When Narcotics Cops Go Rogue: A Philadelphia Story

For years in North Philly, the heart of Philadelphia’s heroin and crack trade, narcotics squads have exercised incredible powers among the poor blacks and Latinos they patrol. They have kicked in doors and manhandled people. They have put their hands on anyone they suspected of trafficking drugs. They have stepped on necks, literally. The fact that citizen complaints generally go nowhere has sent a clear message to the officers tasked with controlling the city’s drug trade: You can do whatever you want to whoever you want as long as they’re poor.

In 2008, when the war on drugs in the city was arguably at its most out of control, one narcotics squad did just that. They moved into new territory that not even other dirty cops considered fair game. They didn’t just push the limits of civil rights. They went totally rogue. When the local press broke the scandal, outrage was voiced, and cries for reform. Last month, after plodding forward for five years, a high-profile federal investigation into police corruption by a Philadelphia narcotics squad was dropped.

How did we get to a place where a narc squad becomes a roving pack of violent criminals and gets away with it? How can we get out of that place?

Put yourself in the mind of a dirty cop. You’ve been getting away with everything short of murder for years in your dealings with the dudes who run the drug houses you raid. It starts with pocketing some money you take off dealers—for example, subtracting from the slip you write up and submit as evidence the amount you want to spend on a weekend at the beach with your squad boys. You take property you find on dealers you frisk, and their complaints that you ripped them off are ignored because it’s their word against a cop’s. If you’re the lecherous type, you cop a feel when arresting a hustler’s girlfriend. Again, if she complains, you get away with it because, you tell Internal Affairs, she’ll say anything to stay out of jail. Your abuses increase incrementally, and it keeps going your way. It seems like everyone else does it; you’d almost be a fool not to.

– Read the entire article at Substance.com.