The Longform Guide to Bad Cops

Longform.org's guide to the greatest long articles ever written.
Feb. 9 2013 7:15 AM

Good Cops, Bad Cops. Mostly Bad Cops.

Longform’s guide to murder, corruption, extortion, and incompetence–committed by police offers across the country.

Attorney Mark Overland (L) and former Los Angeles police detective Stephanie Lazarus (R) sit in Superior Court.
Attorney Mark Overland and former Los Angeles police detective Stephanie Lazarus (R) sit in Superior Court just before reading of verdict which found Lazarus guilty of first degree murder for the 1986 killing of the wife of her former lover.

Photo by Brian van der Brug/AFP/Getty Images.

Every weekend, Longform shares a collection of great stories from its archive with Slate. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform’s app to read the latest picks, plus features from 70 of the world’s best magazines, including Slate.

This list could’ve been much, much longer — our archive of law enforcement stories is over 70 articles deep, and many focus on officers behaving in less than savory ways. Here are eight of the best:

The Lazarus File
Matthew McGough • Atlantic • June 2011

A murder case in Los Angeles, cold since the late ’80s, heats up thanks to breakthroughs in forensic science and leads detectives to one of their own.

“DETECTIVE STEARNS: Had you ever met his wife?

“STEPHANIE LAZARUS: I may have.

“DETECTIVE STEARNS: Do you know—do you remember her name or anything or—or what she did for a living or where she worked or anything about her?

“STEPHANIE LAZARUS: Well, I think she—I’m going to say I think she was a nurse … I don’t understand why you’re talking about some guy I dated a million years ago.

“DETECTIVE JARAMILLO: Yeah.

“DETECTIVE STEARNS: Well, do you know what happened to his wife?

“STEPHANIE LAZARUS: Yeah, I know she got killed.”

The Crack in the Shield
Michael Daly • New York • December 1986

The rise and fall of the Seven-Seven—stationed in the war zone of 1980’s Crown Heights, Brooklyn—and how an idealistic young recruit became part of cash-snatching, drug-reselling, renegade clique of cops.

Advertisement

“'You put somebody in jail and the next day he’s out waving to you,’ Brian later said. ‘So what did you accomplish?’

“Other officers experienced similar frustrations and sometimes administered summary punishment to dope dealers by flushing the drugs down a toilet, tossing the money to neighborhood kids, or otherwise “busting chops.” These cops included police officer Henry “Hank” Winter, a fellow Valley Stream Central High School alumnus who lived across the street from Brian’s uncle and who was known to have once left a pusher naked on Jones Beach in December. He now became something of a precinct legend by burning a dope dealer’s bankroll on a table in the roll-call room.

" ‘Henry Winter has personality,’ Brian later said.

“At some point, Winter began slipping confiscated cash into his pocket. He kicked in doors and rappelled through windows to rob pushers of their ‘nut.’ He then went back to the stationhouse joking and laughing. Brian had an adjoining locker and sometimes saw Winter count a wad of cash.

“ ’He’d say, “Not a bad night,” ‘ Brian later said.”

L.A. Confidential
Jan Golab • Salon • September 2000

Rogue cops in the LAPD Rampart division’s anti-gang CRASH unit (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) were involved in everything from drug smuggling and bank robberies to, allegedly, the murder of Notorious BIG.

“The Rampart Division polices one of the most densely populated urban areas in the West, home to tens of thousands of Hispanic immigrants and at least 30 gangs. Officer Rafael Perez’s confession to the D.A., which ran more than 3,200 pages, alleged that Rampart gang unit CRASH officers were as out of control as the gangs they policed.

“According to Perez, he and his colleagues engaged in evidence planting, false arrests, witness intimidation, beatings, theft, drug dealing and perjury. Rampart cops dropped gang members out of windows and used them as human battering rams. They set up bachelor pad apartments where they had sex parties with hookers, drug dealers and informants. Perhaps the most chilling admission by Perez was that he and his partner shot an unarmed gang member, paralyzing him for life, and then framed him for assault.“

Murder in the Meth Lab
Sean Flynn • GQ • August 2008

A cop kills a fellow officer during a drug bust and claims it was an accident. Others suspect that it wasn’t.

“Marty says he was scared real bad when it happened, and he says that’s why it happened, too, on account of him being scared so bad. He says he was afraid he was going to die, afraid a man with a shotgun was coming into that little bathroom to blow a hole right through him, splatter him all over the walls.

“Scared crapless. That’s exactly what Marty Carson says he was.”

Deluge
Dan Baum • The New Yorker • January 2006

How the New Orleans Police Department failed during Hurricane Katrina.

“All over New Orleans, officers like Tim Bruneau were trying to do their best. One swam from his flooded house with his Rottweiler. A heavyset female officer who could not swim huddled on her daughter’s desk all night, floated out on a door, and reported for duty. Kristi Foret, a tiny twenty-five-year-old single mother who joined the department in August after serving with the Army in Afghanistan, spent two days trapped on her roof in the sun. After a neighbor with a boat rescued her, she stayed with him for another three days, sleeping in the boat and pulling people off roofs and out of attics. ‘It’s called an oath,’ she told me. ‘Whenever you give your word, you do exactly what you say you’re going to do.’

“As an institution, though, the New Orleans Police Department disintegrated with the first drop of floodwater. The current chief, Warren J. Riley, likes to say that no department anywhere has ever faced ‘an enemy like Katrina.’ The flood deprived the department of ammunition, communications, and cars. But the loss of equipment doesn’t fully explain a collapse that shocked even the department’s oldest veterans.”

The NYPD Tapes: Inside Bed-Stuy's 81st Precinct
Graham Rayman • Village Voice • May 2010

In 2008, a Brooklyn cop grew gravely concerned about how the public was being served. So he began carrying a digital sound recorder, secretly recording his colleagues and superiors.

“The same themes—of shit rolling downhill, and that constant pressure to do more with less—appear again and again throughout the tapes dating back to June 1, 2008.

“Bosses spend more time in the roll calls haranguing the officers for ‘activity’—or ‘paying the rent,’ as it was known—than anything else. In other words, writing summonses, doing stop-and-frisks (known as ‘250s’), doing community visits, and making arrests. Or else.

“Officers were under constant pressure to keep those numbers high to prove that they were doing their jobs, even when there was little justification for it. Like a drumbeat, this mandate was hammered home again and again in almost every roll call.

“ ’Again, it's all about the numbers,’ a Sergeant D. tells his officers on October 18, 2009.”

The Chickens and the Bulls
William McGowan • Slate • July 2012            

It can’t be all bad! Here’s the story of a group that posed as cops and built “most far-flung, most organized, and most brazen example of homosexual extortion in the nation’s history” before the law enforcement took them down.

“Impersonating corrupt vice-squad detectives, members of this ring, known in police parlance as bulls, had used young, often underage men known as chickens to successfully blackmail closeted pillars of the establishment, among them a navy admiral, two generals, a U.S. congressman, a prominent surgeon, an Ivy League professor, a prep school headmaster, and several well-known actors, singers, and television personalities. The ring had operated for almost a decade, had victimized thousands, and had taken in at least $2 million. When he announced in 1966 that the ring had been broken up, Manhattan DA Frank Hogan said the victims had all been shaken down “on the threat that their homosexual proclivities would be exposed unless they paid for silence.”

“Though now almost forgotten, the case of ‘the Chickens and the Bulls’ as the NYPD called it (or ‘Operation Homex,’ to the FBI), still stands as the most far-flung, most organized, and most brazen example of homosexual extortion in the nation’s history. And while the Stonewall riot in June 1969 is considered by many to be the pivotal moment in gay civil rights, this case represents an important crux too, marking the first time that the law enforcement establishment actually worked on behalf of victimized gay men, instead of locking them up or shrugging.”

Have a favorite piece that we missed? Leave the link in the comments or tweet it to @longform. For more great writing, check out Longform’s complete archive.

Max Linsky is a founding editor of Longform.org.

  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Nov. 25 2014 3:21 PM Listen to Our November Music Roundup Hot tracks for our fall playlist, exclusively for Slate Plus members.