Police Misconduct: Some Numbers – Civil Rights Violations and Criminal Charges

As a defense attorney I am on the opposite side of police officers in the courtroom. Despite, my role I understand, however, that these men and women, risk their lives every day to ensure that my family is safe. Law enforcement is a profession and much like other professions there are those within it who simply don’t act appropriately. Members of law enforcement are often asked to make split second decisions and this is why their training is so important. Lack of training can cause confusion among the ranks and often lead to the incidents we see on TV, read about online, or in the newspaper.

The majority of allegations against police officers and other law enforcement are for excessive force (approximately 24%) and the other major categories are sexual misconduct (10%), fraud/ theft, false arrest, drugs, and domestic violence (between 5%-7%). Excessive force complaints usually center around acts involving choke holds, baton strikes, punches, or Tasers. Most incidents don’t involve police vehicles, like what is alleged to have happened in Baltimore in the Freddie Gray case, (less than 1%) or the use of police dogs (less than 2%). Less than 10% of excessive force complaints result in a fatality. Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Montana, and West Virginia have the highest incidents of police misconduct while Kansas, Arkansas, Virginia, and Maine have the lowest.

Pennsylvania has a higher rate of police misconduct than New Jersey, Maryland, New York, Delaware, and Rhode Island. In cases where a person does file a lawsuit against a police officer and a department for misconduct there is usually not a related criminal prosecution of the officer(s). The conviction rate of law enforcement for criminal charges such as assault is much lower than an ordinary citizen. The conviction rate for law enforcement officers is less than 40% while the conviction rate for the average private citizen is over 70%. See the Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project Annual Report.

If you are considering filing a complaint for police misconduct it is very important to understand that you may have claims under the United States Constitution, based on a violation of your Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment Rights, under its Due Process Clause, as well as violations under the United States Code §1983 (the federal law under which individuals may bring a lawsuit for violations of their constitutional rights.) In addition to these federal claims you may have a claim under your state’s constitution. You only have a limited amount of time to pursue a claim. If you believe you are a victim of police misconduct it’s very important that you contact an attorney to discuss your case as soon as possible. In New Jersey, for example, you only have 90 days to assert a claim under its New Jersey Tort Claim act.

Police misconduct cases are complicated and they require a strong understanding of federal and state law. Your attorney must go beyond proving simply personal injury to obtain a monetary award in your favor. If you believe that you are the victim of police misconduct give our office a call to discuss it.