Frontline examines the corrupting effect of drug money in 'Cops'

October 16, 1990|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Evening Sun Staff

Frontline, the PBS documentary series, offers a sobering hour tonight that reminds us of yet another battleground in the incessant war on drugs.

This one focuses not on the addictive power of powder up the nose or injected into veins, but of the corrupting power of millions of dollars placed within easy reach.

"When Cops Go Bad" looks closely at two cases, one in Miami that came to light after the bodies of drug dealers were dragged out of the Miami river. They had jumped overboard avoiding a police raid. It was policemen conducting raid, all right, but it was never reported because they were looking for narcotics and money for their own schemes. Members of this group of recently-recruited cops earned from $100,000 to $2 million from such operations.

The other is a case scheduled for trial this week. Officers in Los Angeles are charged with skimming cash off the top of the big money busts they were making. The countercharges include that the sheriff's department had forgotten about its mission of stopping drugs and instead was only interested in confiscating cash because the department got to keep a certain amount for its budget.

Though there is much solid work and good information behind this hour, which will be on Maryland Public Television, channels 22 and 67, it finally examines only such surface issues of police policies, recruitment and training without ever really asking the more fundamental questions about the possibility that the effect of drug money is inevitably systemic.

It might be that so much money is involved with drugs that all the improved training and recruitment procedures and pay raises could never be effective, and that corruption under such a system is just as unavoidable as it was during Prohibition.

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