BGSU prof launches database that tracks cases of police being arrested

Phil Stinson

By DAVID DUPONT

BG Independent News

Phil Stinson, the go-to scholar for police shootings, has launched a new database that tracks instances of police going bad.

Stinson, who teaches criminal justice at Bowling Green State University, has created The Henry A. Wallace Police Crime Database. The site went live Tuesday and can be reached at: https://policecrime.bgsu.edu/. The database was funded the Wallace Action Fund of the Tides foundation.

Using media reports and court records, Stinson and a team of student assistants has compiled information on 8,006 instances of sworn nonfederal police officers being arrested between 2005 and 2012. That includes four cases in Wood County.*

The database uses 159 different variables to describe each individual case, providing data about the arrested officer, the officer, and the disposition.

What it doesn’t provide, Stinson said, is the name of the officer. “We’re not publishing names because we don’t see any benefit from a research perspective.”

However, using the details that are provided, someone could fairly easily discover those names, he said. “We’re not trying to hide so many facts that you couldn’t find them.”

Stinson said: “It’s important that there be knowledge of it so that law enforcement agencies can start to address it. These are not just one-offs and not just outliers. Some are huge problems.”

One part of addressing it is providing help for officers who are having problems. “You look at domestic violence, it just seems to be too many cases.”

“We envision people will use this database to learn about the incidence and prevalence of police misconduct in their own communities,” he said.

They may start looking up reports from their hometowns then “get lost in it and understand the phenomenon in a broader sense.”

Assault is the most commonly charged offense with simple assault at number one, and aggravated assault at number four.  Drunk driving is the second most commonly charged offense, followed by various types of official misconduct. Drug offenses are next. Drugs of choice in order are cocaine, marijuana, crack, steroids, and oxycodone.

Rounding out the most frequent offenses are: forcible fondling, false reports-false statements, intimidation, weapons law violation, and forcible rape.

Of those sexually assaulted, Stinson said, just over half are under 18. And school resource officers are more likely to be commit sex crimes. He has uncovered a pattern of officers sexually abusing youths enrolled in Explorer programs.

This is the first time this information is available. Attempts by the federal government to gather the data have been stymied because it requires agencies to self-report. Some data is available, but not in a format that makes it so readily accessible.

Stinson said the database – the public database is a large subset of the data he has accumulated for his research which tracks 270 variables – comes from 48 Google alerts that track reports of cases of officers being arrested.

This digital dragnet has snared 6,596 individual nonfederal sworn law enforcement officers, employed by 2830 state and local law enforcement agencies in 1302 counties and independent cities from all 50 states. Once a case is identified, another search is created to track it. The researchers will then search court records to determine the outcome of the case.

Research assistants cull the stories, which are printed out, for all the essential variables. Stinson said he maintains the paper trail for all the work. This allows him and his research assistants to double check when a detail seems wrong. That process is ongoing.

Stinson said that the data has revealed some interesting trends. He found that 15 percent of cases of arrested officers were charged within three years of retirement. That seems to contradict earlier research that indicated if officers were going to get in trouble it would be early in their careers.

Also, 22 percent of officers arrested were also sued in federal court for civil rights violations.

Officers were less likely to be convicted of an offense involving a weapon if the gun was department issued, as opposed to privately owned. “It’s as if they were somehow entitled to use their department issued gun to scare their wife,” he said. “It makes no sense to me.”

In cases of misuse of Tasers, most involved people “who were not threat to the officers – homeless people, people in handcuffs, each other” and, he noted, people they discover having sex with their spouses. Those, he said, often seem like set ups.

The large number of drunk driving cases seems to go against the belief that “cops don’t arrest each other.” Maybe it’s “because something about the case that can’t be explained away.”

More than half involved accidents and almost 20 percent of the drunk driving cases involved a hit and run, he said.

And, he found, that Pennsylvania had an “alarmingly” large number of state troopers, on top of the most municipal police agencies of any state. “Doesn’t make sense the two together.”

The large number of officers may explain the large number of arrests.

“We’ll be surprised,” he said, “that people will find ways to use it that we never thought about.”

 

*Correction. The story originally misstated the number of arrests in Wood County.