Why Race Isn't Part Of A National Police Crime Database

A new database on police crime was made public partly because of interest in misconduct. But you won't find the race of offenders or victims.
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Why Race Isn't Part Of A National Police Crime Database

A public database is tracking the arrests of sworn law enforcement officers.

The Henry A. Wallace Police Crime Database was created by former police officer Dr. Philip Stinson to show the scope of arrests involving local, state and special law enforcement agencies. It contains information on more than 6,500 on- and off-duty law enforcement officers and more than 8,000 criminal arrest cases since 2005. 

Stinson says that he and his team of researchers have noted a number of trends in the data they've compiled, including the offense most prevalent among officers who are arrested (simple assault), the most common drug found in drug-related arrests (cocaine), and that 15 percent of the cases included involved officers within three years of retirement eligibility.

"In many respects, I think policing is broken in this country in so many different ways," Stinson says. "And I think we need to look at some very fundamental questions about what type of people we're looking at to recruit into careers in law enforcement." 

Comprehensive data on police misconduct is tough to gather. For years, the federal government didn't collect information on crimes committed by officers because a lot of the data relied on self-reporting from law enforcement agencies. 

Stinson says public interest in police misconduct, especially after the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, prompted him to make this database available to the public. 

Although race has played a major role in the focus of officer-involved shootings, you won't see the race of police officers or the victims included in the publicly available version of the database mainly because of research limitations. 

"Race of the victim is not something that's included in the materials that we rely on," Stinson says. "We just don't have that information, except for the very high-profile cases."

Stinson says information on the race of law enforcement officers is available in the full version of the database but not in the limited version made available to the public.

Stinson is upfront about his research limitations, noting that he'd also like to include education levels and military background.

In the meantime, he and his colleagues are working to introduce more recent information. And Stinson is looking forward to feedback to help refine his database.