An arrogance laces through the episodes of corruption and abuse of office by Connecticut lawmen down through the generations, lending a certain timelessness to those crimes.

Middlesex County Sheriff John Lawrence Lewis' coddling of two imprisoned cronies sounds as if it could have happened yesterday — or at least up until 2000, when the patronage-plagued sheriffs system was abolished.

But it happened a long time ago, in 1826.

Lewis' attitude — a cocksureness that he was right, or, in any case, insulated from any consequences — was present again 180 years later, when star narcotics cop William White dipped his hand into the trunk of a sedan, taking a paper bag stuffed with FBI-planted cash — and keeping it.

Or when former Hartford police officer Julio Camacho, in cuffs and being led from a courtroom, scowled and spit curses at the detective who helped convict seven dirty cops for on-duty sexual crimes.

Or when the jig was finally up in the massive test-rigging and promotion scandals in New Britain in the 1970s that implicated several ranking cops.

Cocksure, that is, until they were caught and broken. Until they started to realize the damage they did to all the good cops around them.

"It's over now," The Courant's sweeping Oct. 9, 1983, wrap-up piece on the New Britain corruption cases began. "The investigation into job-selling that led to the conviction of 29 people — including a city police chief, two fire chiefs, and the third-ranking officer in the state police — has ended after six years."

This, wrote reporters Tom Barnes and Craig W. Baggott, "was a story of shattered careers and tarnished reputations, of grown men weeping like children as they confessed their misdeeds; of people entrusted with the public good disgracing their offices."

More than the graft and the test-rigging, the reporters wrote, what really drove investigators to spend years piercing the cover-up was the ease with which the players lied, even when they didn't have to. Those lies fed "a massive and arrogant conspiracy … that steeled the state's determination to identify the guilty.''

What The Courant documented over years of covering the story was a stunning example of systemic corruption and cynicism.

A generation later, two small shoreline departments succeeded in reviving those themes. Five Madison police officers were fired in 2008 for a bewildering series of offenses, and four East Haven officers were convicted in a federal probe of systematic harassment of Latino motorists and business owners in town.

"The biggest problem facing the Madison Police Department isn't the dizzying list of brazen, on-duty crimes by officers, from burglaries to the electronic stalking of women to receiving oral sex from prostitutes to ripping off taxpayers through workers' compensation fraud,'' began a February 2008 news analysis in The Courant.

"The thorniest consequence, the one facing most crippled police departments, is this: The climate of corruption is so deeply seated that just removing the bad cops — the painful process going on now with no clear end in sight — may not by itself bring radical, permanent change."

The story quoted Neal Trautman with the National Institute of Ethics, who taught police officers about moral dilemmas.

"The 'rotten apple theory' is a farce," Trautman said. "These problems are cultural, and they're created over a period of years. Just removing the bad apples is a way of the dodging the truth."

Today, the Madison force is a professionally accredited agency with a roster filled with new officers, a reform-minded chief and a town that believes in its department again.

The East Haven department has a new leader and is also on the mend — but the scars run deep.

The last of the four convicted officers — dubbed by federal prosecutors as "bullies with badges" — was sentenced in February. Their targeting of the Latino population in town polarized the department.

"There were officers who objected to or reported misconduct at the time it occurred," U.S. District Judge Alvin Thompson said in a Feb. 13 story in The Courant. "They were criticized and harassed for coming forward and they, in my view, are the officers who should be commended."