… our data directly contradicts some of the prevailing assumptions and the proposition that only a small group of rotten apples perpetrate the vast majority of police crime.”
A new study tracking criminal activity perpetrated by police found, on average, three law enforcement officers are arrested each day — around 1,100 cops every year — and, more pointedly, this is not the case of a few rotten apples.
“The most common crimes were simple assault, drunken driving and aggravated assault, and significant numbers of sex crimes were also found. About 72 percent of officers charged are convicted, more than 40 percent of the crimes are committed on duty, and nearly 95 percent of the officers charged are men,” the Washington Post summarized.
Researchers from Bowling Green State University received funding from the Department of Justice for the study, aptly titled “Police Integrity Lost: A Study of Law Enforcement Officers Arrested.”
Analyzing data from 2005 through 2011, researchers sought to provide “guidance” in three areas, as the report explains:
“First, the study provides agencies information on the types of crime that are most frequently perpetrated by police officers. Second, the research provides information on the relationship between police crimes and other types of behavior that collectively comprise the problem officer. Third, nationwide data on police crimes and the manner in which arrested officers are organizationally sanctioned provides points of comparison for law enforcement agencies that confront these problems, as well as information on the degree to which law enforcement agencies tend to sanction or ignore certain crimes committed by officers.”
As study authors note, similar to the lack of a national reporting requirement for killings by police, no database currently exists to aggregate national statistics about any criminal activity by law enforcement officers.
During the period studied, researchers analyzed over 6,700 crimes, including a number of officers with multiple offenses. About 60 percent of the police crime was carried out while the officer was “technically” off-duty, but often employed the cloak of authority — such as producing a badge or service weapon — to commit the offense.
Though the crime rate among police is markedly lower than in the civilian population — 1.7 arrests of state and local police per 100,000 versus 3,888 per 100,000 among civilians — the research shattered some long-held myths about policing in the United States.
For starters, wrote study lead researcher, Philip M. Stinson, “police crimes are not uncommon.”
And though “only a small percentage of the total number of law enforcement officers will ever be arrested for a criminal offense … our data directly contradicts some of the prevailing assumptions and the proposition that only a small group of rotten apples perpetrate the vast majority of police crime.”
In fact, the report continues, “The assumption that only a small group of rogue officers perpetrate crimes … presumably stems from traditional notions and public expectations regarding the straight-laced, law-abiding police persona. In contrast, our method provided for the identification of an unprecedented number of police crimes that occurred within virtually every sort of place […] The data demonstrate that police crimes are not isolated events, and that hundreds of police officers every year get arrested for crimes including assault, rape, robbery, and murder across the United States.”
Several findings should sound the alarm for the public to snap out of its idolization of police — particularly in the area of sex crimes committed by cops. Nearly half of all sex crimes perpetrated by cops were committed against underage victims — children — though police convicted in those cases were 2.8 times more likely to lose their jobs.
Of the most egregious sex crimes perpetrated by officers, there “were a total of 422 forcible and statutory rapes, 352 cases of forcible fondling, and 94 sodomy cases. The proportion of cases that involved sexual violence and the most serious kinds of sex-related offenses was larger than expected.”
Indeed, “the sheer number of egregious cases constitutes prima facie evidence that these are not isolated events,” thus need closer scrutiny and further examination.
Previous studies about criminal activity among cops, the authors note, could have been particularly skewed through generalizations of language and scope — i.e., lumping assorted crimes under the heading “misconduct,” rather than specific topics like rape or theft.
Researchers urged further detailed study of police violence with an eye for understanding how police culture and socialization might influence the acceptability or normalization of criminal activity among cops.
In a summary conclusion, researchers surmised implementing specific measures could alleviate police criminal activity to rein in the apparently sizable problem.
It is also important to note that police employ a code of silence. Unlike the civilian population, police officers can cover for each other by investigating themselves. As we’ve pointed out in the past, police will protect even the vilest officers within their ranks as not to violate the blue code of silence. What’s more, those good officers who attempt to point out criminal behavior within their own departments are often met with ridicule, demotions, job loss, death threats, or worse.
Departments would be well-served by written policies for mandatory disclosure when an officer is arrested, compulsory annual criminal background checks of all sworn officers, documented and standardized procedures concerning officer discipline following an arrest, and tracking officer stress indicators to provide early assistance when necessary.
At last, the mythic and impenetrable illusion of a few bad apple cops has been shredded — whether the research will be taken to heart by departments across the U.S. is yet to be seen.