The Usual Suspects? Study Finds Majority of Police Abuse Cases Involve Same Small Group Of Officers

143px-Chicagopd_jpg_w300h294There is an interesting study out that a relatively small number of officers are responsible for over half of police abuse claims. We have seen similar results in studies of malpractice cases of doctors. Yet, this small group of officers not only tarnish the reputations of all officers but cost massive amounts of money. Marketplace reports that Chicago paid out more than half a billion dollars over 10 years in police misconduct cases. This is a city that is facing junk bond status and the threat of insolvency.

Law professor Craig Futterman, who runs the University of Chicago’s Civil Rights and Police Accountability Project, has done some interesting work in this area. His study of the Chicago Police Department found the same officers fueling these costs. It suggests that a better job of self-policing could result in substantial savings for police departments and more importantly greater protection for citizens.

UCLA law professor Joanna Schwartz has found similar results. She notes however that most cities still resist keeping records that would help identify such officers and track patterns. This would seem to offer obvious areas of reform for departments. We have certainly seen anecdotally that officers involved in controversies often seem to have checkered histories of prior lawsuits or serious complaints. The problem is the political will to implement the academic findings.

58 thoughts on “The Usual Suspects? Study Finds Majority of Police Abuse Cases Involve Same Small Group Of Officers”

  1. Every 28 hours? Boy I know you guys like to make up statistics that one is a beauty. I have to say you are amazing pal. Just amazing.

  2. Mr. Schulte,

    Thanks, I understand better now. But I was overjoyed to find out the way police treated a suspected criminal by respecting his civil liberties and not killing him.

    1. TJustice – there are several balls in the air here. One, Mesa is hurting financially. All those Hispanics who moved to the center of Mesa are not paying taxes. All the car dealers in Mesa, some 25 of them, moved to Chandler and Gilbert, so they are not getting the sales tax from them. Mesa just finished paying for a raid that went wrong where they raided the wrong house and accidentally burned it down. And they just got a new chief of police. I think they were told that if they were sued, it was coming out of their budget.

  3. The recent mesa AZ shooting suspect appears to be a white supremacist with potential ties to a neo-Nazi skinhead group.

    Scores of police went to the streets on a manhunt. They used a stun gun to bring him in custody. But there is nothing wrong when a person of color is getting killed by uniformed personnel every 28 hours (possibly more often). A rather queer rule of law I must say…

    1. TJustice – there are practically no blacks in Mesa, AZ. 😉 There is a large illegal Latino community that has taken over the center of the city. Just to give you some background, the Chicago Cubs do their spring training there.

  4. @trooperyork

    “Criminals should be prosecuted if they are rouge cops or disadvantaged ‘youtes’ who were about to go to college.”

    By “rouge cops” do you mean the ones with florid faces from drinking too much, and who are therefore more likely to be violent when rousting “lazy miscreants playing xbox and knocking up their baby mommas”?

  5. The Ferguson DOJ report looks a lot like other excessive police force reports

    When compared with other Department of Justice investigative reports, the revelations about the Ferguson Police Department were really just more of the same.

    The DOJ has investigated other police departments throughout the United States over the past several years and found that, just like in Ferguson, many police forces rely on excessive force and discriminate against minorities, often violating the civil rights of citizens.

    We’ve pulled out quotes from several DOJ reports on different police departments, and showed how similar they are to the Ferguson report, below:

    Evidence that police departments have used excessive force

    Seattle Police

    Police with wooden sticks stand guard on Dec. 8, 2014, in downtown Seattle.

    Image: Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    From the Ferguson report, published on March 4, 2015:

    “FPD engages in a pattern of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment…Some incidents of excessive force result from stops or arrests that have no basis in law. Others are punitive and retaliatory.”

    From the DOJ’s report on Seattle’s police force, published on Dec. 16, 2011:

    “We find that SPD engages in a pattern or practice of using unnecessary or excessive force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

    From the DOJ’s report on Albuquerque’s police force, published on April 10, 2014:

    “Based on our investigation, we have reasonable cause to believe that APD engages in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.”

    From the DOJ’s report on Cleveland’s police force, published on Dec. 4, 2014:

    “Our investigation concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that CDP engages in a pattern or practice of using unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.”

    Ferguson’s department was far from the first that the DOJ found to be abusing citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights, which protects them against unreasonable arrests.

    Evidence that police discriminated against minority citizens

    Newark police

    From the Ferguson report:

    “The harms of Ferguson’s police and court practices are borne disproportionately by African Americans, and there is evidence that this is due in part to intentional discrimination on the basis of race.”

    From the DOJ report on New Orleans’ police force, published on March 16, 2011:

    “NOPD has failed to take sufficient steps to detect, prevent or address bias-based profiling and other forms of discriminatory policing on the basis of race, ethnicity or LGBT status, despite widespread concern and troubling racial disparities in arrest rates and other data.”

    From the Seattle report:

    “We do not make a finding that SPD engages in a pattern or practice of discriminatory policing, but our investigation raises serious concerns on this issue.” Later, the report states, “Moreover, many community members believe that SPD engages in discriminatory policing. This perception is rooted in a number of factors, including negative street encounters, recent well-publicized videos of force being used against people of color, incidents of overt discrimination, and concerns that the pattern of excessive force disproportionately affects minorities.”

    From the DOJ report on Newark’s police force, published on July 22, 2014:

    “This investigation found that black people in Newark have been stopped and arrested at a significantly higher rate than their white and Hispanic counterparts. This disparity is stark and unremitting. Approximately 80% of the NPD’s stops and arrests have involved black individuals, while Newark’s population is only 53.9% black.”

    This section of the Newark report will be particularly familiar to close readers of the Ferguson report. The latter investigation noted that black residents in Ferguson accounted for “85% of vehicle stops, 90% of citations, and 93% of arrests made by FPD officers” despite making up only around 67% of the population.

    Police practices often erode community trust

    From the Ferguson report:

    “Our investigation showed that the disconnect and distrust between much of Ferguson’s African-American community and FPD is caused largely by years of the unlawful and unfair law enforcement practices by Ferguson’s police department and municipal court.” According to the report, African American residents “described being belittled, disbelieved, and treated with little regard for their legal rights by the Ferguson Police Department.”

    From the Newark report:

    “Because the NPD engages in a pattern of making stops in violation of the Fourth Amendment, Newark’s black residents bear the brunt of the NPD’s pattern of unconstitutional policing. This undeniable experience of being disproportionately affected by the NPD’s unconstitutional policing helps explain the community distrust and cynicism that undermines effective policing in Newark.”

    From the DOJ report on Portland, Oregon’s police force, published on Sept. 12, 2012:

    The report found that Portland police abuse their use of “electronic control weapons.” The report said, “These practices engender fear and distrust in the Portland community, which ultimately impacts PPB’s ability to police effectively.”

    From the Cleveland report:

    “When officers point their guns at people without proper justification, even if the encounter does not progress any further, it can be a traumatic event for the citizen. Done enough, communities can come to feel as if they are under siege.” Later, the report added, “This mentality fosters distrust of the police, reduces cooperation, and interferes with CDP’s ability to fight crime while ensuring officer safety.”

    These reports often concluded that abusive use of force not only led to distrust among citizens toward police, but jeopardized the safety of officers themselves. The more hostile the environment surrounding police, the more difficult it is for them to navigate a community and efficiently solve crimes.

  6. You get the government and police you deserve. You can change that by your vote. The wonder is why that vote doesn’t happen…in majority black Ferguson MO they have, allegedly, a white racist police department. How many residents didn’t vote or voted for the popular give-away candidate?

    No worries, AG Holder will fix all that by “dismantling” the Ferguson PD. Whoops, he doesn’t have that authority, so he has to go to federal court, as a plaintiff, to seek a court order for oversight of a PD (not control of it per se)….just like the one issued against Detroit and Newark’s PD’s….Detroit’s was lifted last August, and the DOJ had nothing, repeat NOTHING, to say about it…it was all handled by the court, not the AG.

  7. on 1, March 18, 2015 at 10:36 am Paul C. Schulte

    If you get rid of the bad police you are taking food out of the mouths of attorneys who need the work.

    Paul C. Schulte

    I just want you to know this is a noteworthy post


  8. The number of Americans killed by the police each year would seem to be a number of interest to everyone, but apparently not, as no one claims to know.

    The Uncounted: Why the US Can’t Keep Track of People Killed by Police
    By Tom McCarthy, The Guardian UK
    18 March 15

    “A year ago, in a bureaucratic shift that went unremarked in the somnolent days before Michael Brown was shot dead in Ferguson, Missouri, the US government admitted a disturbing failure. The top crime-data experts in Washington had determined that they could not properly count how many Americans die each year at the hands of police. So they stopped.”

    “The federal government counts many things very well. It counts the number of children who die each week from flu (11 during the week ending 17 January). It counts the average number of hours American men spend weekly on lawn care (almost two). It counts the monthly production of hens’ eggs (8.31bn in November). It counts nut consumption by non-Hispanic white men over the age of 20 (42.4% enjoyed nuts on any given day in 2009-2010). It counts how many women aged 15-44 use contraception (60.9 million, or 61.7%).

    “The US government is a virtuoso counter. So why can’t it count people killed by police?

  9. They should be followed and rousted and when these cops are caught doing wrong they should be incarcerated.

    That was implied but you are a moron so you just can’t follow along with the class so I will spell it out.

    Criminals should be prosecuted if they are rouge cops or disadvantaged “youtes” who were about to go to college. Profile them….catch them….throw the book at them.

  10. @trooperyork

    “Idiots will say that it is not evident in the statistics but they don’t or won’t take into account that it is freakin freezing out as the lazy miscreants are playing xbox and knocking up their baby mommas.”

    “More San Francisco Police Officers Accused Of Sending Racist Texts
    March 17, 2015 7:28 PM ET
    Richard Gonzales

    “In a rapidly unfolding scandal, San Francisco law enforcement officials are pledging to review the case work of four city police officers who are accused of sending a series of racist and homophobic text messages.

    “A published report says the San Francisco Police Department is also investigating at least 10 other officers in connection with the sharing of offensive text messages.The existence of the texts was first reported late last week by NPR member station KQED.

    “San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said, in a statement, ‘I am deeply disturbed by these text messages. There is no place for bigotry in San Francisco.’

    “The review could involve as many as 1,000 old prosecution cases going back over a 10-year period. ‘These texts reveal racist attitudes, opinions, statements that were not born overnight,’ said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

    ” ‘Part of this review has to be to look into the background and character of all the officers involved in texting these racist messages,’ he added.
    The texts were revealed in federal court documents by prosecutors opposing a motion to allow former San Francisco police Sgt. Ian Furminger from remaining free on bail. Furminger is facing a 41-month sentence because he was convicted in December on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy. A federal judge refused to allow Furminger’s release on Monday.

    “The texts were written between 2011 and 2012 and reportedly shared among Furminger and four other officers. They are identified as Michael Robison, 46; Noel Schwab, 49; Rain Daugherty, 40; and Michael Celis, 47. All of the officers have at least 10 years of experience in the San Francisco Police Department.

    The officers were transferred to desk duty last month after police officials became aware of the texts and launched their own investigation. *Police Chief Greg Suhr says he will fire all four officers if the investigation shows that they wrote and shared the offensive texts*. (Emphasis added)

    In one text exchange, someone asks Furminger, “Do you celebrate quanza [sic] at your school?” Furminger replies: “Yeah we burn the cross on the field! Then we celebrate Whitemas.”

  11. Trooper:

    “I agree that profiling those police officers who have repeated complaints and break the law should get special scrutiny. Profiling is a good thing. It was the basis of stop and frisk that brought the crime stats way down in NYC.”


    Cops with repeated complaints and who break the law just need “special scrutiny.” How about fired from their jobs and tried as criminals?

    Who needs Comedy Central, we’ve got you.

  12. @trooperyork

    “Idiots will say that it is not evident in the statistics but they don’t or won’t take into account that it is freakin freezing out as the lazy miscreants are playing xbox and knocking up their baby mommas.”

    To whom are you referring here in these scurrilous terms?

    “Fortunately for Judge Scheindlin [who found the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy unconstitutional], the statistics, directly compiled from records kept by the NYPD between January 2004 and June 2012, back her up on the constitutional question. They amply bear out her two key findings: 1) The NYPD frequently stopped and frisked suspects without the requisite ‘reasonable suspicion’ required by the Fourth Amendment, and 2) blacks and Latinos were singled out by this program at a grossly disproportionate rate, violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

    “Scheindlin had a wealth of statistical data to draw upon, from which she found that the NYPD made 4.4 million stops over the 8.5-year span in question. Approximately half of those stops resulted in frisks. Six percent of all stops resulted in arrest, and 6 percent resulted in summons. In 52 percent of all stops, the person was black; in 31 percent, Hispanic; and in 10 percent, white (against a population made up of 23 percent black, 29 percent Hispanic, and 33 percent white).

    “Many city residents might shrug at these numbers, reasoning: Well, sure, blacks and Hispanics just so happen to live in high-crime areas. What are the police supposed to do?
    “But drill down further and the numbers are more difficult to reconcile with basic common sense. For instance:
    • In 23 percent of the stops of blacks, and 24 percent of the stops of Hispanics, the officer recorded using force, whereas the number for whites was only 17 percent.
    • Between 2004 and 2009, the percentage of stops where the officer failed to state a specific suspected crime rose from 1 percent to 36 percent.
    “Even viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the city (inevitable, given that the NYPD was self-reporting), Scheindlin shows that at the very least, 200,000 stops were made over the nine-year time frame without any reasonable suspicion whatsoever noted by the reporting officer.

    “So there’s the constitutional question. But the next two statistics are eye-catching because they appear to undermine the city’s more fundamental argument about the effectiveness of stop-and-frisk.
    • Weapons were seized in 1.0 percent of the stops of blacks, 1.1 percent of the stops of Hispanics, and 1.4 percent of the stops of whites.
    • Contraband other than weapons was seized in 1.8 percent of the stops of blacks, 1.7 percent of the stops of Hispanics, and 2.3 percent of the stops of whites.

    “These supposed success rates are what one might expect to find if you stopped and frisked any random cross-section of humanity, say, in the parking lot before a Jets or Giants football game. But remember, the stops at issue here were ostensibly triggered by a police officer’s ‘reasonable suspicion’—shouldn’t those stops have borne more illegal fruit? Also, since reasonable suspicion was present for at least the majority of stops captured by the study, isn’t the claim of necessity and effectiveness further statistically undermined?”

    Why, yeah, it kind of is.

  13. Your Majesty, please indulge my sensitivities as peruse the preceding and following paragraph.

    “There is an interesting study out that a relatively small number of officers IS responsible for over half of police abuse claims. We have seen similar results in studies of malpractice cases of doctors. Yet, this small group of officers not only TARNISHES the reputations of all officers but COSTS massive amounts of money.”


    “If you’re half right, you’re half wrong.
    If you’re half wrong, you’re all wrong.”


    The PREAMBLE is binding even while the Founders did not state as much.

    The PREAMBLE is the absolutely essential American CONTEXT.

    The Constitution provides for governance within the parameters of the Preamble.

    You DO NOT understand the American thesis until you understand that America is built and was always intended to be built on the Preamble.

    Once you nullify the foundation and structure of the Preamble, you destroy the American thesis. When the predominance of the Preamble is understood and acknowledged, no similarities to the principles of Marx exist. “Freedom and Self-Reliance” is diametrically opposed to “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

    The Founders used action words, verbs, to tell us all, precisely what they DID and WHAT THEY MEANT TO BE. The FOUNDERS ESTABLISHED, ASSURED, PROVIDED FOR, PROMOTED and INSURED.

    Government is limited to:




    PROMOTE GENERAL WELFARE (i.e. utilities).


    (not to the government) are FREEDOM and FREE ENTERPRISE


    Freedom and Self-Reliance ARE America.

  14. I agree that profiling those police officers who have repeated complaints and break the law should get special scrutiny. Profiling is a good thing. It was the basis of stop and frisk that brought the crime stats way down in NYC.

    Of course now it is gone and the stats will balloon as the murder stats have already done. Idiots will say that it is not evident in the statistics but they don’t or won’t take into account that it is freakin freezing out as the lazy miscreants are playing xbox and knocking up their baby mommas. Wait until July and August in the Heat of the Summer. Then lets see how Comrade De Blasio’s abandonment of stop and frisk will play out.

  15. alyssa quoted me and asked:
    “the only good thing about this situation was that the individual cops’ personnel files (which contained histories of prior claims against them) were exempt from disclosure.”

    What am I missing? Why is this a “good thing?”

    it was a good thing from the point of view of defending the cop in a civil action for damages.
    i surely do understand alternative views. that’s one reason why we have juries for civil and criminal cases..

  16. “On the other side of the issue, one should view the data with caution.

    Exactly. It’s not unusual for complaints to be filed against police officers for abuse in retaliation for an arrest.

  17. @JT

    “His [Professor Ferguson’s] study of the Chicago Police Department found the same officers fueling these [lawsuit] costs. It suggests that a better job of self-policing could result in substantial savings for police departments and more importantly greater protection for citizens.”

    Why should the police “police themselves” any more than private citizens should police themselves? Should the police really enjoy some privileged status that shields them from accountability to an independent authority for acts that private citizens are routinely prosecuted for? (Your answer to that will tell you a great deal regarding your participation in the authoritarian mindset).

    As former NYPD detective Frank Serpico says, and he obviously speaks from his personal professional experience:

    “Enforce the laws against everyone, including police officers. When police officers do wrong, use those individuals as examples of what not to do – so that others know that this behavior will not be tolerated. And tell the police unions and detective endowment associations they need to keep their noses out of the justice system;”


    “Last but not least, police cannot police themselves. Develop permanent, independent boards to review incidents of police corruption and brutality—and then fund them well and support them publicly. Only this can change a culture that has existed since the beginnings of the modern police department.”
    (See the excellent post by “anonymous,” above. Mucho gracias, anon).

    One huge sociopolitical impediment too serious police reform is, of course, the climate of fear created by USG propaganda and its stenographic corporate media, and the concomitant militarization of US society in general and the police in particular.

    If you don’t see this, check out Radley Balko’s *The Rise of the Warrior Cop*:

    “The last days of colonialism taught America’s revolutionaries that soldiers in the streets bring conflict and tyranny. As a result, our country has generally worked to keep the military out of law enforcement. But according to investigative reporter Radley Balko, over the last several decades, America’s cops have increasingly come to resemble ground troops. The consequences have been dire: the home is no longer a place of sanctuary, the Fourth Amendment has been gutted, and police today have been conditioned to see the citizens they serve as an other—an enemy.

    “Today’s armored-up policemen are a far cry from the constables of early America. The unrest of the 1960s brought about the invention of the SWAT unit—which in turn led to the debut of military tactics in the ranks of police officers. Nixon’s War on Drugs, Reagan’s War on Poverty, Clinton’s COPS program, the post–9/11 security state under Bush and Obama: by degrees, each of these innovations expanded and empowered police forces, always at the expense of civil liberties. And these are just four among a slew of reckless programs.

    “In *Rise of the Warrior Cop*, Balko shows how politicians’ ill-considered policies and relentless declarations of war against vague enemies like crime, drugs, and terror have blurred the distinction between cop and soldier. His fascinating, frightening narrative shows how over a generation, a creeping battlefield mentality has isolated and alienated American police officers and put them on a collision course with the values of a free society.”

    I also highly recommend William Grigg’s book on the same subject:

    “Liberty in Eclipse: The War on Terror and the Rise of the Homeland Security State* is an expose and indictment of our nation’s descent into the early stages of police state tyranny. Topics discussed include the militarization and federalization of law enforcement; the establishment of a quasi-dictatorial ‘war presidency’; the evisceration of the Bill of Rights, and due process guarantees going back to the Magna Carta; the increasingly commonplace surveillance of Americans; the institutionalization of torture; and the likely restoration of conscription, including a military draft.”

    Also see Professor Turley’s highly commendable “10 Reasons the U.S. is No Longer the Land of the Free.”

  18. On the other side of the issue, one should view the data with caution.

    We are friends with an officer who works in a gang unit. Although rare, he has fired his weapon in the line of duty and engaged in physical altercations more than, say, an officer who patrols the suburbs. He’s also been shot at least twice that I know of. The gangs in his area are African American in a predominantly African American neighborhood, so his arrests are also weighted towards more African Americans. He’s also looking for suspicious gang activity, so he’s looking for the clothes, flashing signs, loitering in a specific area. On the face of it, comparing his record with that of a suburb patrol, it would appear that he was a violent racist. But he’s not. His arrests change depending on where he’s stationed. In another area, most of his arrests are white drug addicts.

    I do want to weed out the bad apples, and hold police departments responsible and accountable, and maintain the public trust. I do not want to sweep up honest police officers, though, so reviewing the data thoroughly is essential.

  19. Pogo is absolutely right that only consequences for misconduct will force a department to change. And I agree with Professor Turley that record keeping and sharing is essential.

    Just think. If these were employees at the VA, or other union workers, in many cases they couldn’t be fired. And yet, people argue in support of union measures, such as tenure, that make firing abusers extremely difficult. One has only to look at teachers accused of abuse who are bribed to retire or passed around to other school districts, because they cannot be fired without hundreds of thousands of dollars in court fees. In the VA, employees engaged in fraud that literally caused the deaths of our honored veterans, and they didn’t get fired.

    Hmmmmm, maybe it can be a good thing to be able to fire an employee for cause.

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