The Network Structure of Police Misconduct

Project: Research project

Project Details


High-profile deaths of Black citizens at the hands of police have thrust the issue of police violence and misconduct to the forefront of national debate, having led to President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, social movements like Black Lives Matter, and efforts at police reform in dozens of cities. Each year, police shoot and kill approximately 1,028 Americans, which equates to roughly 2.8 deaths a day.[1] Approximately 40% of individuals killed by the police are Black and Black and Latino men face life-time risks being shot by the police that are three-times greater than their white peers.[2] Tragic as they are, police shootings are only the most extreme and visible form of police violence, abuse, and misconduct. For every shooting reported in the media, there are hundreds of instances of non-lethal use of force, verbal abuse, and other forms of unconstitutional behavior. Between 2004 and 2014 in Chicago, for example, police fired their weapons at citizens approximately 696 times but deployed their tasers 4,128 times and were involved in more than 67,000 other forms of non-lethal behavior that required some “tactical response.”[3] Furthermore, the effects of police misconduct and violence extends beyond such direct impacts on loss of life and injury by generating trauma and cynicism among citizens that undermines the relationship between the community and police that is crucial for public safety.[2, 4, 5]
The development of effective policy and organizational responses to police misconduct and violence are, by and large, hindered by antiquated models of police decision making that reduce the debate to “bad apples” versus “bad organizations.” “Bad apple” theories focus on attributes of officers (such as age, race, gender, and psychological background)[6, 7] while “bad organization” theories consider the composition or character of police organizations (such as departmental diversity or the presence of oversight apparatus)[8-10] While these approaches offer important insights into understanding police misconduct, they take for granted the crucial way in which social networks impact the actions, behaviors, and attitudes of police officers.
This study will employ network science, the scientific study of the social connections among actors and how these connections affect what we feel, think, and do, [11, 12] to investigate how the social networks of police officers impact misconduct, abuse, and violence. Over the past two decades, network science has been applied to a range of behaviors including getting a job, voting, public health, the adaptation of new technology, as well as criminal behavior and gun violence.[13-17] Networks impact behavior and decision making by creating local contexts in which socialization occurs, learning happens, and/or certain behaviors are rewarded or sanctioned.[18, 19] By design, police organizations, create teams and groups of varying—and often interconnected—levels, each of which impacts the decisions officers make. Officers are part of districts, units, or teams, and they are almost always assigned partners. Moreover, from their time in the academy to their everyday lives in squad cars and on the beat, police officers rely on the formal and informal ties with fellow officers not only to carry out their required tasks but also for formal and informal learning and support. Despite this recognition of the importance of networks on police behaviors and decision making, surprisingly little research has employed formal network analyses. A few recent studies, however, have begun to show that
Effective start/end date8/1/207/31/22


  • Russell Sage Foundation (1908-18023)


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