Formed to stop low-level police shakedowns after the Knapp Commission scandal of the 1970s, the nonprofit Police Foundation began as a legitimate vehicle for citizens to support the police.

But it has grown so rich — up to $100,000 a table at its fundraising dinner — that supporters may have helped create the atmosphere that led to the current corruption scandal. Nine chiefs and inspectors have been transferred after police officials were accused of accepting diamonds and free travel from private citizens.

The foundation raised funds for bullet-proof vests. It has paid the $75,000 annual expenses for each NYPD detective stationed overseas as part of anti-terrorism measures by ex-Commissioner Ray Kelly.

But it has been vulnerable to the dictates of NYPD commissioners. When Commissioner Bernie Kerik left the department in 2001, the foundation paid for plaster busts of himself to give to friends. Today, it pays for consultants favored by Commissioner Bill Bratton. And, it has paid for dues and entertainment for Bratton and Kelly at the Harvard Club.

Many connected to the foundation say it is essential to funding NYPD needs without going through the cumbersome process of city government. They also say commissioners need a convenient and relatively inexpensive place like the club to discuss police business with people outside the department.

But if meeting with people outside the department is so essential, why isn’t the city picking up the tab? And isn’t it more appropriate to discuss police business at Police Plaza than in a public setting at a private club?

Police officials say it’s difficult to get the city to pay for what’s considered police business. A former Internal Affairs Bureau officer described how Walter Mack, the civilian deputy commissioner of IAB, hired by Kelly in his first term, held a luncheon of law enforcement officials in his office. When the NYPD went to the city for reimbursement, the city offered to pay only $1.35 per person. Mack paid for it himself.

Asked about the foundation’s perks for commissioners and whether it contributed to the ongoing scandal, Mack, who didn’t remember the luncheon incident, said: “The best leaders I know have recognized that no matter how well you camouflage it, you cannot help but be setting a hypocritical example of what people expect from you.”