Some readers may remember the above map that displayed a comparison between laws that govern police transparency and the number of law enforcement officer deaths per state in 2009. It was part of an article I wrote to determine if the common rationalization for keeping police misconduct records secret, that it is a matter of police officer safety, was valid or not.
While the analysis appeared to indicate that this wasn’t a valid excuse, the methodology garnered a criticism in that looking at total deaths was misleading since that includes accidents and natural cause fatalities.
So, I went back to the drawing board…
I did some digging and some crunching to see if there was a better way to determine whether there were any correlations between officer safety and police transparency. For that, I turned to the old standby that we use for all our other comparative statistics, the FBI/DOJ Uniform Crime Reporting statistics which also include a breakdown of homicides and assaults against police officers.
However, if we look at just the rate of homicidal police officer fatalities, the results are inconclusive, even when I stretch the time frame out to three years worth of data because the number of homicidal deaths for police officers is simply too small in number to draw any good statistical data from.
So, I looked at a larger set of numbers, the total assaults + homicidal fatalities for police officers in 2008 and I found something a bit more interesting:
The above graph shows the relative transparency of police misconduct records vs both the rate of deaths by homicide per 100,000 officers and the rate of alleged assaults on officers per 100,000 officers. The states that are most transparent in regards to police misconduct show the lowest overall rate of alleged assaults on officers while states that are most restrictive show the highest rate of alleged assaults.
As you can see, the data on homicides is more inconclusive but would appear to indicate that there is no correlation between police transparency and homicidal violence against police officers. Which would also appear to invalidate the argument that keeping police misconduct records secret keeps police officers safe. But it’s the combined assault and homicide rates that are striking when compared to police transparency by state because this appears to show an inverse relationship between officer safety and police transparency.
In other words, when we look at assaults on police officers, it would seem as though keeping police misconduct records from the public appears to make police officers less safe, not more safe. However, we should keep in mind that the number of assaults on officers is a matter of self-reporting, meaning that this is the number of times officers have claimed to have been assaulted. Also, in many states, the bar for what qualifies as assault against an officer is FAR lower than what qualifies as assault for the rest of us. (for example, pushing an officer would be assault while pushing another person wouldn’t.)
For those interested in seeing how we generated this data, the table below contains the data per state and shows the following information:
State – State abbreviation
PMR – The NPMSRP Police Misconduct Rate per 100,000 officers for the 12-month period of April 2009 – March 2010
FOI – The NPMSRP police transparency index that shows how transparent each state is based on the laws that exclude police records from public freedom of information requests or place limits on the type of information that can be released. 1.0 is the most transparent while 4.0 is the least transparent. (read here for more details)
MR v LEO – The law enforcement homicidal fatality rate per 100,000 police officers by state as an average for years 2006, 2007, and 2008.
VC v LEO – The violent crime (alleged assaults (2008 only) plus homicidal fatalities as described above) for police officers per 100,000 officers by state. (blank states did not submit data to the FBI/DOJ in 2008)
|State||PMR||FOI||MR v LEO||VC v LEO|
So, as the table shows, there really aren’t any other clear correlations we can draw here as there doesn’t appear to be any apparent relationship between police misconduct rates and the rates of violence against police officers.
There also doesn’t appear to be a clear correlation between misconduct rates and the degree of transparency per state, however, we can’t be certain whether that’s a matter of how much misconduct allegedly occurs or how much misconduct is hidden in those states where access to data about misconduct is restricted.
In any case, because there doesn’t appear to be any clear evidence that keeping information about police misconduct from the public improves safety for police officers, it begs the question of what the true reason is for states to keep information about police misconduct a secret.
If it’s not a matter of officer safety, what is it?