The Police and Police Deviance

Written by Dr. Gary Potter

The police have the authority to enforce the law. There are two reasonable expectations that go along with that authority:

  • First, law enforcement officers will follow the law in enforcing the law.
  • Second, law enforcement officers will not engage in serious criminal activity themselves.

The data for 2010 is interesting in considering these two reasonable expectations.

Police Misconduct (Excluding Corruption)

In 2010, 6,613 law enforcement officers were involved in reported allegations of misconduct. In the same timeframe, 1,575 were involved in excessive force reports. Sexual misconduct complaints made up 9.3% of officers reported. Theft/fraud/robbery allegations involved 7.2% of all officers reported.

Excessive Force

Of all 1,575 officers involved in reported excessive force complaints, 897 (56.9%) were involved in cases of physical use of force complaints which include fist strikes, throws, choke holds, baton strikes, and other physical attacks. Data shows 232 officers (14.7%) were involved in firearm-related excessive force complaints, 166 (10.6%) were involved in taser-related cases, and the remaining officers were involved in other cases involving a combination of force types (13.21%), use of police dogs (1.7%), police vehicles (0.4%), and chemical weapons (2.4%).

Fatal Force

There were 127 fatalities associated with credible excessive force allegations within 2010, which means approximately 8.1% of reported excessive force cases involved fatalities. Of these excessive force fatalities, 91 were caused by firearms, 19 were caused by physical force, 11 by taser, and 6 by other causes.

Sexual Misconduct

Officer-involved sexual misconduct describes an entire subset of police misconduct that includes non-criminal complaints such as consensual sexual activity that occurs while an officer is on-duty, sexual harassment, up to felony acts of sexual assault or child molestation. Sexual misconduct was the second most common form of misconduct reported throughout 2010 with 618 officers involved in sexual misconduct complaints during that period, 354 of which were involved in complaints that involved forcible non-consensual sexual activity such as sexual assault or sexual battery. The sexual assault rate for the general public is 28.7 per 100,000 adults. The sexual assault rate for law enforcement officers is 67.8 per 100,000 law enforcement officers.

Of the 479 alleged victims of serious sexual misconduct that were tracked, 52% (249) were children and 48% (230) were adults. This would appear to indicate that children are victims of alleged serial offenders slightly more often than adults. Of the 354 officers involved with serious sexual misconduct reports, 56 law enforcement officers were involved in allegations where multiple victims were involved.


EKU professor Dr. Gary Potter has written many books, including Drugs in Society,Criminal Organizations, Organized Crime and Controversies in White Collar Crime.

Published on October 22, 2013