• Yet it doesn’t seem like the types of crimes cops commit vary much by age or experience; police officers in their first four years on the job were arrested for the same crimes as veteran cops.

Officers’ gender

  • Most cops who got arrested — like most officers overall — were men: 93 percent, or 6,176 in total.
  • 13 percent of the most serious charges male cops faced were for misdemeanor assault.
  • Just 7 percent of arrested officers were women — 429 in total. The most serious charge female officers faced most often was drunk driving, accounting for roughly a fifth of all charges.

cops commit crimesRepeat offenders

  • Out of the 6,596 officers in the data set, 802 were arrested more than once. This could mean multiple arrests spread across many years, or it could mean a cop faced criminal charges relating to more than one victim stemming from a single arrest.
  • Stinson’s team also found that nearly a quarter (24 percent) of the officers arrested for any crime from 2005 through 2011 were sued at some point during their career for federal civil rights violations, like excessive use of force or verbal harassment. These suits may have come before or after the officer was arrested and might be entirely unrelated, but they could also be a proxy for whether an arrested cop is just having a difficult moment or really is a bad apple. “This suggests to us that these are bad cops,” Stinson explained. “These aren’t just one-offs where they get in trouble.”

When cops get convicted

Stinson and his team track the outcome of these arrest incidents to see how often they result in a conviction, though they don’t have public data yet on which charges lead to convictions. (The exception is for murder and manslaughter.)

Out of 5,148 cases where Stinson and his team know the outcome, 3,716 (or nearly three-quarters) resulted in a conviction. But Stinson said this conviction rate might be misleading — especially when it comes to serious crimes.

A felony conviction, for example, would likely end a cop’s career because convicted felons typically lose their right to carry a gun. So an officer arrested on felony charges may plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge instead, in order to keep his gun — and his job.

When cops face other consequences

Stinson and his team track whether officers who are arrested lose their jobs, in addition to the outcomes of their cases. He knows that at least 91 percent of convicted offers were fired or resigned. The picture for all arrested officers is unclear — it seems they lost their jobs in a little over half of cases where Stinson was able to determine what happened.

“I always assumed that if an officer gets arrested, their career was over,” Stinson said. “What we’re seeing is that this is not the case. Many of these officers don’t get convicted, and many of them who actually leave their job, lose it, or quit, end up working as police officers elsewhere. So there’s a sort of officer shuffle that goes on.”

That’s because it’s pretty hard to fire a cop, even one who’s been arrested — and a lot of that has to do with the strength of the police unions, whose contracts often dictate when a department can fire an officer. Some say a cop can be fired only when he’s convicted of a crime. In other cases, that conviction has to be for a felony.

What’s next?

After spending more than a decade with the data, Stinson thinks he was right about police misconduct being a systemic problem, and he thinks there are a couple of important explanations. One is what he sees as an entrenched attitude within American law enforcement that allows cops to think they can get away with almost anything, because police officers protect one another.

But Stinson also thinks that law enforcement officers don’t receive adequate support to cope with the stresses of the job — and that can cause some of them to turn to crime.

“We see signs where it’s obvious to us that people are unraveling personally and professionally, and we’re left scratching our heads wondering why their agencies hadn’t gotten them help they need,” Stinson said, pointing to cases where officers were arrested multiple times within a short period. “You know clearly there are all kinds of things going wrong in their life with post-traumatic stress, with mental health issues, with addiction issues, alcohol issues, drug issues.”

Stinson doesn’t want the public, or police, to come away from the database thinking that it’s inherently critical of law enforcement — that was never his intention. He hopes that it might offer an opportunity for introspection among officers and even spotlight cops’ need for improved support.

CORRECTION (Sept. 12, 10:47 p.m.): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the police union contract for officers in Los Angeles stipulates that officers can be fired only if they are convicted of a crime. There are multiple reasons why an LAPD officer can be terminated from the force. In the event of an appeal, an internal review board decides whether an officer stays on the force.

Isabella McKinley Corbo and Tess Owens
VICE News

Isabella McKinley Corbo is an associate producer for VICE News Tonight on HBO. Tess Owen is a reporter for VICE News.