Dr. Philip Stinson, Bowling Green State University, discusses the findings of his research on crimes committed by police officers. In this video, he discusses how he collected information on police officer crimes, how many arrested officers were in his sample, and what his research means for law enforcement agency policy.
In terms of the purpose of the project, the purpose is to promote police integrity by gaining a better understanding of police crime and how law enforcement agencies respond when their officers get arrested.
There are three goals for the project. The first goal of the research was to determine the extent and the nature of crimes by police officers in non-federal law enforcement agencies across the country.
The second goal is to determine what factors influence how law enforcement agencies respond when their officers are arrested.
And the third goal is to look at correlates of police misconduct, and determine whether there are any correlates that we can look at in relation to the officers who are arrested.
Every time an officer’s arrested, it really undermines the public trust in terms of police authority and police legitimacy. We really don't know a whole lot about police crime — that is crime committed by sworn law enforcement officers.
No government agencies have been collecting data up until at least this point on crimes committed by law enforcement officers.
So we actually set up Google alerts on every individual officer that is arrested. So we have about 7,000 Google alerts that we've been keeping — starting back in 2011 for the individual officers.
We have seven years of data that we've coded in the years 2005 through 2011, and that includes 6,724 arrest cases involving 5,545 individual officers who were employed by over 2,500 non-federal law enforcement agencies in just over 1,200 counties and independent cities all across the United States — that's all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The reason why there is a difference between the number of arrest cases and the number of officers arrested, is because some officers are arrested for multiple crimes.
One of the ways I look at police crime is I have a topology of police crime where almost all crimes committed by sworn law enforcement officers falls into one or more of these types — so these aren't mutually exclusive categories, but we have alcohol-related police crime, sex-related police crime, violence-related police crime, drug-related police crime, and profit-motivated police crime.
The rate of officers arrested is less than one per 1,000 officers arrested, and in terms of population, it’s less than two officers arrested per 100,000 population.
Everybody in our dataset has been arrested. So we don't have any comparison group to look at of officers who performed honorably and were never arrested during their career — so that's kind of a difficult thing in terms of looking at risk factors of police crime at this point.
We don't pretend that we have every case where a sworn law enforcement officer was arrested somewhere across the country. The data that we have in our database — it's the universe of cases that are available to us, but that's one of the limitations — we realize that there are some cases that we simply don't have.
In terms of the validity of the data sources that we’re using, we try to triangulate our data sources. So if there are a number of news sources, we try to get different articles, if they’re AP wire stories, we get those. We also go back and get court records when they're available if we can get them on the internet — preferably if we can get them for free, that's even better. So if we get the docket sheet, if we can get a criminal complaint, arrest warrants, those types of things.
We aren't able to capture all instances of police crime. We only capture cases where somebody's actually been arrested or indicted. Something like that, where they've actually been charged in some way and brought into the criminal justice system.
There's a filtering process that the media uses in terms of determining what's going to be printed, and how prominently it's going to be displayed in publications, that sort of thing. So we realize that some types of crimes by police officers seemingly are more newsworthy. Small-town newspapers — these things always get into the news — but there are some things that just aren't newsworthy in larger cities that aren't as likely to find their way into the newspapers.
There are number of policy implications that come out of this study. The first is a law enforcement agency should have a written policy that would compel officers to disclose any time they're arrested for a crime.
One of the things we've seen in these cases is that sometimes the agency isn't aware that the officer has been arrested for some time after the arrest. Sometimes it’s almost accidental that they find out — that they read about it in the newspaper, or that it comes out when the officer goes to court.
The second policy implication is that law enforcement agencies ought to consider conducting annual background checks, annual criminal checks, on law enforcement officers employed by that agency. That's especially important to see if an officer has been convicted of a qualifying misdemeanor crime of domestic violence in the previous year — and also whether the officer has been subject of a domestic violence protection order. Because — just as if you're convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, you can't possess or own firearms or ammunition — if you're under a court ordered protection order, you're not allowed to carry a firearm or ammunitions.
The third policy implication is that law enforcement agencies need to have a written policy on the procedures that they're going to have whenever an officer who’s under their employment is arrested for a crime.
The other thing that the agencies need to have in that regard is, any time they arrest an officer who is employed by some other law enforcement agency, what are their procedures going to be?
The final policy implication from this research, is that we see — in a number of these cases — we've realized that where an officer is arrested multiple times, or when you look at the nature of the crimes that they're arrested for, it seems that some officers are having some sort of an unraveling of their life. Things aren't going well. They might be having marital problems, they might have drug-related problems, they might have domestic violence problems, or all these things are coming together with problems at their work. And it seems that agencies really need to pay more attention to these things. They ought to be looking at these as things that they would be in their early intervention programs, their early warning programs if an officer is arrested. It ought to be something they're taking a closer look at.
We've seen more than a few cases where officers who have been arrested, have actually committed suicide — and it's something that departments need to take a closer look at, and see how they want to deal with these situations, because one of our goals is to improve the quality of officers’ lives and to improve the quality of police officers families’ lives. And one of the things we want to do is, look at the types of problems that officers are getting involved in, and seeing if police chiefs can look at this research and come up with ways where they can help officers so they're not getting in trouble, not getting arrested, not getting convicted, and not losing their jobs.