Most people probably watched this clip from the Steve Harvey Show and got all warm and fuzzy . . . I saw a rare example of a police officer admitting to misconduct, and admitting that the reports he fudged fed into stereotypes and bias. When this white former police officer talks about feeling the need to “fill in the gaps so that justice was served,” he is highlighting a powerful example of how implicit bias serves to uphold systemic racism in law enforcement. This man alone was responsible for 50-60 false convictions, by his own admission. It got me thinking about just what it would mean if he were a small example of a huge problem.
In 2008, there were 17,895 law enforcement agencies in the US, employing roughly 809,000 sworn officers. Also in 2008, we had a prison population of 1,610,446 sentenced prisoners. Let’s play with some numbers, shall we? Let’s say that, on average, every law enforcement agency has 1 corrupt cop. (On average – because we know that some have several and some may have none.) That would be 17,895 corrupt officers. Then, if we’re conservative let’s say that each of these officers are responsible for only 50 false convictions in their career, with half of those convictions leading to serious jail time.
This is probably severely conservative since we know that the guy in this video is an anomaly, in that he admitted to wrongdoing. How many corrupt officers will do what he did without turning themselves in for years upon years and then retire? But, this conservative approach can also address the few false convictions of folks who may have been guilty of other crimes, not caught, and deserving of some punishment. Fair enough?
Alright, so let’s look at the numbers we pulled:
1 corrupt cop per law enforcement agency: 17,895
x 50 false convictions: 894,750
Half of those false convictions resulting in prison sentences: 447,375
I am no investigative journalist, so don’t send the fact checkers after me, but based on what I consider to be very conservative guesstimates:
– 1 corrupt cop per law enforcement agency on average
– 50 false reports that lead to 25 convictions over the course of their career
That would conservatively equate to some 28% of our prison population being wrongfully imprisoned at the hands of corrupt officers, many of whom employ their corruption with biased methods of “filling in the gaps” to serve justice. CONSERVATIVELY.
So I was playing with some numbers, which can be hard to swallow since these are based on conjectures. It would be easy to say that this guy was just one bad apple. But even a cursory web search will render numerous instances of entire police departments disbanded for corruption. States like Florida, Missouri, and Indiana have all had entire departments resign or be fired in light of corrupt or unethical practices.
I found that I’m not the only person who thinks that the scope of police misconduct is underestimated by the general public. The Cato Institute receives, locates, and compiles credible reports of police misconduct, often in real time. How many men and women are wrongfully imprisoned as a result of this misconduct? How do we find the true numbers? It seems worth a deeper look.