KINDRED SPIRIT: An Ex-Cop Keeps The Country’s Best Data Set On Police Misconduct
When Talking Points Memo, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post needed data on how often police officers are charged with on-duty killings, they all turned to the same guy: Bowling Green State University criminologist Philip M. Stinson.
Stinson, 50, has become an indispensable source for researchers and reporters looking into alleged crimes and acts of violence by police officers because he has built a database tracking thousands of incidents in which officers were arrested since 2005. His data has shown that even the few police officers who are arrested for drunken driving are rarely convictedand that arrests spike for cops who have been on the force 18 years or longer, contrary to prior research showing it was mostly new officers who were acting out.
The whole data-collecting operation is powered by 48 Google Alerts that Stinson set up in 2005, along with individual Google Alerts for each of nearly 6,000 arrests of officers. He has set up 10 Gmail addresses to collect all the alert emails, which feed articles into a database that also contains court records and videos.
It all adds up to a data set of alleged police misconduct unmatched by anything created inside or outside of government, which itself often uses Google Alerts to catch these cases.1 Yet Stinson’s database inevitably has holes because it relies on the media to cover every officer arrest, and because it takes immense effort to code each entry. The data set keeps falling behind.
Towards the end, presented without comment:
CB: But do you think the government itself should be compiling a similar database, doing the work itself?
PS: Oh, absolutely. They haven’t figured out how to do it on their own. Survey research is not going to get the right answers. It’s seemingly hard to track for some reason.