The Facts About Police; How Many Cops Are Good? How Many Are Bad?

There are few people worse than bad cops but few better than good cops and thankfully most are good cops. It’s true, right? George Floyd would be alive today if not for the abuse of the badge by four Minneapolis police officers. Hard to be much worse than those cops. At the same time, in the aftermath, we all bore witness to what society would look like without them, including right here in South Florida. 

It’s an unfortunate fact of humanity that if you have a large group of people in any profession, you’ll have some bad apples. 3% of the US population will be convicted of a felony during their lifetime. They’re all doing something, generally working somewhere along the way. Perhaps the most important question, as police reform is debated, is how many cops are good and how many are bad? There are currently more than 800,000 sworn law enforcement officers working in about 18,000 agencies in the United States right now. That’s where the evaluation begins. Much has been made of how hard it is to discipline police, let alone fire them. Is that really true? 

Last year USA Today produced the most comprehensive study of police misconduct in recent years. Among their findings were these:

  • 85,000 officers had been investigated for potential abuses/issues
  • 22,924 of those investigations were for use of excessive force (at issue in the George Floyd case)
  • 30,000 were found guilty – lost police certification/prosecuted

What do these numbers mean in context? 

  • Just over 1 in ten officers are investigated
  • Just over a quarter of the time the alleged abuse is for excessive force
  • Approximately 3.6% of police officers hired turn out to be “bad cops”
  • Over 99% of police officers never engage in abuse of force

The facts don’t exonerate the profession and they don’t fit the narrative of systemic failures either. Ironically, it’s a reflection of society itself with about the same percentage of people who choose wrong over right during their careers/lives. It shows there’s room for improvement and a need to encourage more good people into the profession. The demonization that’s taking place isn’t helpful in that regard. We should all be thankful for the 96.4% of police officers who put themselves at risk daily for our safety and always do the right thing by the communities they serve. 

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