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A Study in Police Corruption

WHEN I come on the department, I had no intention whatsoever of being crooked. I wouldn't have took a nickel if it was lying in front of me. I wanted to be a good cop." Unhappily for Patrolman Gerald Sanford, it was hard to be a good cop in Denver; as of last week he and 42 other policemen or former cops had been implicated in more than 200 safecrackings over the past decade, with a total take of at least $250,000. The rottenness spread beyond Denver. In suburban counties surrounding the city, sheriffs and a score of deputies were charged with offenses ranging from burglary to embezzlement.

Colorado's breakdown was one of the worst in the history of U.S. law enforcement—and Denver furnishes a case history demanding study by every U.S. community. How did Denver's cop corruption start, and how did it spread?

In Prowl Cars. Salaries, starting at $393 a month in Denver, were only a small part of the problem. Another was the system of recruiting and training young policemen. In Denver almost any able-bodied young man who is not a certifiable moron can join the force. John Paul Kenney, professor of public administration at U.C.L.A. and a former policeman himself, who was called in by Democratic Governor Stephen McNichols to investigate the Denver scandals, says: "The police thieves are for the most part naive, simple farm boys from small-income, modest homes. They don't have much education, usually high school at best. They aren't very ambitious to begin with, and once they get on the police force, they get a little orientation but no real training. Usually a couple of officers talk to the new man and then assign him to an older patrolman, who may be a first-class crook."

Working with such corrupt veterans, the rookie cop would be carefully introduced to petty grafting: cadging free meals in the local restaurants, accepting daily handouts of a couple of packs of cigarettes—for resale—from bartenders on his beat. Then there were the more advanced lessons in stealing from drunks. Says Patrolman Bobbie Whaley, 32, who became one of the most skillful of Denver's police safecrackers: "A drunk, if he had dough on him, never had it when he got out of jail. If the bartender didn't roll him, the cops did. If the arresting officer didn't roll him, the paddy-wagon crew did. If the paddy-wagon crew didn't, the guys in the jail did." There was also the profitable pastime of frisking cadavers. "On a D.O.A. [Dead on Arrival] there's always a race to get there to get the cream," Patrolman Jerry Sanford says. "All the cars go. You want to beat the medical examiner and the public administrator or they'll take it. It's bread."

Code of Dishonor. Among Denver's cops there was a code of dishonor that prevented the honest policeman from informing on his criminal companions. The cop who reported to his superiors found himself ostracized. More often than not, he found himself stripped of privileges, walking a boondock beat—or harried out of a job. Even before he turned to active crime, Jerry Sanford investigated a supermarket safecracking, found a night stick on the floor. "I picked it up and put it in my car. I'm not going to fink."

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