“So far this month, two New York City police commanders have been arrested on corruption allegations, an officer in Killeen, Tex., has been accused of sexually assaulting a female driver, a Philadelphia police officer has been charged with extortion of a drug dealer, and an officer in Honolulu has been accused of raping a 14-year-old girl.
Such sporadic news accounts of police officers being arrested led one group of researchers to a question: How much crime do police officers commit? No one was keeping track, much as no one was tracking how often police officers shoot and kill civilians, although both may involve use of police power and abuse of public trust.
Now there is an answer: Police officers are arrested about 1,100 times a year, or roughly three officers charged every day, according to a new national study. 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 in cases with known outcomes are convicted, more than 40 percent of the crimes are committed on duty, and nearly 95 percent of the officers charged are men.
The study is thought to be the first-ever nationwide look at police crime, and was conducted by researchers at Bowling Green State University through a grant from the Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice. The research covered seven years, 2005 to 2011, and sought to quantify not only the prevalence of police officers arrested across the country, but also how law enforcement agencies discipline officers who are arrested and how officer arrests might correlate with other forms of misconduct.”
For example, the study found that 22 percent of the officers arrested had been named as defendants in a federal civil rights lawsuit at some point in their careers, unrelated to their arrest case. The authors suggest that police agencies analyzing such suits “could potentially lead to new and improved mechanisms to identify and mitigate various forms of police misconduct.”
In the seven years of the study, the researchers compiled 6,724 cases, or about 960 cases per year, involving about 792 officers per year — 674 officers were arrested more than once. But the study has continued beyond 2011, and lead researcher Philip M. Stinson at Bowling Green said the number of cases now averages about 1,100 arrests per year.
“Police crimes are not uncommon,” Stinson concluded. “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.” Although nearly 60 percent of the crimes “occurred when the officer was technically off-duty,” Stinson wrote, “a significant portion of these so-called off-duty crimes also lies within the context of police work and the perpetrator’s role as a police officer, including instances where off-duty officers flash a badge, an official weapon, or otherwise use their power, authority, and the respect afforded to them as a means to commit crime.”
“This is probably the tip of the iceberg,” said Cara Rabe-Hemp, a professor at Illinois State University who has studied police deviance. She said the effort is the “first-ever study to quantify police crime” and shows it is “much much more common than what police scholars and police administrators previously thought.”