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Criminal Justice

New Database Tracks Cops Who Commit Crimes

As a former cop, an associate professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, and a leading expert in the field of criminology, Philip Stinson, knows how prevalent it is for police officers to break the law. During the completion of his Master’s degree in criminal justice, Stinson set out to create a database that would track and catalog cops who were accused of or found guilty of crimes. After 12-years of development, the database is finally being released.

The database will track cops who are arrested, as well as the consequences they face for breaking the laws they’ve been charged with enforcing. From 2005 through 2012, a total of 6,596 police officers have been arrested or found guilty of committing crimes. Almost half of these incidents were categorized as violent crimes.

The data so far only covers 2,830 state, local, and special law enforcement agencies across the country. This is a small fraction of the 18,000 law enforcement agencies and 1.1 million sworn officers in the country. While not immensely comprehensive, it’s the most extensive and ambitious attempt to catalog police misconduct.

While talking about how prevalent it was for cops to commit crimes, Stinson said, “It’s not as rare as you might think. It happens at all stages of officers’ careers, and at all ranks.”

Preliminary data shows approximately 1,000 police officers are arrested each year for criminal offenses. The most common charge is misdemeanor assault, followed by driving under the influence. Charges of forcible fondling and forcible rape were also in the top ten list for criminal charges.

The data shows that between 2005 and 2012, a total of 1,219 cops were arrested for sex-related crimes, and more than 50% of the victims were 17-years-old or younger. And 17% (213 cops) of those arrested for sex crimes were either repeat offenders or had multiple victims.

The database works by tracking up to 159 variables — such as the officer’s age, rank, years of service, the type of crime, location, gender of victim, and whether the cop was on or off duty. It then tracks the outcomes of the cases in the system by setting up alerts in Google and legal document databases.

In explaining why police abuse continues seemingly unimpeded, Stinson said, “I always assumed that if an officer gets arrested, their career was over. What we’re seeing is that this is not the case. Many of these officers don’t get convicted, and many of them who actually leave their job, lose it, or quit, end up working as police officers elsewhere. So there’s a sort of officer shuffle that goes on.”

Stinson has emphasized that his database isn’t intended to bash law enforcement. Instead, he hopes that it will be an opportunity for police officers and their departments to be introspective about the responsibility they have to the communities they serve.

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