making local government more ethical

Police Officers' Failure to Report Criminal Activity for Their Own Personal Interest

According to an article in the New York Times this week, dozens of New York City, as well as Nassau and Suffolk County, police officers were arrested for grand larceny relating to a scheme to fraudulently get disability pensions through Social Security. It is somewhat like the Long Island Railroad disability scam I wrote about in a 2008 blog post.

But there is one big difference here. It is the job of police officers to arrest people they know are committing crimes. That is why the guilty here are not just those who actually retired with a disability pension, or were part of the scheme that allowed them to do this. Those who knew about the scheme are also guilty of not doing what it would have taken to have the scheme investigated long before it finally was.

One line from the article stood out for me:  "The defendants generally first contacted Mr. Esposito, who was known in law enforcement circles for helping people secure disability benefits." Esposito, a retired police officer himself, is said to have coached police officers "to act symptomatic" during psychiatric exams.

"Known in law enforcement circles" implies that, beyond the dozens who allegedly took advantage of Esposito's expertise, there were hundreds, maybe thousands, who knew about the work he and his fellow conspirators were doing, and sat on their hands, either because they hoped to take advantage of this expertise some day or because they didn't want to rat on their colleagues.

In other words, they failed to do their duty, they gave preferential treatment to Esposito and his fellows, for their own personal benefit and for the benefit of their fellow officers, without thinking for a second about the good of the community. This is a classic case of ethical misconduct (and a classic case of an unhealthy ethics environment), and it should be investigated and sanctioned. Every police officer, present and past, who knew about what was going on should be fined in order to make up for the taxpayer funds that were fraudulently taken. Higher-level officers who knew and did nothing should be fired.

This will send the message that, even in the form of inaction, the preferential treatment of criminals by police officers, for their own personal interest, is unacceptable behavior and will be punished. Anything less is an invitation to do it again.

Robert Wechsler
Director of Research, City Ethics