In the latest shooting to outrage the nation, Amber Guyger, an off-duty Dallas police officer, claims she walked into the wrong apartment in the building where she lives and pointed her gun at Botham Shem Jean, thinking that he was an intruder. Guyger then shot and killed Jean. By all accounts, Jean was doing nothing wrong. He was simply at home minding his own business.
As a country, we used to ignore police crime. That changed in August 2014, when an officer in Ferguson, Missouri, killed Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager. Yet the government hasn’t caught up to public interest. Former FBI Director James Comey went so far as to say in 2016 that “Americans actually have no idea” how often police use force, because the federal government has not bothered to collect the relevant data. Although the FBI now plans to track the number of people killed by police across the United States, by early 2018 only 1,600 of the more than 18,000 state and local law-enforcement agencies had agreed to submit data for the project. And initial data collection had not yet commenced.
More than a decade ago, I decided to start my own research database on crime by law-enforcement officials. It’s expansive. It includes information on more than 12,000 policemen and policewomen arrested for one or more crimes since 2005. Some of the crimes are serious felonies, such as robberies, rapes, and murders. Many are less serious misdemeanors, such as disorderly conduct. (A searchable version of the database is publicly available for the years 2005 to 2013.) My student research assistants use media reports and court records to track incidents and outcomes—that is, whether the officers are found guilty and what consequences they face, if any. The database isn’t comprehensive, but it’s better than nothing—which is what the federal government offers.