The Murdoch hacking scandal and police corruption

Corrupt Murdoch empire: dog bites man.
Corrupt cops: man bites dog.
Heads must roll.

To my eye, the oddest feature of the hacking scandal now roiling UK politics is that all the attention focuses on Murdoch. But it’s no news that he’s a crook or that he runs a crooked enterprise.

It is news – or at least it ought to be news – that the Metropolitan police were crooked, both in detail (at the level of individual officers illegally selling personal information on citizens) and in bulk (the cover-up that passed for an initial Scotland Yard inquiry: perhaps because of fears of disclosing police corruption?).

Heads – more than just one head, I think – really need to roll. Not just resignations, either: some people ought to switch from police uniforms to prison stripes. Who, for example decided to hire the former News of the World executive editor (arrested today) as a “consultant” at Scotland Yard? The police, like the press, have an invaluable role in unearthing the wrongdoing of others. When they start to go bad – in this case, when they go bad together – the potential for social damage is extreme.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

11 thoughts on “The Murdoch hacking scandal and police corruption”

  1. How is it any more news that the police are corrupt than Murdoch is a crook? Of course individual police officers are corrupt. Of course the higher ups and those “investigating” the corruption covered it up. That is the essence of the police.

  2. Actually, no. In the 1930s, sure. Today, not so much.

    I’m surprised it happened at the Met; I’d put dollars to donuts against anything like it in the NYPD, LAPD, or FBI. Part of the difference is that in the U.S. it wouldn’t be safe, given multiple overlapping jurisdictions. Anyone in a local department would have to worry about the FBI, and the FBI about various pieces of the Department of Justice.

  3. I wouldn’t have said that about the pre-Bratton LAPD. Times change, even if prejudices don’t.

  4. Mark, ask your colleagues in public policy, poli sci and law at lunch sometime, to name police scandals off the top of their heads. Better yet, ask Radley Balko. And in both cases, see what punishments were handed out. I’ll be that any punishments followed the American Plan, and are inversely correlated with rank. Also that the punishments for multiple felonies and conspiracy to commit felonies were less than you or I would get for a single minor felony.

  5. Actually, no. In the 1930s, sure. Today, not so much.

    This is a US-centric view of affairs. I’ve been aware that the Met was “as bent as a nine bob note” since before the British currency was decimalised. The bulk of the corruption is always fairly low level, and tends to involve smallish units. In the late 1960s there was a particular officer associated with a protection racket in Notting Hill. At the same time the vice squad had a nice little earner going on in the West End, but they lost a major income stream as pornography was gradually legalised. As far as I know they still take a cut from the working girls. Stories emerge regularly, every few years.

    This case is exceptional in that it bears on the “great and the good” rather than ordinary joes, and that some fairly senior officers seem to have been involved directly, rather than just running the cover up after the event, which is more usual. But it’s on a continuum. Nobody in Britain is surprised.

  6. chris y: One of Mark’s points is that police department behavior can actually change over time. The fact that the Mets were corrupt in the 1960s has only marginal bearing on whether they’re significantly, institutionally corrupt now.

    Mark, to your larger point: Everyone knows that Murdoch is an immortal robber baron, gleefully destroying the world to line his wallet. What’s news in the current scandal is that *the press feel empowered to actually report it*, probably because *everyone* can agree that he crossed the line with Milly Dowler. (I feel that the coverage of the scandal intensified and darkened when that was revealed; but that could just be projection.)

  7. The focus on Murdoch is probably b/c pretty much everybody hates the guy and now (at least for the moment) feels they can actually say what they think about him. I think it’s basically wishful thinking (I think he’ll end up fine, after some embarrassment), but I get it. I feel it too.

    The police corruption is a big deal, or rather it would be to me if I were a British citizen. Immoral robber barons are what they are, but they only tend to succeed if they are enabled.

  8. Kevin J. Maroney says:

    “chris y: One of Mark’s points is that police department behavior can actually change over time. The fact that the Mets were corrupt in the 1960s has only marginal bearing on whether they’re significantly, institutionally corrupt now. ”

    The point is that Mark made an assertion, without any evidence.

  9. On Mark’s checks-and-balances point. Control of the Met is unusually centralised; it came directly under the Home Office till very recently. It was surprisingly the clownish Boris Johnson as elected Mayor of London (also a recent development) who asserted himself and forced Ian Blair, the head of the Met responsible for the Menezes fiasco, to resign; the first sign of local accountability in the Met’s history since it was founded by the technocratic Robert Peel. Local control of police forces elsewhere in the UK is weak, but still stronger than in London. Anecdotally, police corruption scandals in the UK tend to involve the Met more than other forces. The oportunities are greater in the capital, but the trend (if it’s real) trends to confirm the value of messy and divided governance.

  10. Lest we forget, it shouldn’t be too surprising, to Brits and the Irish, that many members of the British police especially the Met, continue tbe bent given the Guidlford 4 and Maquire 7 inquiries, not to mention the Birmingham 6, All had to have official UK government inquiries, including a Royal Commission 91-93 to to expose the incredible police malfeasance and corruption. Regarding the Guildford 4, from wikipedia:

    :The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane, said that the police had either “completely fabricated the typed notes, amending them to make them look more effective, and then creating hand-written notes to give the appearance of contemporaneous notes” or “started off with contemporaneous notes, typed them up to make them more legible, amended them to make them read better, and then converted them back to hand-written notes.”

    Either way, the police had lied, and the conclusion was that if they had lied about this, the entire evidence against them was misleading. The Four were released in 1989, after having their convictions reversed.
    and then the Maquire 7 inquiry), The convictions of the Maguire Seven were quashed in 1991. The court held that members of the London Metropolitan Police beat some of the Seven into confessing to the crimes and withheld information that would have cleared them.

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