Police Abuse

This New Database Is Tracking How Many Cops Are Charged With Crimes

A new database tries to answer one of the most vexing questions in the national debate over policing.

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Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/Newscom

Just how common is police misconduct? It's question that vexes researchers and journalists, and it's been a source of endless argument in the nationwide debate over policing that has erupted in recent years. The problem is, no one can definitively say. There are roughly 18,000 police departments in the U.S., and no uniform reporting of when their officers are charged with crimes.

A new database launched Tuesday is attempting to change that.

The Police Crime Database, created by Bowling Green State University professor Philip Stinson, aims to track every instance when a police officer is charged with a crime. So far the project has identified 8,006 arrest incidents resulting in 13,623 charges against police officers in the U.S. between 2005 and 2011.

Among Stinson's finding, which were first reported by Vice News Tuesday:

  • Police were most frequently charged with misdemeanor assault and driving under the influence.
  • 1,219 officers were arrested for sex crimes. In those cases, more than half of the alleged victims were minors. Seventeen percent of the officers arrested for sex crimes were charged in multiple sex-related cases
  • Nearly a quarter of officers charged with crimes "were sued at some point during their career for federal civil rights violations, like excessive use of force or verbal harassment," Vice News reports.
  • 359 of the charges were for forcible rape.

However, while the database is an unprecedented attempt to quantify police crime, it is far from a complete look at the issue.

The Justice Department does not track such information, and the database has to rely on media reports and Google News searches to gather information. The database does not include civil suits against officers or departments, nor does it include misconduct that did not result in criminal charges or was handled administratively.

Jonathan Blanks, a researcher at the Cato Institute who tracks police misconduct, says in an interview "we have no idea" how many cases are slipping through the cracks.

"The underlying problem is the 18,000 police agencies in this country are notoriously secretive about what data they release on discipline and officer accountability," he says. "Sometimes it's internal policies, sometimes it's state laws protecting human resources."

New York police departments, for instance, have expansively interpreted the state's privacy laws to block the release all but the most basic numbers about civilian complaints against officers. New York's highest court will soon rule on whether the NYPD can invoke the same law to hide disciplinary records on its 35,000 sworn officers, after the department abruptly stopped posting the outcomes of internal disciplinary trials last year.

Still, Blanks says the database—fully searchable by crime and location—will be a valuable resource.

"I really do think this does provide a good service where you can see what's going on and how these officers move through the criminal justice system," Blanks said. "That in and of itself shows how diligent a police department is in rooting out its own problems, and how the prosecutors decide to go forward with these cases."

Blanks cited a 2013 case where a San Antonio police officer, Daniel Lopez, was arrested after pulling a gun on his wife during a domestic dispute, sparking a standoff with a SWAT team. He had been suspended and stripped of his service weapon a month earlier after firing it inside his home. Lopez was fired from the department, but prosecutors reduced his charges to misdemeanor disorderly conduct, rather than aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

As part of the deal, Lopez was allowed to keep his peace officer's license.

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10 responses to “This New Database Is Tracking How Many Cops Are Charged With Crimes

  1. No database on this is ever going to be complete, but this is a start. Good. Worst cop I ever ran into was, I later discovered, loathed by his whole department. Don’t know if this data base could have kept the town in question from hiring the sonofabitch, but it points in the right direction.

  2. Police were most frequently charged with misdemeanor assault and driving under the influence.

    So beating the shit out of people at bars, knowing they can get away with it.

  3. 359 of the charges were for forcible rape.

    That’s a lot of rape.

    1. They like rape.

  4. As part of the deal, Lopez was allowed to keep his peace officer’s license.

    Which means he can carry a firearm wherever he wants, regardless of the law or wishes of property owners, after firing a firearm inside his home and threatening to murder his wife.

    Jesus.

  5. If this database is for cops charged with crimes, we all know what it takes for a cop to ever be charged. For example, that “1,219 officers were arrested for sex crimes. In those cases, more than half of the alleged victims were minors. Seventeen percent of the officers arrested for sex crimes were charged in multiple sex-related cases” might at first glance suggest cops have a predilection for youngsters and serial raping, but I’d suggest an alternative explanation is just that that’s the threshold for being charged. A cop that sticks to extorting the occasional prostitute for sex never makes the list.

    1. You’re right, it’s the tip of the iceberg. They get away with a lot more than they ever get punished for. They have extra rights that civilians don’t have, which help them get off the hook. It’s sad, very sad.

  6. I just posted a comment about this very thing on the Ferguson Navy Vet story!
    The NPDB contains information on all doctors who have been disciplined or sued. A similar database, containing not just criminal charges but also citizen complaints that all prospective employers are obligated to search (just like they are for doctors) would at least remove any “cover of ignorance” from departments who hire known bad cops. As noted above, charges alone would be too easy for departments to circumvent, leaving bad officers with completely clean records.
    And before anyone complains that the poor cops would then bear the burden of possibly undeserved complaints blackening their records, ask any malpractice lawyer if they really believe that all doctors who are sued actually deserved it.

    1. Given that frivolous lawsuits are one of the driving factors behind our bloated healthcare costs, maybe that’s not the best example.

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