The Network Structure of Police Misconduct

Project: Research project

Project Details


Overview. 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. Each year, police shoot and kill approximately 1,028 Americans (roughly 2.8 deaths each day),1 approximately 40% of which are Black men.2 The development of effective policy and organizational responses to police misconduct and violence are hindered by antiquated models of police decision-making that reduce the debate to “bad apples”3,4 versus “bad organizations.”5-7 While these approaches offer 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,8,9 to investigate how the social networks of police officers impact misconduct, abuse, and violence. By design, police organizations create teams, units, and groups of varying levels which impact the decisions officers make. Police officers rely on formal and informal ties with fellow officers not only to carry out their required tasks but also for learning and support. Little research has employed formal network analyses to understand police behaviors. Recently, a few studies have shown that the structure of a police officer’s network is correlated with misconduct, including the use of force.10,11 Intellectual Merit. The present study will develop a network approach to the structures of a large police agency, the Chicago Police Department (CPD), to determine how such networks impact officer behavior, misconduct, and violence (especially, use of force). Using data on officer assignments and arresting behaviors, we will recreate the partnership and professional networks for the entire CPD from 1980 to 2019; these data will then be combined with records on more than 200,000 complaints and use of force reports filed against officers. These data will then be combined to create several massive network datasets to be used in three interrelated research studies focused on (Study 1) the structure and nature of police networks, including the individual, departmental, and neighborhood factors associated with their structure and misconduct; (Study 2) officer misconduct “career” trajectories; and (Study 3) integrating the lessons learned about the network nature of police misconduct into Early Intervention Systems aimed at curbing police misconduct. Broader Impact. The harm caused by police violence often extends beyond the 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.2,12,13 This project hopes to have a broader impact on mitigating police violence in at least two ways. First, few if any policing interventions incorporate such network-thinking into their systems, policies, or practices. Findings from our network approach might provide improved ways at identifying—and curbing—harmful behavior within police departments among individual officers and also possibly within officers’ networks. Study 3 is especially well suited for this task. Further, mitigating police misconduct through data-informed systems may help reduce the negative consequences of policing and aid in repairing trust between the police and communities. Second, the Invisible Institute will provide open access to the data, code, and research products created in thi
Effective start/end date4/1/213/31/23


  • National Science Foundation (SES 2049513-003)


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.