At the center of the major police corruption cases in major cities like New York and Miami that occurred during the 1970s and 1980s was the pernicious influence of drugs. The money associated with illegal narcotics trafficking is so vast, the profits to be made so enormous, that it is almost inevitable that, at some point, some police officers will be tempted to take bribes to protect drug traffickers or, in a minority of cases, choose to traffic in drugs themselves. Just as inevitably given the scale of profits to be made and the ruthlessness of those associated with drug trafficking, invariably decisions will be made that threats to those profits must be eliminated through murder. Such was the case with Miami River cops, a small group of Miami police officers assigned to police the river up which traffickers transported their illicit cargo to market. Police officers, especially patrol officers, are not especially well compensated. Historically, careers in law enforcement are not a path to financial wealth; individuals enlist in local police departments, attend law enforcement academies, and spend 20 years or more on the job in return from modest pay and a pension after retirement. Over time, especially for those who have spent much of their careers operating in financially destitute areas with high rates of violent crime, the idealism that influence their decision to become police officers dissipates and is replaced with a hardened and often cynical attitude towards society and the criminal justice systems. Watching cash-rich drug traffickers with high-dollar defense attorneys manipulate the legal process in furtherance of their responsibilities to their clients’ interests, and enduring endless hours of paperwork and testimony in court against those defendants, contributes to the sense of futility among many police officers, especially those assigned to narcotics divisions. That the flow of drugs continues largely unabated lends an added degree of futility and cynicism to those officers.
With such marginal earning capacity and the close-up view of the astronomical sums available to drug traffickers experienced by police officers, the prospects of corruption are never far away. Unfortunately, some police officers – always a small minority within their respective departments – give in to the temptations of money and begin to accept bribes, protect drug dealers who pay them more than they can earn as honest cops, and even become drug dealers themselves. Such was the case during the 1980s with the so-called Miami River cops. Assigned to patrol areas associated with a large deal of drug trafficking, these officers succumbed to that temptation and, by the time they were caught and prosecuted, had crossed well over the line separating law enforcement from criminality. These officers, all friends and fellow body-builders assigned to the inland waterways in southern Florida, conspired to take over drug operations in their sectors and descended themselves to the depths of criminality. As the prosecution of these corrupt officers proceeded, another inevitability emerged: the emergence of divisions among the once-close-knit group of officers with one, Rodolfo “Rudy” Arias, agreeing to testify against the others in exchange for leniency.
Miami during the 1970s and 1980s was experiencing a radical transformation. The enormous amount of cocaine being shipped through the city provided an economic boom that directly contributed to the region’s growth. The so-called “Cocaine Cowboys,” the traffickers bringing cocaine up from South America, were funneling their profits into the local economy and fueling tremendous economic activity. The process of laundering drug profits alone facilitated a great deal of construction activity, as high-rise condominiums, boutiques, bars, and other businesses were all built with drug profits. Under less affluent circumstances, the temptations of drug money have lured otherwise honest police officers to become corrupt. The atmosphere in South Florida was a whole other world, so pervasive was the money associated with cocaine trafficking. That a small number of police would turn to criminal activity in such an environment was not only unsurprising, it was, in fact, inevitable.
The Miami River Cops scandal was one of the most popular of the era. Here is what the NCJRS says about it:
"In the late 1980's, nearly 10 percent of the entire Miami Police Department was suspended or fired after a drug-related scandal. Miami is first profiled as a city of change and unrest in the 1970's and 1980's, followed by an overview of the nature and impact of the Cuban migration to Miami beginning in the mid-1960's, which included criminals released by Castro from Cuban jails for migration to the United States, ex-convicts, and nearly 600 immigrants with various mental illnesses. Next, the author examines the relaxed screening mechanisms for police applicants under consent decrees and affirmative action policies in the early 1980's. Among the new officers recruited by the Miami Police Department (MPD) during a hiring blitz under lax standards was a group of 19 Hispanic officers who became known as the River Cops. These officers were eventually charged with a variety of State and Federal crimes, including using the MPD as a racketeering enterprise to commit such felonies as murder, threats that involved murder, civil rights violations, robbery, possession of narcotics, and various conspiracies. The officers were convicted of a variety of offenses and given prison sentences that averaged 23 years."
Hope this helps!