Making the Case for More Police Accountability

One of the many great things that David Packman does with his National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project is put the data that he collects into perspective so that we statistical laypeople can make sense of what the data means. His Quarterly and Yearly Police Misconduct Statistic Reports are invaluable in the fight for more police accountability, but his Ancillary Reports are just as important.

In a report titled “Arguing the Case for Police Accountability,” Packman correctly points out that many people do not see police misconduct as a large enough problem to warrant the kind of concern and attention that websites such as Cop Block and Injustice Everywhere wish to bring to the matter. The “just a few bad apples” argument is one we are all very familiar with. Packman addresses this argument by comparing the data he has collected about police misconduct with the FBI/DOJ Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics (UCR) report.  What he finds is that “law enforcement officers appear to be involved in violent crime in a comparable rate with the general population. 432 officers out of every 100,000 compared to 454.5 people out every 100,000. So, roughly 0.43% vs 0.45%.”

Graph created by David Packman

Both of those numbers are incredibly small. The overwhelming majority of people in this country do not commit violent crime against other people, but how many people if asked would say that violent crime is not worthy of concern or attention. I do not think many people would. In fact, the argument that the “police keep us safe” from violent crime is often the excuse offered for the blind support of all actions taken by the police.  But violent crime committed by  police officers is just as serious of a problem as violent crime committed by non-police. If you offer your support to the police shouldn’t you also offer support to those that are armed with a video camera and the internet  in an attempt keep themselves and others safe from the violent crimes of the police?

For many, enforcing arbitrary laws that result in the caging of people who have not aggressed against another person or their property should also be considered misconduct on the part of the police. But you do not have to hold that belief to be worried about the rate by which police officers commit violence against those they purport to protect.  Even if you think that laws against victimless crimes, such as jaywalking, drug possession, prostitution, gambling, etc. should be enforced, there is, as Packman points out, enough violent crime committed by police officers for you to still be outraged by the lack of accountability those police officers face.

Note: David Packman is still having trouble finding work. I encourage you to visit his site and donate.

  • David

    Thanks for the mention, I’ve always thought this post was really essential in trying to convey that people don’t need to convince the public that a majority of police officers are bad in order to convince people that police misconduct is a problem. Arguing the case is a matter of remaining within the realm of what a skeptical public is willing to entertain as possible within their psychological framework and, lets face it, most people are conditioned to trust the police unconditionally.

    BTW… A more recent form of that graph is available in our 2010 Q3 statistical report…. Here’s a link to the latest graph if you want to use it.

    All the best!

  • Bob

    So, in this graph, is Homicide defined as “responsible for the death of victim” ? Or something more defined? And then, in Homicide Charged, that would be “It was a homicide which a DA (or presiding agency) pressed some kind of homicide (not manslaughter?) charges against?

    Additionally, in the newer graph, where did this Homicide v Homicide charged statistic go?

    I find it alarming that LEOs are ~6x more likely to commit homicide but then 6x less likely to be charged with it. Not that I’m surprised, as the thin blue line is a powerful one.

  • Bob

    Further, with both graphs, I think it’s safe to say “You’re twice as likely to be sexually assaulted by someone who is a cop than not? ” No, wait, that’s not right. It would be correct though to say “If you’re a cop, you’re twice as likely to commit sexual assault on someone” – yes?

    My first supposition is wrong because LEO population is different than general population, so “twice as” doesn’t follow….

    Wow, this is scary. Thanks for crunching the numbers.

  • Cappy

    David, I think your definition of robbery is a tad skewed. Lettuce consider the amount of citations for moving violations (only) that result in a monetary penalty. Those monies are taken at the point of a gun. Lettuce also not forget that the officers salaries are also derived from taxpayer dollars, once again taken at the point of a gun.

  • Julia

    Those statistics are pretty shocking. But I also think we need to reflect on why the police exist in the first place: to protect the private property of the wealthy. They don’t exist *just* to cause us harm but to protect the capitalists and property owners from us. We need to abolish the police (and the state) but before we can do that we must abolish the capitalist system.

  • Tom

    Hey, I just want to point out that even the largest difference (sexual assault) is only a difference of 44 which is not really a significant difference in every 100 thousand people. I can appreciate that you’re trying to make a point but in doing so if you use bad data you’re simply misinforming your readers.

  • Paula Parmeley Carter

    Tom, I am not sure I understand what you are saying. Which data is bad? How was this misinforming our readers?

  • Tom

    1. There is no context for the labels associated with the figures i.e. “Sexual Assault” means what? Alleged? Charged? Convicted? You dont say.

    2. You don’t give any information regarding the selection process at all, which is a real easy way to skew some data but mainly…

    3. the largest difference between the “general population” and “police population” occurs in the “sexual assault” category and is only a difference of 44 per 100,000. such a small figue compared to the overall size of the groups being looked at indicates that there is not a true difference in the statistics, just a cosmetic one when you frame it as you have. In other words the true difference in the populations that have, in some indeterminant way, been associated with sexual assault, is 0.0004% which is insignificant enough to be considered random error in data collection, assuming the fact that the vague labels and population samples don’t tip you off right away.

    I love the fact that you are able to post these things. I believe in free speech and everyone’s ability and right to excercise it to the fullest, but I also believe in science, and what you’re attempting to show here is more a reflection of your sentiments than a true finding of science, and while I understand that most visitors here already share those sentiments, I at least hope its clear to the others that these “statistics” are about as compelling as a political cartoon as far as whats being proven. I believe in taking action and pushing for change where we believe it is needed but I also believe in doing it right, flooding the information pool with misinterpreted or even worse, misrepresented, data will only breed more ignorance and misunderstanding if not a general distrust of the real fact, and that is not going to get us any closer to any kind of change.

  • Paula Parmeley Carter

    If you follow the links to the National Misconduct Statistics and Reporting website your questions about how the data is collected will be answer under the About tab.
    Also, you are the one misinterpreting the data. There is not only a 0.0004% difference in sexual assaults. The difference is actually 40%. These numbers represent the number of sexual assaults per 100,000 of each category. So 29 per 100,000 general population and 73 per 100,000 police population. By representing the number this way Mr. Packman has already taken into account the size of the groups being looked at. A difference of 44 per 100,000 is quite significant.

  • David


    First, let’s establish what the UCR is. The UCR numbers are not based on the number of people charged or convicted, it’s simply the number of incidents that police felt were credible enough to file a criminal report on. So, essentially they are nothing more or less than credible allegations that a crime occurred.

    The NPMSRP operates on the same premise, while including administrative and criminal charges and convictions, it does not include all complaints but only credible allegations in which there are corroborating witness statements of record or other evidence which backs the report. Thus the UCR and NPMSRP operate on the same criteria.

    Next, the selection process for the NPMSRP also operates on the same criteria as the UCR in order to maintain parity for comparative purposes. The UCR and NPMSRP only record the most severe allegation when multiple allegations are contained within a single incident and the NPMSRP uses the same categorization criteria as well. For example, the murder rate is based on non-vehicular homicide reports. For the NPMSRP, this means that the straight murder rate only includes cases where an officer was specifically charged with murder or the equivalent, not cases of excessive force which resulted in death unless a murder charge resulted from that incident… which is why we also include the rate of deaths associated with allegations of excessive force as a side comparison as well. The same is true for our sexual assault classifications. These are based on the same criteria as the UCR in which sexual assault excludes other types of sexual misconduct such as child pornography charges, cases of consensual sexual misconduct (sex on duty for example) and sexual harassment (including public nudity, indecent conduct, sexting, etc…)

    The sexual assault rates for law enforcement have actually remained consistently higher than the general population throughout the duration of our project, at or above double the rate. The numbers shown here come from an older article we produced at the NPMSRP which includes data from April 2009 – March 2010. Our most recent data analysis, ranging from January 2010 – September 2010, show similar differences between the two groups:
    Law enforcement sexual assaults at 79.0 per 100,000
    Gen population sexual assaults at 28.7 per 100,000 (via the 2009 UCR report, which is the latest available)

    The NPMSRP uses a very limited data set, being reports that are made public through the media and it filters that data even further by limiting it to only the reports that appear credible on the face of the information provided in those reports. That data is even further limited by opening up each report to public review and debate, so reports are published as we receive them and, if challenged with a reasonable argument against without substantial counter-argument, we remove said reports from our data. We do this precisely because police misconduct is a very contentious subject. So, because of how much we filter out the reports we use for our statistical analysis, we are fairly certain that our numbers are below the actual rates for each classification except for murder, which rely on actual criminal charges, convictions, and cases which include self-inflicted fatalities after homicidal acts (murder/suicides). But, even then, since we exclude cases of fatal excessive force when a murder charge was not produced (even when another charge is) then even that number may be lower than the actual rate.

  • Tom

    You’ve addressed (in a way) how the data arrives but even this is problematic as initially you say its based on reports filed (which in all truth is done any time someone arrives at a police station alleging anything) but then you revert to referring to them as charges. This confusion aside, you don’t address the incredibly small difference between the populations, nor do you provide a p-score for your data, but rather your associate Paula points out that the difference is one of “40%” (again misrepresenting the facts because indeed it is a difference of 40% between the numbers, but that doesn’t change the fact that this difference is statistically insignificant). There is a difference in the numbers, even if taken at face value, but this difference is of such a low percentage of the whole that it can easily be the result of poor data collection which seems more than reasonable given the selection process rife with subjective decisions.

    Now to address the data. You outline a process by which reports of “misconduct” reach these acronyms but not one of subject selection. It is hard to imagine a way that this data can be anything less than skewed if you’re using as you said “reports that are made public through the media” This is not how statistics are generated, your subjects are not selected randomly. In other words, you’re creating a data set to fit an opinion you already hold. I apologize to debase anyone’s work but to be honest Mr. Packman, this is bad politics and worse science. I’m sure you know this already given the fact that you chose to write a lengthy explanation of a flawed data collection process rather than a defense of the mathematical and scientific merit of something you’ve produced for public consumption. Unfortunately, when you create a document such as this and post it in public domain, your assuming the role of an expert, and people will consume this data accordingly, so when you do so wrongly you’re simply undermining the intellectual and political potential of my generation and I take offense. Things need to change. We need change. But not led by misrepresentation, there is enough of that in our lives.

  • Paula Parmeley Carter

    I only pointed out that you were incorrect in stating that there was a 0.0004% difference when in fact it is a 40% difference. With that said, I agree that percent difference in this context is not very useful.
    I am at a complete loss for how you figure that a 44 per 100,000 difference is statistically insignificant. Maybe you could show me your math.
    As far as using media reports skewing the data, if anything, it skews it downward, since only the most egregious reports will make the news.
    To be clear, I am not associated with Mr. Packman’s project, I am only an admirer of his project.

  • David


    Sorry, but I’m afraid your critique doesn’t make much sense as it applies equally to UCR data and methodology. We do the best we can given the lack of access to actual disciplinary records and investigative files in regards to police misconduct. If you know of a better way to collect data on this and present it I highly recommend that you start your own project instead of criticizing others without offering any real suggestions for improvement other than argument for argument’s sake.

    All the best.

  • Carla

    Tom’s statements make the most sense of all. I totally agree with him.

  • Abused Veteran

    Tom has got to be in ‘law enfarcement’ (intentionally spelled that way). They are identical to hitler investigating himself. As was pointed out in the back and forth conversation, police abuse is downplayed if anything. Not only that, you are a fool (or like Tom) if you think that police are treated the same as someone else regarding ‘investigation’, etc. Police are “innocent”, even when their own videos show what they did and said, yet someone they want to blame (especially someone they think has ‘disrespected them’ or ‘thinks they are smarter than them’) but is not guilty of the crime (or crimes) accused. ‘Evidence’ appears from nowhere and other ‘evidence’ dissapears (all to their choosing). I could go on and on but GOD, The TRUE GOD, JEHOVAH, will soon put an end to all of this injustice and HE is The ONE to Trust.

  • sandi

    Thank You –this is amazing. I know it takes commitment to record this information for us everyday citizens to easily understand it and I hope that you will continue.

  • Jean Markham

    what if my registration tags are out an dI get stop, the office unsnapps his gun and comes up tells me to get out of the car no reason of the stop, take all the money out of my wallet, talks really rude to me and my friend, and then tells me to leave town.

  • Jean Markham

    also takes my friends drivers license and tells him he can pick it up at the station the office gave no card or name also I am afro america.

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  • nickjamesbitch2

    unless you’ve gone out to each individual police department in the country and somehow managed them to give you their data (which they would never do as a means to protect their image), your information is a terrible and miscontrued representation of these stats

  • nickjamesbitch2

    aaaand you are retarded