For years police corruption has been a major problem in American society but where is the line between moral and unethical police corruption, many modern movies address this vary issue. Some films portray how types of police corruption can have a positive influence on society, while others show the dark side of police corruption. Many law enforcement agents join the criminal justice with the basic idea of “justice for all,” however, most of them do not realize that the nice guy doesn’t always win. Even though there are vast amounts of movies which specifically address police corruption we will use three main movies for our argument today, mostly LA Confidential, however, also Training Day. Two main characters in LA Confidential, Bud White and Jack Vincennes, portray officers who have lost sight of why they initially entered law enforcement and work along with unwritten book of practiced ignorance within the department, which only adds to corruption within police departments. But, there is a new man on the beat, Edmund Exley, who has not been around the business long enough to become the unethical officer his peers have descended to be.
So where do ethics play a role; what’s the distinction between the grass eaters and the meat eaters in the end. Officer Windel l “Bud” White, played by Russell Crowe, grew up in a poor family dynamic. Having watched his mother be beat to death by his father after he tried to defend her and was chained to a radiator he inherited a strong animosity toward women beaters. In his police work he took swift action when he witnessed or even suspected any sort of assault against women. However, just as many police officers who fall to corruption he began accepting gratuities.
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Gratuities of alcohol, which assist in first getting his partner intoxicated on the job, and later is added to a party held in the departments headquarters. This party, while initially a held for Christmas, lead to a group of Mexicans being beaten for assaulting two officers on Christmas eve. Bud had become entangled in the web of police corruption before he knew it, and soon found himself indicting innocent people, and even beating them into confessions, to simply get the job done and satisfy the captain. Bud, though initially having good intentions when he joined the police force, lost sight of his real justice long ago. He had purposefully engaged in corruption, which lead him to loose a sense of self that he eventually felt a need to recover. Sgt.
Jack Vincennes, the captains main man, got the job done. To the public Vincennes was a hero, arresting celebrity drug users and attaining good press for the L. A. P. D. Jack in the beginning of this movie seems to simply care about impressing the public and making the money.
For example, he makes a monetary deal with a journalist to arrest an actor involved with felony drug possession just to get good press, being photographed detaining said actor and female friend right in front of the theatre where his new movie was premiering. However, even Vincennes himself admitted he had long ago forgotten the real reason he had became a cop. Sgt. Ed Exley, son of honored officer Preston Exley, the rookie who had become a cop to get revenge for his fathers murder by an unknown petty thief. Exley did not except any of the bribes brought in by Sgt. Vincennes, and disagreed with the practices of officer White and his partner.
Exley was watch commander on the Christmas eve when Vincennes brought in his celebrity arrest, Vincennes tries to offer him his percent of the gratuity from the journalist and Exley will not take it. Later that same night is when the fight broke out, mainly due to White’s intoxicated partner, and Exley was actually put in a cell so that he would not be able to record the incident in his nightly report. However, in the end both Vincennes and White join forces with the moral Exley in order to uncover a conspiracy running deep into the department. They discovered that their captain under the advisory of the District Attorney and Chief of Police had taken over the cities organized crime, after arresting and convicting the leader of organized crime in the city.
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He had done it, Exley had gotten the corrupt cops on his side and uncovered the real truth, he had found the real criminal, his own captain. In the end however, he denies his own ranking officer due process and kills him by a shotgun blast to the back. Seems like Exley has found out where the line of right an wrong can be drawn. The next movie worth examination is Training Day which tells a story of a moral man, Jack Hoyt, who is only trying to further his career upholding justice, being thrown into an intolerable situation with a corrupt narcotics officer, Alonzo Harris, played by Denzel Washington. Hoyt is the father of an infant son and husband to a pregnant wife, starts his day as any other officer, except today he is training with Alonzo to become a narcotics officer and eventually make detective. Little did he know the day following his peaceful awakening in his suburban home would be a nightmare filled with the harsh truths of immoral police corruption.
Alonzo is by no means a soft hearted police officer, feared by the neighborhood in which he lives, officer Harris is known to have the power to bring down anyone who opposes him. At one point, he enters a private resident using a Chinese menu as a ploy for a fake warrant, steals what he knows is drug money. All this in order to pay off city officials to get a warrant on a large drug distributor he had previously been accepting gratuities from in order to kill him and steal a large sum of drug money, and proceed to shoot him in the chest, and quickly making a story up with the rest of his “law enforcement” team. See, Alonzo has a short temper and had recently gotten into trouble with the Russian mafia who threatens to put a bounty on him unless he comes up with $1, 000, 000. Officer Hoyt is blessed with the privilege of being Alonzo’s side kick through all of these events fearing for his life for a twenty four hour period.
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Hoyt begins to observe what can really happen when you are an undercover narcotics officer. A day filled of short drinking breaks, PCP smoking, which was forced by Alonzo saying, “A true narcotics officer has narcotics in his blood.” He made this point saying that if you were trying to be undercover in a drug sale, you don’t smoke it your dead, making this point holding officer Hoyt at gunpoint. Finally, it came to be the night, good, soon Hoyt can return home and send in his resignation tomorrow, but not before one last stop. Alonzo takes Jack Hoyt to a house where Alonzo presents a few gifts to a Latino family seemingly out of kindness, little did officer Hoyt know it was payoff to kill Hoyt.
As the three men in the family take him to the bathroom, makes things less messy, they find their little cousins wallet in Hoyt’s pocket. This is Hoyt’s ticket out of here, explaining to the men that earlier in the day he had saved her from being raped single-handed ly, Alonzo standing close by lighting a cigarette. Later that night Alonzo is murdered by the Russian mafia because Hoyt tips them off as to where he is going, again the criminal taken down in street justice. So can there be such a thing as ethical police corruption? It seems so in these two examples, in the end the obviously guilty party paid a punishment somehow. I think Lieutenant Ed Exley and Officer Jack Hoyt have defined the line between moral and immoral police corruption. If the corruption adds to the problems in society, the corrupt individual needs to have proper punishment imposed.
If this punishment can only be given by an underling officer who knows the truth then let what needs to be done be done. The end justifies the means.
LA Confidential. Dir. Curtis Hanson. Perf.
Kevin Spacey, Russel Crowe, Guy Pierce, Kim Basinger, Danny De Vito. Regency, 1997. Training Day. Dir. Antoine Fuqua. Perf.
Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke. Warner Bros. 2001.