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85,000 cops who’ve been investigated for misconduct


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We found 85,000 cops who’ve been investigated for misconduct. Now you can read their records.

John Kelly, and Mark Nichols, USA TODAY

18-23 minutes

At least 85,000 law enforcement officers across the USA have been investigated or disciplined for misconduct over the past decade, an investigation by USA TODAY Network found.

Officers have beaten members of the public, planted evidence and used their badges to harass women. They have lied, stolen, dealt drugs, driven drunk and abused their spouses.

Despite their role as public servants, the men and women who swear an oath to keep communities safe can generally avoid public scrutiny for their misdeeds.

The records of their misconduct are filed away, rarely seen by anyone outside their departments. Police unions and their political allies have worked to put special protections in place ensuring some records are shielded from public view, or even destroyed.

Reporters from USA TODAY, its affiliated newsrooms across the country and the nonprofit Invisible Institute in Chicago spent more than a year creating the biggest collection of police misconduct records.

Obtained from thousands of state agencies, prosecutors, police departments and sheriffs, the records detail at least 200,000 incidents of alleged misconduct, much of it previously unreported. The records obtained include more than 110,000 internal affairs investigations by hundreds of individual departments and more than 30,000 officers who were decertified by 44 state oversight agencies.

Search for police discipline records

USA TODAY Network has gathered discipline and accountability records on more than 85,000 law enforcement officers and has started releasing them to the public. The first collection published is a list of more than 30,000 officers who have been decertified, essentially banned from the profession, in 44 states. Search our exclusive database by officer, department or state.

Among the findings:

Most misconduct involves routine infractions, but the records reveal tens of thousands of cases of serious misconduct and abuse. They include 22,924 investigations of officers using excessive force, 3,145 allegations of rape, child molestation and other sexual misconduct and 2,307 cases of domestic violence by officers.

Dishonesty is a frequent problem. The records document at least 2,227 instances of perjury, tampering with evidence or witnesses or falsifying reports. There were 418 reports of officers obstructing investigations, most often when they or someone they knew were targets.

Less than 10% of officers in most police forces get investigated for misconduct. Yet some officers are consistently under investigation. Nearly 2,500 have been investigated on 10 or more charges. Twenty faced 100 or more allegations yet kept their badge for years.

The level of oversight varies widely from state to state. Georgia and Florida decertified thousands of police officers for everything from crimes to questions about their fitness to serve; other states banned almost none.

Search the database: Exclusive USA TODAY list of decertified officers and their records

Tarnished Brass: Fired for a felony, again for perjury. Meet the new police chief.

That includes Maryland, home to the Baltimore Police Department, which regularly has been in the news for criminal behavior by police. Over nearly a decade, Maryland revoked the certifications of just four officers. In Minneapolis, where officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on the neck of George Floyd until he died, at least seven police officers have been decertified since 2009, according to state records. 

Floyd's death sparked mass protests across the U.S. and around the world with millions of people calling for accountability for violent officers and the departments that allow them to retain their badge. It "was not just a tragedy, it was a crime," said The Rev. Al Sharpton, delivering the eulogy at Floyd's funeral on June 9.

"Until the law is upheld and people know they will go to jail," Sharpton said, "they're going to keep doing it, because they're protected by wickedness in high places."

Show caption Hide caption Tamika Staton leaves a message at a memorial in the middle of the road where teenager Michael Brown died after being shot by a police... Tamika Staton leaves a message at a memorial in the middle of the road where teenager Michael Brown died after being shot by a police officer in 2014 in Ferguson, Mo., an incident that sparked investigations, protests and a nationwide discussion about policing.

Scott Olson, Getty Images

The records USA TODAY and its partners gathered include tens of thousands of internal investigations, lawsuit settlements and secret separation deals dating back to the 1960s.

They include names of at least 5,000 police officers whose credibility as witnesses has been called into question. These officers have been placed on Brady lists, created to track officers whose actions must be disclosed to defendants if their testimony is relied upon to prosecute someone.

In 2019, USA TODAY published many of those records to give the public an opportunity to examine their police department and the broader issue of police misconduct, as well as to help identify decertified officers who continue to work in law enforcement.

Seth Stoughton, who worked as a police officer for five years and teaches law at the University of South Carolina, said expanding public access to those kinds of records is critical to keep good cops employed and bad cops unemployed.

“No one is in a position to assess whether an officer candidate can do the job well and the way that we expect the job to be done better than the officer’s former employer,” Stoughton said.

“Officers are public servants. They police in our name," he said. There is a "strong public interest in identifying how officers are using their public authority.”

Dan Hils, president of the Cincinnati Police Department’s branch of the Fraternal Order of Policemen union, said people should consider there are more than 750,000 law enforcement officers in the country when looking at individual misconduct data.

“The scrutiny is way tighter on police officers than most folks, and that’s why sometimes you see high numbers of misconduct cases,” Hils said. “But I believe that policemen tend to be more honest and more trustworthy than the average citizen.”

Hils said he has no issue with USA TODAY publishing public records of conduct, saying it is the news media’s “right and responsibility to investigate police and the authority of government. You’re supposed to be a watchdog.”

The bulk of the records USA TODAY has published are logs of about 30,000 people banned from the profession by state regulators.

For years, a private police organization has assembled such a list from more than 40 states and encourages police agencies to screen new hires. The list is kept secret from anyone outside law enforcement. 

On June 5, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) announced legislation that would institute a number of reforms, including the creation of the first national, publicly searchable database of law enforcement officers who have engaged in inappropriate use of force or discrimination. 

USA TODAY obtained the names of banned officers from 44 states by filing requests under open records laws.

The information includes the officers’ names, the department they worked for when the state revoked their certification and – in most cases – the reasons why.

The list is incomplete because of the absence of records from states such as California, which has the largest number of law enforcement officers in the USA.

USA TODAY's collection of police misconduct records began in 2016 amid a nationwide debate over law enforcement tactics, including concern that some officers or agencies unfairly were targetting minorities.

A series of killings of black people by police in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, Chicago, Sacramento, California, and elsewhere had sparked protests and renewed anger about police targeting minorities and needlessly using force to subdue them. 

The Trump administration backed away from more than a decade of Justice Department investigations and court actions against police departments it determined were deeply biased or corrupt. In 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Justice Department would leave policing the police to local authorities, saying federal investigations hurt crime fighting.

Laurie Robinson, co-chair of the 2014 White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing, said transparency about police conduct is critical to trust between police and residents.

“It’s about the people who you have hired to protect you,” she said. “Traditionally, we would say for sure that policing has not been a transparent entity in the U.S. Transparency is just a very key step along the way to repairing our relationships."

In the late 1980s, Gary Cunningham, then-deputy director of the Minneapolis civil rights department, helped create a civilian review panel that investigated police misconduct and had the authority to compel officer testimony and recommend discipline. But the police union, he said,  managed to lobby the state legislature to strip the panel of its subpoena power, which resulted in many officers refusing to testify and avoiding sanctions.

Today, the panel is a "paper tiger" organization, Cunningham said. A tiny fraction of cases result in discipline, and an even smaller fraction are available for public inspection.

Chauvin, for instance, racked up 17 misconduct complaints before Floyd. Only one resulted in discipline -- in the form of two letters of reprimand. The city's online database of misconduct complaints offers no details about the underlying allegations.

"If you make a joke out of the process, it doesn't work very well," said Cunningham, now president and CEO of Prosperity Now, a research and policy nonprofit in Washington, D.C. "The way we've been doing this has enabled and abetted the police brutality in our communities because once it's not transparent, it's hard to hold anybody accountable."

The number of police agencies and officers in the USA is so large that the blind spots are vast. We need your help.

Though the records USA TODAY Network gathered are probably the most expansive ever collected, there is much more to be added. The collection includes several types of statewide data, but most misconduct is documented by individual departments.

Journalists obtained records from more than 700 law enforcement agencies, but the records are not complete for all of those agencies, and there are more than 18,000 police forces across the USA. The records requests were focused largely on the biggest 100 police agencies as well as clusters of smaller departments in surrounding areas, partly to examine movement of officers between departments in regions.

USA TODAY aims to identify other media organizations willing to partner in gathering new records and sharing documents they've already gathered. The Invisible Institute, a journalism nonprofit in Chicago focused on police accountability, has done so for more than a year and contributed records from dozens of police departments.

Reporters need help getting documents – and other kinds of tips – from the public, watchdog groups, researchers and even officers and prosecutors themselves.

If you have access to citizen complaints about police, internal affairs investigation records, secret settlement deals between agencies and departing officers or anything that sheds light on how agencies police their officers, we want to hear from you.

Contributing: Kenny Jacoby, James Pilcher and Eric Litke.

The team behind this investigation

REPORTING AND ANALYSIS: Mark Nichols, Eric Litke, James Pilcher, Aaron Hegarty, Andrew Ford, Brett Kelman, John Kelly, Matt Wynn, Steve Reilly, Megan Cassidy, Ryan Martin, Jonathan Anderson, Andrew Wolfson, Bethany Bruner, Benjamin Lanka, Gabriella Novello, Mark Hannan

FROM THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTE: Sam Stecklow, Andrew Fan, Bocar Ba

EDITING: Chris Davis, John Kelly, Brad Heath

GRAPHICS AND ILLUSTRATIONS: Jim Sergent, Karl Gelles

PHOTOGRAPHY AND VIDEOGRAPHY: Phil Didion, Christopher Powers, David Hamlin, Robert Lindeman

DIGITAL PRODUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT: Spencer Holladay, Annette Meade, Craig Johnson, Ryan Marx, Chris Amico, Josh Miller, Chirasath Saenvong

SOCIAL MEDIA, ENGAGEMENT AND PROMOTION: Anne Godlasky, Alia Dastagir, Felecia Wellington Radel, Elizabeth Shell

Originally Published 8:15 p.m. CDT Apr. 24, 2019

Updated 8:48 a.m. CDT June 11, 2020

Every year, tens of thousands of police officers are investigated for serious misconduct — assaulting citizens, driving drunk, planting evidence and lying among other misdeeds.

The vast majority get little notice. And there is no public database of disciplined police officers.

To create the first, journalists at USA TODAY and its affiliated newspapers across the country – and media partners including the Invisible Institute in Chicago – gathered records from thousands of state agencies, prosecutors and local police departments.

Starting with lists of officers who lost their law enforcement certification in 44 states, we are making those records available here.

Search for decertified officers

Enter all or part of the name of a law enforcement officer or agency.

If you choose a state, the search will return an alphabetized list of all officers that state says have lost certification along with a link to the records provided by that state under its open records laws. Searching for part of a name or agency will return the most inclusive results. You can download the entire dataset via a link at the top of the search results page.

This project is a broad collaborative effort of journalists across the country. You can help.

 

for the record i am not anti cop. but i dislike bad or dirty cops and this was a real eye opener. this is serious and not just one or two bad apples..........

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i agree. and i am sure people think i am anti police which i am not. some people say if you complain about the police you are unamerican. my point is like yours.....we can do much better. and just think that is only one decade. think of the ones that did not get caught.

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No problem with the transparency. Important to remember that it also states alleged so just cause an officer is investigated doesn't mean they are dirty.

So for instance, the Hispanic female officer that pulled over Bobby Rush cause the dispatcher confused the tags (both had just a single 1 on them) will show up on their for being investigated for racial profiling.

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11 minutes ago, Texan4Auburn said:

No problem with the transparency. Important to remember that it also states alleged so just cause an officer is investigated doesn't mean they are dirty.

So for instance, the Hispanic female officer that pulled over Bobby Rush cause the dispatcher confused the tags (both had just a single 1 on them) will show up on their for being investigated for racial profiling.

the beauty of the argument is you can look up the stuff and see for yourself if you want to spend the time. and many folks claim the police union is a huge problem because at one time unions made sure you got a fair price for your labor and changed the laws so children did not have to work. i just think it is important that folks understand this is much larger than just a couple of bad apples. thinks of the bad stuff some bad cops got away with because people were afraid to speak out or dead etc. this tells me somewhere in the training seems to be a problem maybe it is just mental health screening.

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2 hours ago, aubiefifty said:

the beauty of the argument is you can look up the stuff and see for yourself if you want to spend the time. and many folks claim the police union is a huge problem because at one time unions made sure you got a fair price for your labor and changed the laws so children did not have to work. i just think it is important that folks understand this is much larger than just a couple of bad apples. thinks of the bad stuff some bad cops got away with because people were afraid to speak out or dead etc. this tells me somewhere in the training seems to be a problem maybe it is just mental health screening.

I'd go with the screening. CPD made an initiative to get more minority officers cause they thought it would be good for neighborhoods. They accepted lower scores and overlooked charges that they previously wouldn't have before.

Mean if you are the type that takes money I don't think training is gonna take that out of you.

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Do you have to post the whole article.  Who wants to read that must garbage?  What did they do? ... all 85,000.

So, is that about 1 in 10?  That would mean that about 90% are great cops.  And out of the 10% what did they do?

 

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