is. Within the first thirty minutes we see the sergeant tell Nick –who is irritated for being paired with a rookie – the “Commander shits on me, I shit on you…and you’ll have to go shit on the new guy” (Grou, 2014). The Sergeant then goes on to tell him that it’s just the way things work. This further elucidates the police culture in their precinct. Towards the end of the episode the Commanding Officer calls Ben into his office and instructs him to “cooperate” and give him cause to get his partner (Nick) fired. The Commander ends with “I think we have an understanding” (Grou, 2014). Ben was left with no choice as his patrol duty would be compromised and he would be given administrative work. However, when it came time to “rat out” on Nick –and there were many things Ben could have said, as Nick strays from the book –Ben refused to say anything responding with “he is my partner, there is a code” (Grou, 2014). The code Ben is implying would be what is referred to as the “Blue code of Silence”. This code is a key element in the police culture, as officers refrain from speaking about other officers and will lie to benefit their fellow officers. Accepting the code of silence and solidarity allows you to belong.19-2 (1) Ben did not deviate from the police culture norms as he kept his partner from getting fired, and as a result was given a desk job. During the second episode Ben catches one of the officers drinking on the job, and you can see the pained look on his face as he is struggling to uphold the blue wall, while also longing to say something. Ben has done this quite a few times already, where either he turns a blind eye or lies to save his partner, and this could lead to deviance is his career. He may be disturbed by what he is doing, however continuing to do so he will eventually become habituated (Punch, 2010).

As Punch, (2010) indicates there are many types of police officers and Nick portrays the “Dirty Harry”. He uses tough methods that are somewhat deviant which he deems appropriate to result in an arrest. He would use more violence when dealing with the public to get information, and it usually results in him finding the actual suspect. He would then explain to Ben that this is how it is done. Nick would rather deviate and get the job done doing whatever it took rather than let a criminal walk free. Ben on the other hand is what Punch, (2010) refers to as a “Professional”. He would not allow for procedure to be unlawfully enacted, and he works by the book. He considers his job very important, and relies on good, honest policing. Many other types of officers are also illustrated in the TV series. We see “crusaders” these officers are usually on the hunt for criminals and are obsessed with crime fighting; there are other officers who would be classified as Dirty Harrys’ as well. Lastly we also see a “Cowboy”. This officer is usually highly aggressive and would have issues with authority. The officer in the show picks on Ben and insults him through “jokes”. Punch, (2010) also discusses three levels of deviance, and many of the officers would also be classified as Grass eaters. Grass Eaters typically don’t look for trouble, or ways to deviate, but if something comes there way they are open to accept. For example, the officers all accept free meals and drink at their police pub. The officers accept the drinks, otherwise they would be considered deviant had they chosen not to participate.

Throughout the episode we see many forms of deviance and how it is either thought to be normal, or you turn a blind eye. In this series we also get to see what Van Maanen, (2005) refers to as “the asshole”. maxresdefaultVan Maanen, (2005) classifies citizens three ways: suspicious persons, know nothings and the asshole. The officers encounter daily interactions with the asshole. These people have no respect for them nor do they care for what they stand for. As a result, Nick may use excessive force towards these people and possibly jeopardize his career. They also encounter the know nothings, who nod their heads, and make their way, and the suspicious persons (mostly the troubled teenagers). Nick is able to justify his actions towards these people, because they are assholes. The lack of respect can allow an officer to perform “street justice” and rough up the individual they are dealing with (Van Maanen, 2005).

The representation of deviance in this police series is seen as normal, and will continue to be the norm, unless someone challenges it. However, it seems quite unlikely anyone will. Most of the officers are comfortable with the way things are and will not be susceptible to change. This media representation of the police department wasn’t as bad as many of the other police shows I have seen. They usually tend to glamorize and commend acts of violence to get the job done. 19-2 was raw and real, but of course being a TV series there will be many depictions of the police that are incorrect. The image this TV series provides is that police are generally accepted in the society and the public do respect them. Being a televised show they add a lot more high speed chases and crime fighting scenes than normal, and that contributes to a wrong view of what policing actually is. It makes the job seem like an action packed video game, when in reality most of policing isn’t fighting crime, but dealing with average problems that occur to citizens. It is important to note that while watching TV shows and movies about policing the media tend to over exaggerate and dramatize the whole thing. If we continue to receive our knowledge of policing through these fictional representations of action packed, crime fighting heroes, then everyone will want to be a cop. That being said policing is a dangerous job and they do portray the danger (just in a more glamorous way of course!)

19-2_Ep 6.23_Day 44_053.YanTurcotte.jpeg


Dirikx, A., Van den Bulck, J., & Parmentier, S. (2012). The Police as Societal Moral Agents:   “Procedural Justice” and the Analysis of Police Fiction. Journal Of Broadcasting & Electronic Media56(1), 38-54.                       doi:10.1080/08838151.2011.651187

Grou, D (Director). (2014). 19-2 [Television series]. New York City: Bravo.

Loftus, B. (2010). Police occupational culture: classic themes, altered times. Policing and Society, 20(1), 1–20. doi:10.1080/10439460903281547

Punch, M. (2009). What is Corruption? In Police Corruption: Deviance, Accountability and Reform in Policing (pp. 18-52). Portland: Willan Pub. [Coursepack]

Reiner, R. (2010). Mystifying the Police: The Media Presentation of Policing. In R. Reiner, The Politics of the police (Fourth, pp. 177-202). London: Oxford University Press

Van Maanen, J. (2005). The Asshole. In T. Newburn (Ed.), Policing: Key Readings (pp.280-296) Portland: Willan Pub [Coursepack]

Television shows involving crime and policing very much dominate prime-time television. But to what extent are these shows stylized portrayals of the realities of policing? Is police deviance glamorized, as opposed to conventional, legitimate policing? As argued by Cummins et. all, a repercussion of these shows is that “the day-to-day reality of policing is obscured from the vast majority of the public who have little direct contact with the Criminal Justice System” (2014).

One could argue that The Mentalist is one such show. The series follows Patrick Jane (played by Simon Baker), a once highly successful, affluent psychic. Jane had his wife and daughter murdered in consequence of his going on a national news show and taunting serial killer Red John, speaking on his motives and mental state, as well as his childhood. Spiraling into an unhealthy succession of rage, isolation, and depression following the murder, he admits his career was fraudulent and that no one possesses psychic powers. Rather, he’s simply very intelligent, observant, deductive, and socially skilled. Therefore, he is able to manipulate the average person.

Patrick Jane, in the process of working a case, masquerades as an inmate.

During his prolonged phase of despondency, Jane coincidentally stumbles into the office of the CBI (California Bureau of Investigation), and after some time they decide his talents are conspicuous enough for them to hire him as a consultant. To their surprise, he assists the CBI in closing virtually every case they come across. However, his ultimate underlying goal is to find and exact revenge on Red John. Despite being a member of an agency that rhapsodizes over the values of the justice system, Jane considers it a slow, tedious and broken process. Accordingly, his methods are very unorthodox and he regularly eludes police procedure, but he is efficient nonetheless.


The following clip exemplifies this:


Punch (2009, p. 25) has constructed a typology of “police officers and their relationship to deviance and corruption.” These include uniform carriers, mister average, professionals, noble causers, innovators and number crunchers, crusaders, ideological combatants, lone wolves, and cowboys. Though Patrick is not a police officer per se, he can be identified as a lone wolf, which is a category, Punch implies, that encompasses officers who are committed to one particular case and may resort to deviant means in order to solve it. For Jane, “committed” may be too weak a word to define his relationship with the Red John case. The sole reason he joined the CBI in the first place was to seek revenge on the killer, and he tirelessly pursues the case on his own time throughout the show. He is no stranger to aberrant methods, either. In one particular episode, he illegitimately gains access to Red John’s case files. He has repeatedly stated that if he ever comes face-to-face with Red John himself, he would not hesitate to kill him. He is also known to tamper with evidence to ensure that the guilty is found guilty.

Let us now shift our focus from Patrick Jane as a character and how his behavior embodies deviance, to a comparison of police/criminal investigation proceedings within the show and those in real life – fiction vs. reality. Furthermore, the interrelatedness of this and the show’s production of deviant policing related themes that appeal to viewers.

The portrayal of crime solving in The Mentalist is an obvious departure from reality, in that it is shown to be less challenging than it actually is. The video above, for example, is a simplistic depiction of crime scene investigation, in that Patrick makes huge assumptions from very little work upon arriving.  Cummins et. all assert that such condensed narratives are “almost completely divorced from the reality of modern police work” (2014). opting for vigilante justice rather than generally following the criminal justice system is indefinitely an indication of the show aiming for the allure of deviancy in policing, in contrast to conventional policing.  Additionally, Patrick will commonly convince members of his team to engage in his elaborate plans, that he constructs in order to deceive or persuade suspects one way or another (this includes tactics such as hypnotizing them, in certain episodes) to out themselves as the killer. The same applies to interrogations, as he will pry a confession out of a suspect, that he himself has systematically narrowed down as the wrongdoer, by any means necessary. This being the case, the manner in which interrogations are carried out is another big distinction in police procedure in the show compared to reality. The show takes place in California. As per California law, anytime an admission or confession made during police interrogation is involuntary, it is considered to be obtained through denial of due process of law (Robison, 1969, p. 740).  As a result, the confession is excluded from the evidence at the trial.  The show completely ignores the possibility of the evidence that Jane obtains illegitimately being thrown out. This affirms Cummins’ view that popular crime drama shows are “full of procedural errors. (p. 5).


Cummins suggests that the “dominant portrayal” of policing is one that pushes serious crimes, including murder and serial killers (p. 2), and this entirely captures the premise of The Mentalist. This is unambiguous sensationalization of police work. However, Cummins maintains that policing includes the element of routine just as any other job does, and so “a realistic drama would be unwatchable” (p. 3).


Resources cited:

  • Cummins, I., Foley, M., & King, M. (2014). ‘… And After the Break’: Police Officers’ Views of TV Crime Drama. Policing.
  • Punch, M. (2009). Police corruption: Deviance, accountability and reform in policing. Routledge.
  • Robison, T. (1969). Police Interrogation of Suspects: The Court Versus the Congress. California Law Review, 740-777.

My impression of the representation of the G20 summit was that it did not in fact show most of the cover-up done by the police as well as the laws at the time it took place. Overall my impression was that the Fifth Estate did a good job at projecting all sides of the story, from the police deviance (attacking individuals from behind, giving the order to have the dog attack a person, not wearing name tags to be unidentifiable, using smoke bombs on unsuspecting individuals ,etc), to the small groups of individuals who did damage police cars and buildings as well as the individuals who were detained and beaten by officers for no reason.

As for the issues arising, I believe the issues will be more faced in the direction of the police from its citizens of Toronto and across the country. After seeing the video, I was extremely angered mainly at the fact that the police were able to detain people well over the 24 hour limit, as well as deny them legal counsel and basic necessities (food, water, etc) as shown in the video. I was also extremely angered that there were well over 1100 people detained and only 98 charged with 12 pleading guilty. It showed that the police used additional force and power when not entitled to. Also, another issue that I found upsetting was that at the time the video was made, only 1 officer had been charged. There were hundred of officers breaking the law and more importantly causing bodily harm. The real issues arising will be the public’s lack of trust in its police force and how to proceed with the trust broken.

The police deviance and accountability depicted, I noticed that even after the video of officers using excessive force was shown to the Bill Blair, the police Commissioner, his reaction did not differ as one would suspect. With regards to the accountability, I feel that no matter what the officers would receive, as some only received docked pay and others a few days suspended, it is not enough since clearly damaging a few individuals’ physical capabilities and more importantly their psyche. The trust that is placed in the police is most definitely broken even in myself. After hearing what occurred and talking with friends that went to the summit and seeing it now, it brings back many emotions even though I was not there.

Regarding the title, “you should have stayed at home”, as said in the documentary “I find it offensive”, I too do find it offensive.  The implications of making that statement suggest that the individuals that were detained due to being on a mission to cause trouble or make a statement when in fact most weren’t aware of what was actually occurring and were more curious at seeing a large peaceful protest.

Wrongful convictions have been a part of the Canadian criminal justice system for decades. Yet very few criminologists or legal scholars have been looking into the topic. We have only recently begun looking at previous criminal convictions which may have been the result of a wrongful conviction. A situation where an individual is found to be legally guilty of a crime he or she did not commit; and the actual perpetrator is out free in the world. For a variety of reasons a person may be wrongfully convicted of a crime he or she did not commit, and the only way to prove his or her innocence is in a court of law. The various research that has been conducted on this topic primarily focuses on the phenomenon of tunnel vision, which Margaret Beare defines in her scholarly article Shouting Innocence from the Highest Rooftop as: “the single-minded and overly narrow focus on an investigation or prosecutorial theory so as to unreasonably color the evaluation of information received and one’s conduct in response to the information”(2008, p.21). Put differently, tunnel vision is the presumption that an individual suspect is guilty at an early stage of the investigation and proceeding with that focus firmly in mind. But Beare and her colleagues have determined that while tunnel vision is definitely a factor in wrongful convictions, it is the end result. A variety of other factors including faulty investigatory procedures, police deviance and corruption, and systemic, structural, and individual factors, all play a huge role in adding up to the final step, of tunnel vision. Various inquiries have been held to determine the root causes of these wrongful convictions but the recommendations stemming from these extremely time-consuming follow ups are not being followed or understood, and more wrongful convictions are occurring. These recommendations are not being understood by the police officers, and more importantly the individual police agencies are failing to accept this guidance. They are not doing enough in regards to re-training of officers or training of new ones in order to help combat this problem. Noble cause corruption is another phenomenon which leads to wrongful convictions. It is a mindset or sub-culture which fosters a belief that the ends justify the means. Also various other factors have come to light including invalid expert testimony given by so called experts in the field, which has later proven to be incorrect.
An interesting theme that is apparent to the broader literature is the use of DNA testing to exonerate hundreds of wrongfully convicted individuals. A majority of wrongful conviction articles look at cases in the United States of America; this is not surprising in the sense that the U.S. has a much larger criminal justice system in comparison to its neighbor, Canada. Also Leo and Gould give other factors in wrongful convictions, included in their article Studying Wrongful Convictions: Learning from Social Science, which are “eyewitness misidentifications, false confessions, informant perjury, junk science, tunnel vision, police, and prosecutorial error”(2009, p.18). Many of these are in direct relation to the police. Police deviance has been an ongoing issue for decades now, and lately has become more and more prominent due to the advancements in technology, and the media attention it receives. Leo and Gould highlight the fact that in the late 1980′s DNA testing is what launched the inquiries into wrongful convictions, and since then more than 230 individuals have been exonerated of their wrongful sentences. We must not forget that there are currently hundreds of applications for inquiries into cases, but due to the lengthy time it takes for the cases to proceed, innocent individuals remain stripped of their liberties and freedoms.
Margaret Beare makes a very interesting point in regards to police officers assuming innocence until proven guilty. When one is working for weeks, months, and in some cases years to prove the guilt of an individual it is extremely difficult for him to build his guilty case by assuming innocence. She points out an apparent theme in many of these wrongful conviction cases to be “that justice is a game that you wrap to fit your preference, or your unconscious biases. Therefore “shop around” and select evidence, experts, and judges based on your specific agenda”(2008, p.33). Erroneous errors in police investigations have been one of the most common causes of wrongful convictions. Officers wanting to get the guy they “know” to be guilty and forgetting about other possible suspects, which leads to their instincts being false. This has been repeated time and time again in several wrongful convictions such as the case of Donald Marshall Jr.
Beare argues that wrongful convictions are caused by other issues such as systemic problems within the criminal justice system itself. She goes on to say these are “problems that won’t be fixed as long as the miscarriage of justice is treated as an isolated even…wrongful convictions don’t occur in a vacuum. There are systemic reasons they go wrong”(2008, p.29). She stresses the fact that just saying it is a systemic problem does not cure the fact that it continues to go on. In relation to this I have noticed that many of the articles published make various realizations such as, this is a problem with the criminal justice system, or a structural problem within a specific organization, but they make no suggestions in regards to solving these issues. We must ask ourselves how big of an actual problem is this, that it is taking this long to solve? Agreeing with Bears belief, Punch suggests that police corruption and deviance should be looked at through a systemic viewpoint, and many instances of deviance are due to organizational problems.
The idea of noble cause corruption is also something to ponder in the sense that the “justice officials – in the name of getting a conviction – are prepared to violate laws, Charter protections, and any number of ethical considerations”(Beare, 2008, p.33). According to Maurice Punch in his text Police Corruption: Deviance, accountability and reform in policing, noble cause as an officer doing what he had to do in order to “get a result, achieve convictions and see justice done.”(2009, p.107). He believes that an officer is guilty of the noble cause corruption syndrome when said officer is willing to do anything within his means to achieve a conviction. The officer strongly believes that a guilty person will get away with a crime unless he or she does something about it. Whether this means putting someone they suspect of committing a crime behind bars, instead of having solid proof, then so be it. Many officers work on cases and investigations for months at a time only to be left with the uncertainty of whether the suspect will get convicted. Many officers take it upon themselves to ensure that ‘justice is served’, and feel that they are doing it for the good of the community and in some cases, the country.

Some Wrongful Conviction Victims in Canada
Some Canadian wrongful conviction victims: Donald Marshall Jr., James Driskell, David Milgaard, William Mullins-Johnson, Steven Truscott, Kyle Unger

Various wrongful conviction inquiries have been made in the past several decades, many of which have gathered vast media attention. One of the major ones that made headlines around the globe was the wrongful conviction of Steven Truscott. He was sentenced to hanging in 1969, at the age of 14 for a schoolmates murder. After spending several months as Canada’s youngest inmate on death row, his sentence was changed to life imprisonment. After spending almost his entire life in prison the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2007 overturned his conviction declaring the case “a miscarriage of justice that must be quashed”. He was awarded compensation for the mistake but that does not come close to the years of mental and physical anguish he had to endure while imprisoned. This was due to a number of factors, such as police laying down charges too quickly, and completely ignoring other potential suspects. Such as a sexual offender living nearby, and an electrician with a rape conviction; both were ignored by police, the obvious question being, why was this?(CBC, June 7/08).
Another interesting inquiry was made into the case of Donald Marshall Jr. where he was convicted of murdering his friend. It gives an example where police officers conceived a predetermined notion that he was the killer. Since he was already known to police they focused the investigation onto him. After his sentence had been overturned an inquiry commission determined that “systemic racism had contributed to his conviction”(CBC, Oct 14/10). Margaret Beare mentioned in her article that race was a prominent factor in many of the wrongful conviction cases in Canada; but even when the race factor was absent, the individuals were stereotyped by police and deemed to be weird or unordinary. She gives the example of Guy Paul Morin who was a beekeeper, a musician, and a gardener, and the police paid particular attention to him because of these “unusual” characteristics.

Just recently a man has filed a lawsuit against the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench last month in regards to a wrongful conviction sentence he served of 14 years. Kyle Unger was convicted in a murder of a teenage girl, but after serving part of his sentence, his charges were withdrawn thanks once again to there being no DNA evidence linking him to the crime(CBC, Sept 27/11).

Some Causes of Wrongful Convictions
Chart From:

Many issues have arisen stemming from the research conducted into the topic of wrongful convictions. Numerous scholars have claimed that there are many factors that are important which when combined together, can lead to a wrongful conviction. One of main factors that lead can lead to a wrongful conviction is mistaken identity, whereas the identity of an individual is mistaken as being the suspect. This can come from a number of different avenues, a witness may just want to help “solve” a crime, and point out an individual that had similarities between the suspect they saw and the individual standing before them in a police line-up. The police will then just “run with it” and focus their attention on getting the conviction without thinking about the error of eye-witnesses.

Another key factor in wrongful convictions is expert testimony; experts come into our judicial system to provide their opinion on a matter, well as history has shown, at times their opinion is wrong. For example with the William Mullins-Johnson case an expert pathologist was called in to testify. Charles Randal Smith was an expert pathologist that testified and played a major role in determining the time of death of the victim and whether she had been sexually assaulted or not. Eleven years after the initial trial it was determined by three other pathologists, that there was no evidence that the girl had been sexually assaulted, and Mr. Mullins-Johnson was acquitted.

An interesting study by Garrett & Neufield, Invalid Forensic Science Testimony and Wrongful Convictions claims that of the 82 cases or 60% of the bulk of trials looked at in regards to testimony by 72 forensic analysts called by the prosecution, were invalid. Also noting that defense counsel rarely obtains experts of their own and fails to cross-examine the “experts” brought in by the crown. This leads me to an earlier point made by Beare “that justice is a game that you wrap to fit your preference, or your unconscious biases. Therefore “shop around” and select evidence, experts, and judges based on your specific agenda.” I understand that humans make mistakes, we all do it, but when an individual’s life is in jeopardy; the criminal justice system should do more in order to confirm these opinion statements given in court, not just rely on them because they were given by experts.

Hundreds of cases of wrongful convictions have surfaced in North America alone over the past several decades, thanks to an increase in new technology, more and more individuals are being released from their prisons due to various inquires being conducted. Unfortunately these inquires should not have been necessary in order to allow free individuals to enjoy their liberties and not have been made to face the conditions they did. Several factors including police misconduct, systemic racism, tunnel vision, erroneous eye witness testimony as well as incorrect expert testimony have all lead to wrongful convictions over the last several decades. The question arises, what can we as a society to do help combat wrongful convictions? Can we do anything in regards to police training, and ensuring expert testimony is credible or are these issues going to remain regardless?


Beare, M. (2008). “Shouting Innocence from the Highest Rooftop”, in M. Beare (ed.) Honouring Social Justice. Toronto: University of Toronto Press: 17-54.

Punch, M. (2009). Police corruption: deviance, accountability and reform in policing. UK: Willan Publishing.

The War on Drugs and police corruption on their own are both controversial and important topics; but are they related? Is the War on Drugs tempting our police officers to be more corrupt?  Many would argue that it does in fact do that and in turn the War on Drugs does not fight or deter crime, it promotes it.

In 2002, 41 Tijuana officers were arrested for allegedly working with drug traffickers, protecting shipments of drugs, taking bribes and even for executions (Preston Preet, 2002).  Generally police officers are under paid for the services that they provide and it can be easy for them to fall victim to the criminal life because of the large sums of easy money it provides.  As Maurice Punch (2009) describes in his book “Police Corruption: Deviance, accountability and reform in policing” cops are just like any other normal person and can just as easily be lured into the temptation of easy money as a criminal could.

For many officers that are dealing with the War on Drugs it could become very frustrating seeing so many drug-dealers get arrested and go to prison to have the same amount come back out on the street the next day.  While the officers are trying to fight the War on Drugs they could feel that they, no matter what their efforts, are consistently being beaten.  This could eventually lead an officer to live a vigilante like life.  The officer might fabricate evidence or lie under oath just to try to put as many suspected drug-dealers away as her could – while his intentions are for the greater good, it is still a form of police corruption.

The debate on whether or not drugs should be decriminalized in North America has been an extremely controversial subject since the start of the War on Drugs. Many North Americans believe that the War on Drugs has failed and even most politicians, despite what most of them might say in public, would agree.  Recently the Global Commission released a report stating “Political leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately: that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won” (CBC New, 2011).  The Global Commission proposes that the United States decriminalizes drugs, especially marijuana, as it will weaken organized crime and corruption within the government and police force (CBC News, 2011).  Follow the link to watch the full report from CBC

The reason much of society claims that the War on Drugs is not working is because drug use is increasing as well as corruption (CBC News, 2011).  In comparison to countries such as the Netherlands, where drugs are decriminalized the United States has a higher percentage in drug use (Chambliss, 1995).  With more corruption and higher drug use in the United States than in countries where they do not fight drugs it is hard to believe that the War on Drugs is in fact effective.

Corruption is a big part of why the War on Drugs needs to be reconsidered.  It is difficult for police officers to not fall to temptation of the drug trade because of the exposed opportunities (Sullivan, 2008).  Cops are just like any other people and are subject to temptation by large sums of money (Punch, 2009).  The reason that this becomes difficult for them is because criminals and cops begin to share the same environment and same surroundings; the police may even become friends with criminals (Punch, 2009).  It is not uncommon for an undercover officer to go to the other side because of the environment they become accustomed too (Punch, 2009).  Drug unit officers are most likely the ones to fall victim to temptation because of the large seizures of drugs and money they are consistently around (Sullivan, 2008).  Corruption within the drug unit usually consists of stealing drugs and selling them for profit, stealing money, as well as illegal searches and seizures (Sullivan, 2008).  Drug enforcement officers are typically the most vulnerable to bribes because of the large amounts of money involved (Sullivan, 2008).  By way of illustration in 1995 in the state of Washington there were 77 officers with charges against them for drug offences (Sullivan, 2008).  That is a substantial amount of a police force to have charges laid against; however, these are the ones that were caught, never mind the amount that managed to stay under the radar.  Ultimately, the War on Drugs makes it inevitable that some officers to accept bribes (Sullivan, 2008).

When police were protecting drug dealers there would be less murder and assaults and this led the community to believe that the police were doing a good job at protecting the streets from crime and that there was no drug market in their neighbourhood (Sullivan, 2008).  The ironic thing about this assumption is that they were preventing more violent crime by protecting the dealers.  The ultimately gave them a license to deal (Sullivan, 2008).

The War on Drugs leads to many different types of police deviance.  One of the most serious ones is the use of SWAT in house raids.  This is considered an extremely serious one because of the innocent people that end up frightened and sometimes killed because of them.  The SWAT will go into a house based on a “tip” they received from a neighbour suspecting drugs in the house (Balko, 2006).  The police deviance that results from these cases is the in proper procedure that is followed.  For example, in the raid on a young man’s home in Florida the warrant was a “knock and announce” which states that the police must knock and announce that it is the police before knocking down the door.  In this particular raid there is evidence that suggests that the police did not follow this procedure and it ended in the young man taking ten bullets (Balko, 2006).  This is only one of many examples of police misconduct in relation to raids.

One of the typologies commonly used to describe officers that go looking for opportunity in regards to corruption are called meat-eaters (Punch, 2009).  One of the first places that a meat-eater may go to look for an opportunity is the drug unit.  With the amount of opportunity the War on Drugs gives to the meat-eaters it would hard for them not to go there first when seeking out a potential gain.  There are many different ways that they could gain from it.  They could cooperate with the drug dealers in exchange for money, they could steal drugs and sell them for profit, they could steal money from seizures and that is just to name a few.

Sullivan (2008) notes that the current drug policies lead to corruption of our police departments and government officials and the CIA cooperated with the Medallion drug cartel in 1993 that was responsible for shipping one ton of cocaine into the United States; the most disturbing part is that the whole thing was swept underneath the rug and no CIA officials were charged.  There are many reported incidents of the CIA cooperating in the drug trade.  There is overwhelming evidence that suggests cooperation during the Vietnam War allowed the shipment and trade of opiate drugs.

The amount of money paid to fund the War on Drugs is outrageous and the time and effort spent by our law enforcement could be spent towards preventing and enforcing other laws.  For example, in 1992 68% of arrests in the United States were for drug offences and 36% of all prisoners for drug offences were for low level offences and had no previous record (Sullivan, 2008).  It seems as though many people of the public are against drugs and support the War on Drugs, hence why no president has put decriminalization into action; however 50% of incarcerations are for crimes that the public deems “not very serious” (Sullivan, 2008).  It is easier for politicians to convince the public that fighting drugs will keep their community safer than giving up on the fight and trying a different alternative.  Many see giving up on the War on Drugs as supporting crime even though this is not the case.

Statistics have shown that places like ‘Insight’ or regulated ‘needle parks’ reduce the spread of AIDS and Hepatitis among addicts (Sullivan, 2008).  If these parks are helping prevent disease and most of our incarcerations are for low level drug offences is it safe to say that the War on Drugs is not helping? With all the corruption from the cops and all the organized crime going on one could say that it is only making situations worse and that countries are losing thousands of people in this endless fight.

Whether or not to decriminalize drugs will always be a controversial issue.  Even though many statistics show that it would be in our society’s best interest to make the change people are afraid of just that.  Tens of thousands of people die every year because of drugs, whether it is overdoses because the drug injections are not regulated the drug dealers and gang members fighting over their turf or the police officers that are just trying to enforce the law.  What we do know is that too many people die because of drugs and something needs to change.  Millions of dollars goes toward funding the War on Drugs that could be used for other things such as health care for Americans or the prevention of serious crimes such as murder, rape and robbery.  Corruption is a huge indictor as well that this is not the outcome that we hope for.  Corruption and drugs go hand in hand as does organized crime and drugs.  If we were to decriminalize drugs we would ultimately be solving the problem of corruption and organized crime.  The old saying goes “if it aite broke don’t fix it”.  Well what if it is broken? Should we not do what we can to try and fix the problem? If we have been fighting drugs for decades and it has not improved then we should try something new or the outcome will be the same – “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”.

There are many people and organizations that benefit from the War on Drugs and it’s a wonder that they are not the reason why it is continuing.  First and probably the most obvious are drug dealers.  They buy product in bulk for very little money and flip it for an enormous profit, while the consequences if busted can be intense, many do not mind taking the risk for the extreme amounts of cash that are involved.  Second would be law enforcement.  Corrupt cops benefit from the War on Drugs by becoming a part of the criminal acts the take place.  As mentioned above, police involved in the drug trade can become corrupt due to the opportunities for large sums of money.  Third would be politicians.  Politicians benefit in a different way.  They use the War on Drugs as a way to increase their campaign.  The community is more likely to elect someone that wants to fight drugs and crime and make them feel safe in their community.  Society doesn’t generally elect someone that “condones” crime and/or drugs (which is the way it may seem if they did not support the fight against drugs).  Lastly, would be private prisons.  Private prisons receive funding per inmate.  So if the incarceration rate goes up – so does their funding.  It is easy to see why any of the above would and do benefit from the war, but what about the rest of society that does not.

The fact of the matter is, when you look at the facts and at the history of the War on Drugs, it is potentially causing society more harm than good.  Not only is it striping our community of money to fund the endless fight but it is killing millions of people, some completely innocent of crimes, in the process.

The money that is spent annually towards funding the War on Drugs could be used towards other things such as health care.  Can anyone really agree that the War on Drugs is more important than the health of our community?  I think it is safe to assume that most would agree that the health of the child is more important than whether the teenager down the block gets busted for smoking a joint? Yes this may be a harsh example, but it is the bare naked truth.  President Nixon said the Drugs were America’s number one enemy?

In all due respect President Nixon but I would have to disagree and say that cancer and other deadly illnesses may be more of a threat to American’s than a choice to use or sell drugs.  If half the money was spent on cancer research as it has been to fight the War on Drugs thousands of lives may have been saved – someone may not have lost their child to leukemia at the age of 5, someone may not have lost their mother or father, brother or sister… instead people have lost their families in a War that may never end.

What can we do?

What are the alternatives to the War on Drugs?  Are there any? Have they been successful?  As a matter of fact there are alternatives and other countries have paved the way by demonstrating how successful these alternatives can be.  The Netherlands, for example, has been a leader in the search for alternatives.  Switzerland has experimented with alternatives to police enforced prohibition and there have been established “needle parks” where addicts can safely and legally purchase drugs.  In Vancouver there is a safe injection site known as “Insite” which is North America’s first legal supervised injection site

The sad truth about drugs is that people will do what they want and making it legally available is not going to make that decision for them… only they can do that, the least we can do is make sure they do it safely.

Punch (2009) always talks about the bad apple or bad orchard theory… If it is in fact a bad orchard what we as a society can do to prevent that orchard from growing and infecting more of the community is by stopping the source of their corruption – the War on Drugs.  No War on Drugs = no drug dealers and no drug-related corruption… it’s really that simple – if an orchard is producing bad apples it is up to us to stop watering the trees.

References Cited

Balko, Radley. (2006). Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America. Washington, D.C.. Retrieved on November 3, 2011 from

CBC News. (2011). News Cast. Retrieved from web on October 25th 2011 from

CBC News. (2011). War on Drugs on Bust: Commission. Retrieved from web on October 25th 2011 from

Chambliss, William J. (1995). Another lost war: The costs and consequences of drug prohibition. Proquest. Social Justice. San Francisco. Vol. 22, Iss. 2. Pg. 101.

Lee Sullivan. Sheriff. (2008). Drug Unit Corruption: Stopping the Scandal Before it Starts. Proquest. Alexandria. Vol. 60, Iss. 1; pg. 27, 3 pgs.

Punch, Maurice. (2009). Police Corruption: Deviance, accountability and reform in policing. Portland, Oregon: Willan Publishing.

RCMP accountability can be summed up as the responsibility the RCMP have in regards to their duty. The accountability that RCMP officers have holds them responsible for their actions or inactions while on duty. Another definition for accountability can be as follows “Accountability may be defined in broad terms: A is accountable to B when A is obliged to inform B about A’s actions (or inactions) and decisions, to justify them as appropriate and proper and, in the case of misconduct, to suffer sanction” (Schedler 1999, 13-28). If an officer does something he or she is not supposed to while on duty, citizens can report this act using a complaint mechanism. Complaint mechanisms allow a person to bring to light any unethical or unprofessional act committed by members of the RCMP. There are also a number of measures taken to ensure that the RCMP can be held accountable as an organization, these can be found on the following link Organizational accountability.The following link provides a more detailed look into the topics of accountability and complaints mechanisms RCMP Accountability and Complaints mechanisms

The issue of RCMP accountability and complaints mechanisms is of major concern to the public because the RCMP are in charge of the safety of the citizens in their respective society, and if those who are sworn to protect us abuse their powers then the concept of public safety goes out the window.  When there are situations in which the RCMP act in a manner that goes against their job description then that act is considered to be a form of police deviance, and the officer(s) who commit(s) that act must be held accountable. According to Maurice Punch (2009, p 91) accountability is essential to policing because it make police work legitimate which in turn is absolutely necessary in a democratic society. However many people believe that the amount of accountability placed on RCMP officers is not enough. For example Dennis O’Connor suggests that the accountability mechanisms are having difficulty keeping up with the transformation of the policing organization into a high police organization, “ existing accountability and review mechanisms for the RCMP’s national security activities are not adequate in large part because of the evolution and increased importance of that national security role.” (Dennis O’Connor). This is just one reason that RCMP accountability is being scrutinized by the public. Here are two articles that illustrate some of this issue RCMP accountability a longstanding issue and Shoddy policing and accountability show RCMP in B.C have learned very little. Another major aspect of accountability is the complaints mechanisms, which allow the public to hold certain officers accountable.

Complaint mechanisms are what the public uses to launch complaints against officers who have violated any of the rights or freedoms that belong to a citizen or citizens. These complaint mechanisms are important in regards to police deviance because they give an outlet to the public to launch their complaints, and thus make sure that the complaints are heard. One example of a complaint mechanism available to the public is the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. The form of accountability has changed in the last several years, going from a form of internal accountability, which belonged to the police, to an external form of accountability, which is now in the hands of the general public (Punch: 204). However; these complaint mechanisms are not perfect, there is still room for improvement. One way to improve these complaint mechanisms is to increase the public awareness of mechanisms. By improving complaint mechanisms we may see the faith in the agency begin to slowly be restored.

Over the past few years there have been a number of incidents that have added fuel to the fire of police corruption and deviance. Some of these examples are better known than others. Perrott and Kelloway (2010 p. 123) mention some of these cases in their article, which include the “pension scandal” in which an officer was concerned about the mismanagement of the police force pension. The commissioner dismissed this claim, which resulted in a field day for the media, eventually evidence suggested there had been mismanagement of funds and this resulted in criticism of the senior members of the RCMP. As a result a Task force was created to strengthen RCMP accountability, it was referred to as the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP. Another case mentioned by Perrott and Kelloway occurred on October 14, 2007, which involved 4 police officers using what most people would consider an unreasonable amount of force to take down a disgruntled man by the name or Robert Dziekanski who had just arrived in Canada. The officer’s tasered Dziekanski a minimum of 4 times, who eventually died as a result. This incident brought the RCMP under heavy fire internationally. Another case not mentioned in the article is the McGuire case. These incidents are only some of the contributing factors in the public’s distrust of law enforcement agencies.

Perrott and Kelloway also conducted a study of workplace violence, which included the RCMP and municipal police forces. The study used a questionnaire to collect the data. The questionnaires were distributed in small groups and were mailed out. They also used anonymity in regards to the identity of the officer answering the questionnaire. The results of this survey showed that the RCMP showed lower levels of perceived control and workplace autonomy compared to municipal police. It also should that female officers showed they received more support from the courts compared to their male counterparts. In regards to psychological strain, the study revealed that RCMP officers feel more psychological strain compared to municipal officers (129). Lastly in the category of psychosomatic symptoms the study shows RCMP officers “reported more physically based symptoms” compared to municipal officers. This study is important because it may help us better understand the reasoning behind police deviance. Any one or all of the numerous findings listed in the study could factor into this, whether it be lack of support from courts and superiors, lower levels of commitment in male officers, and feeling of lack of control in the work environment.

In a report written by Peter Van Loan (Minister of Public Safety) on the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP , Van Loans report ( 2008 – 2009 p.12) suggests that there has been a 34.5% increase in the amount of reports that are received and handled by CPC (Commission for Public Complaints) in the past few years. Van Loan states that all complaints launched against the RCMP made by the public are handled by the CPC. The report also indicates that the CPC has also improved not only the effectiveness of complaints and review units, but also the efficiency they work in. Van Loan argues that in order to have an effective complaint mechanism the public needs to be made more aware of these mechanisms and the CPC. Although there has been a slight improvement in the complaints mechanisms there is still lots of room for improvement, the public needs to be more aware of these mechanisms in order for them to be effective. The 34.5% increase in reports received and handled by the CPC, and the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP are steps in the right direction in restoring the publics faith in the RCMP.