Police in Baltimore have had their share of problems over the years, but they've managed to avoid scenes like this one in 1994 in New York: After officers were led from their Harlem precinct in handcuffs, the city's disgusted commissioner dumped their badges in a trash can in front of camera crews at a news conference.
That is, until Wednesday.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III stole the playbook from New York when he personally helped arrest 15 of 17 officers charged in an extortion scheme that federal authorities say involved kickbacks from owners of a tow truck company.
The top cop lured the accused officers to the training academy, took their badges and handed them to the president of the class of new recruits, who lined them up on the floor for display. The scene wasn't captured on television, but the message to those about to join the force, and to those already serving, was deliberate, and unmistakable.
Stories abound of city police officers and others in law enforcement getting caught on the wrong side of the law, but most of the cases appeared isolated to one or a handful of cops who made bad decisions.
Baltimore had managed to avoid the taint of the words "systemic corruption."
There were often hints that the uncovered misconduct was more extensive than first advertised. But not in recent memory has such a broad, sweeping case been brought. Seventeen cops charged with federal crimes Wednesday, and a dozen more implicated.
Here is a list of some of the more recent cases against Baltimore police officers and other law enforcement officials that raised questions of systemic corruption:
1996: Arson for profit
Two police officers, father and son, were sentenced to 15 months and two years in prison in 1996 for covering up an arson-for-profit scheme masterminded by a group of low-level gangsters who burned vacant rowhouses to pocket insurance money. The cops were paid to clear streets of witnesses and falsify police reports. Two people died in the fires.
1997: Ticket theft
Two officers pleaded guilty in 1997 to stealing Orioles playoff tickets from scalpers. Both officers signed their resignation papers in court as they pleaded guilty, while alleging that the practice was routine and widespread among their colleagues. No other officers were charged in the case.
1998: Drug connection
Few systemic corruption cases made against cops
Baltimore's force has avoided broad allegations, until now
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