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Web-Based Database Exposes Depth and Breadth of Police Criminality

by Derek Gilna

The launch of the Henry A. Wallace Police Crime Database in September of 2017 puts at the public’s disposal, through a simple web search, all crimes committed by non-federal sworn police officers. The database contains information on the 8,006 criminal arrests of 6,596 officers from 2005 to 2012, and it is anticipated that additional years will be added on an accelerating basis going forward.

As noted by officials at the Wallace database, “The arrested officers were employed by 2,830 state, local, and special law enforcement agencies located in 1,302 counties and independent cities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Arrest case data are searchable by location that generate heat-maps and also searchable by specific criminal offenses and offense characteristics.”

Although the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics publishes numerous surveys and is charged with obtaining information on myriad categories of criminal activity, it apparently has never tracked the number of police officers arrested for committing crimes themselves. (Note: It has also been extensively reported by multiple news organizations that no federal agency has tracked fatal police shootings.)

According to the Wallace database officials, “The two most common crimes for which a sworn law enforcement officer was arrested ... are assault and DUI.” Phil Stinson, a Bowling Green State University professor and former police officer who accumulated the data for the website from news reports and court records, said official misconduct, including manufacturing or planting evidence, misleading or false police reports, and other violations of the public trust is the third most common crime for which law enforcement officers are arrested.

Almost 600 of the arrests were for “forcible fondling,” and arrests for “forcible rape” ensnared 359 sworn officers. Although the press and public often focus on the more violent crimes, the database reveals an alarming rise in the number of non-violent incidents in recent years.

The data show that one in 750 police officers gets arrested by fellow police officers, and although one might then conclude that reports of police criminality and misconduct are sensationalized or exaggerated, many observers believe that far more incidents go unreported and uninvestigated. The well-publicized difficulty of disciplining rogue cops despite multiple incidents of excessive force, harassment, and other misconduct, has focused public attention on the problem and brought about some much-needed changes in police discipline procedures in many police departments.

The Washington Post highlighted the problem when it noted that of the 1,881 police officers fired for misconduct in a recent Post investigation, “451 were eventually reinstated following a union appeal.”

If the nation’s police departments are sincerely committed to earning back public trust in areas where it is currently low, they must confront the issue of what to do with sworn officers who routinely fail to follow departmental policies, abuse the power of their badges, and cross the line from protector to perpetrator. 

Sources: thinkprogress.org, policecrime.bgsu.edu

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