The Intelligencer, Wheeling News-Register
December 11, 2011 - By FRED CONNORS Senior Staff Writer
When Cops Go Bad: Behavior
Linked To Power, Greed
(Police Hiring Bad People / Ret. Bx Homicide C.O. Lt. Vernon Geberth Offers Expert Opinion)
WHEELING - While there is no definitive explanation as to why some police officers end up on the wrong side of the law, there are clues as to what causes it.
Former Martins Ferry Chief of Police Bill Patsche believes these cases are not necessarily cases of good cops gone bad, but rather a situation of people with questionable character finding a way into law enforcement.
"All crimes, whether by police or the general public, are driven by greed, lust, passion or revenge," he said. "This can happen in any profession but it is particularly troubling when offenders are law enforcement officers."
Vernon J. Geberth, a retired lieutenant commander of the New York City Police Department and expert in applied criminal psychology, said people in authority at times might use their positions to take advantage of a situation.
"Police officers are in charge of regulating the behavior of others so their personal behavior is very important," he said.
While Geberth believes financial gain is a motivator in some crimes, he believes sexual offenses have deeper roots.
"It is my professional opinion that pornography addiction is a cause of many sex crimes and the Internet is a contributing factor," he said. "Internet pornography is like a brain cocktail it feels good to the brain and the body reacts to the chemicals that are released. It has a devastating effect. People who would not ordinarily commit sex crimes find themselves doing so."
Former Ohio County sheriff and FBI agent Thomas Burgoyne believes sexual misconduct is a concern in the line of police work.
"It is a macho thing," he said. "When a guy puts on a uniform, badge and gun, he becomes attractive to the opposite sex. If that officer has rooted problems, he reacts to a steady flow of females coming his way. It is a lot like night clubs around a military base where women are lured by the uniform."
He said police officers are more prone to taking on a macho persona than professional people in other fields. As for officer crimes related to financial gain, Burgoyne says policemen are no different than private citizens.
"It's about the economy," he said. "If they think they can make a buck without getting caught, they go for it. Greed controls all of mankind, whether you are wearing a badge, a robe and collar or a business suit."
Patsche said some officers have trouble dealing with the power and control they have over the public. "The old saying 'power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely' comes into play here," he said. "Officers have the power to take away someone's liberty and that gives them a tremendous responsibility. At times, it becomes power gone mad."
Patsche said officers see some heinous behavior during the course of a workday and it is not unusual for the job to take an emotional toll. "They are human and they experience the same temptations as anyone else," he said. He said most police agencies include psychological screenings in their hiring process but there is no way to weed out all undesirable candidates.
In West Virginia, police candidates undergo extensive psychological evaluation as part of their training at the State Police Academy but the evaluations are not part of the curriculum at the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy.
Wheeling Police Chief Robert Matheny said candidates for his department must undergo written and physical ability tests, a background check, polygraph and psychological exams. "They are put through extensive psychological evaluations at the academy," he said.
Ohio Attorney General spokeswoman Eve Mueller said the state leaves psychological testing to the discretion of the hiring agency. "West Virginia is a post state, Ohio is a home rule state," she said. "Post state dictates mandatory policy and procedure for law enforcement. Home rule state leaves it up to the county, city, village or township agencies."