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Friday, April 3, 2009

A Month of Police Misconduct in the News

If you haven't noticed, I started using Twitter (here) around the beginning of last month as a sort of extension for this site, a sort of "headline news feed" of sorts. Specifically, I use it to post any news articles that I come across that are related to police misconduct or detainee abuse.

It was an interesting month's worth of effort, but ultimately there wasn't enough interest to justify the time it takes to write up the feeds, few people were actually reading them. (though, one person did write to say they did find them interesting, thanks for that!)

But, even though I'm going to stop using Twitter since there aren't many people reading the feeds, the practice of recording these articles did help me notice something interesting...

Over the month-long effort of tracking stories of police misconduct and detainee abuse I've recorded at least 79 unique stories of police misconduct or detainee abuse.

Yes, 79 incidents reported in the news in one month's worth of time.

Of these reports:

  • 10 articles covered 15 separate officers who were convicted of criminal acts. 2 of those officers will return to work with the same department after conviction.
  • 29 stories that covered the trial, arrest, indictment, or charges filed against 39 police officers and 3 police chiefs.
  • 12 stories about civil rights lawsuits against police departments, 3 of which resulted in awards totaling $1,625,000.
  • 28 stories detailing accusations of police misconduct, 8 of which were captured on video.
  • 3 Articles detailing investigations into jails accused of violating the rights of prisoners, including one against Seattle's King County Jail which is already under federal oversight for past rights violations.

Further breaking these down I found that, of these stories:
  • 10 covered cases of alleged murder or attempted murder. 8 of which resulted in at least one death.
  • 11 concerned allegations of or convictions for sexual abuse of children.
  • 24 involve allegations of police brutality.
  • 8 deal with allegations of domestic violence
  • 14 cases where entire teams, sections, or an entire department has been accused of systematic abuses. One of which has a city contemplating dissolving their police department.
  • 2 involve questionable police actions taken against people who report on issues of police misconduct.
  • 3 involve police departments who were forced to rehire officers after sustained findings or convictions for misconduct.
I could go on, but the point is that all of these stories that I tracked for a month involved serious allegations and 10 of which resulted in actual convictions.

Many articles I didn't track involve officers accused of petty offenses and acts of misconduct like traffic accidents, falsifying overtime records, or other interdepartmental infractions. Also, there are undoubtedly several I missed because there are so many different keywords to track and filter.

So, are these just a few bad eggs in an otherwise healthy basket? Are 79 distinct cases reported in the press in a single month a sign of a healthy law enforcement system in the US?

Even though I'm going to stop using Twitter, I still think it's important for me to continue keeping count in order to see just how pervasive and systemic police misconduct really is in the US and give a summary each month. So I'll be recording what I find in a database in order to generate some useful statistics on police misconduct in America. Statistics that nobody else has really bothered to gather in any serious way up to now.

What do you think?

Stay tuned...


Karl Mansoor said...

I think you are becoming a veritable depository of vital information. The DOJ should give you a grant for this study.

Packratt said...

Thanks Karl, though I have to admit that I think that you and one other person are the only ones who actually read this stuff lately.

Anyway, you're much better at finding stats like these than I am, you've put up some very interesting info yourself you know.


Packratt said...

Just a note...

I'm restarting the Twitter Newsfeed because it's just too darn time consuming to track all these stories via spreadsheet.

Doing it through Twitter is just much easier, who cares if nobody reads them.

Anonymous said...

"I'll be recording what I find in a database in order to generate some useful statistics on police misconduct in America"

What a great idea. Thank you for doing this. It needs to be done.

"Yes, 79 incidents reported in the news in one month's worth of time."

The mainstream media needs to be reporting more of these incidents. Imo every time a local newspaper reporter gives their e-mail for a police misconduct story, people should write and thank them for covering the subject.

"the point is that all of these stories that I tracked for a month involved serious allegations"

If you have the time or energy, it might be worth it to keep tracking it for another month because I'm sure those statistics will only get worse. One major obstacle in improving police conduct is the general publics misperception that there are only a few bad apples, as there are in any group, and that the police try to get rid of them. As you know this is false. It makes me angry that the majority of Americans are uninformed on this subject.

Packratt said...

Thanks for the comment anon, and I agree. Reporters and their employers actually run risks reporting on incidents of police misconduct.

Police unions don't just threaten reporters with spurious lawsuits, but also threaten to withhold stories and information from those reporters so that other reporters will beat them to stories. So, they definitely need encouragement to keep reporting on these issues, especially when so many papers are fighting for survival and dying off.

As for tracking this further, I've been doing so and hope to get some time to do some retroactively as well so that I'll have a full year's worth of figures when I'm done.

So many people come here in a search for statistics on police misconduct and no such statistics exist despite the US government recording stats on anything else imaginable... so it's about time someone tried to do this... guess I might as well try instead of complaining about it.

The problem, of course, is that for every story that makes it to the paper, that makes it into civil court, there are hundreds that we never hear about. So whatever number I come up with is bound to be a severe undercount of the actual incidents of misconduct that occur all over the US.

Thank you again for the comment and the support, I appreciate it!

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