by Ed Lyon
As reports of police abusing and even murdering citizens continues to rise over the years, databases of their misdeeds are emerging all over the U.S. These databases provide citizens with a great deal of transparency into these crimes that were formerly shrouded in secrecy by police departments, their unions, and local governments across the U.S. [CLN, January 2019, p.21].
Keeping track of police misconduct is a Herculean task, especially with the reluctance to transparent policing vigorously pursued by over 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. In some communities, records are rarely seen outside departments.
USA Today has launched a concerted effort to address this lack of transparency with over 100 of its associate news gatherers and Chicago’s nonprofit Invisible Institute’s contribution of information from its own cop reporting database, the Citizen’s Police Data Project 2.0. This was reported in the CLN issue above.
Overall, data show there are about 750,000 cops, spread across the nation’s more than 18,000 law-enforcement agencies. Over the last 10 years, a minimum of 85,000, or 11.3 percent, have been investigated for one kind of misconduct or another. Some cops are recidivists as almost 25,000 of the 85,000 have been under at least 10 investigations each. Twenty of these cops were the subject of at least 100 investigations apiece, yet are still on the job, wearing a badge and gun.
In 44 states, around 30,000 cops lost their peace officer certifications over widespread misconduct. The reporting departments withheld the reasons for 10,000 of the decertifications. The remainder breaks down by category and number as: drugs and alcohol, 4,537; assaults and violence, 3,254; “other,” 2,976; dishonesty, 2,777; theft, 2,639; misconduct with prisoners, 2,223; sexual misconduct, 1,950; and unspecified instances of official misconduct, 409.
Florida and Georgia are responsible for many of the 30,000 peace officer decertifications. Maryland only decertified four cops, while most states decertified no cops at all.
Even scarier is the number of alleged instances of police misconduct. There are at least 200,000 allegations, many of which were previously undisclosed. There were more than 110,000 internal-affairs investigations conducted. A short listing of these allegations by category and number are: excessive force, 22,924; rape, child molestation, and other sexual misconduct, 3,145; domestic violence, 2,307; perjury, evidence tampering, and falsifying reports, 2,227. A minimum of 418 reports/allegations have been made about cops obstructing investigations into their misconduct or the misconduct of cops they know. Where there is smoke, there is usually fire as well.
Prosecutors across the country maintain what is referred to as a “Brady List,” after the U.S. Supreme Court case that requires prosecutors to disclose exculpatory evidence in criminal cases to the defense. There are over 5,000 names of lying, cheating, perjuring cops on that list whom prosecutors do not dare use in prosecutions if they want to win their case. As cops change jobs from one department to another, often to avoid termination or decertification, the Brady List is updated lest a prosecutor be blindsided in court.
When considering the data reported on here, keep in mind that only 700 of the over 18,000 law enforcement agencies contributed data. The 100 largest U.S. cities and their clustered suburbs around them were the contributors to the data so far gleaned.
The Fraternal Order of Police Union in Cincinnati, Ohio, contributed its two cents on this subject via its president, Dan Hills. He urges people to remember there are 750,000 cops in this country and states that only a small number of them commit misconduct themselves. The raw numbers, however, show that 11.3 percent of all misconduct allegations were sustained. The 200,000 allegations make up an astounding 26.6 percent of the total number of cops. With the reporting data covering only 700 of the 18,000 law enforcement agencies, it is more than likely that these already-reported staggering numbers and percentages of bad cops are only the tip if the iceberg.
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