Data Analysis of USAToday’s NFL Arrest database: 15 Surprising Insights

Three teams have more than double “normal” number of arrests

Since 2000, NFL teams could expect 1.45 player arrests per year. However, three teams (Minnesota, Cincinnati and Denver) have seen arrests at rates at least 2x this. Four teams (Tennessee, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, and Kansas City) have seen arrests at 1.5x the normal team arrest rate:

Count of arrests by team. Three teams (MIN, CIN, DEN) had 2x the expected arrest rate; four more (TEN, TB, JAX, KC) had 1.5x. (Click for full-sized image.)
Count of arrests by team. Three teams (MIN, CIN, DEN) had 2x the expected arrest rate; four more (TEN, TB, JAX, KC) had 1.5x. (Click for full-sized image.)

However, not all crimes are the same. Some are more serious than others. At such it is important to look at the criminal charges of the 730 arrests:

Four criminal charges represent 60% of all arrests

As mentioned above, the 730 arrests involved 51 different types of criminal charges (ranging from Murder to Public Urination). The distribution of these criminal charges generally follows the Pareto Principal:

  • Four criminal charges represent 60% of all arrests: DUI, Drugs Domestic Violence, and Assault. The occur 4x as often than average.
  • Six criminal charges (16% of total) account for 80% of all arrests: DUI, Drugs, Domestic Violence, Assault, Guns and Disorderly Conduct.
The Pareto Rule: 16% of the charges result in 80% of the arrests. Four (DUI, Drugs, Domestic Violence and Assault) occur a 4x the normal criminal frequency. (Click for full size.)
The Pareto Rule: 16% of the charges result in 80% of the arrests. Four (DUI, Drugs, Domestic Violence and Assault) occur a 4x the normal criminal frequency. (Click for full size.)

You can explore the full flow of teams to these charges to legal outcomes at this interactive Sankey diagram.

Each most frequent criminal charge has a single team with the most arrests

Breaking down these by team shows some concentrations in criminal charges by NFL franchise:

Distribution of arrests for the six most frequent charges across teams. The net (hard to find as this is busy): each frequent charge has one team with the most arrests for it. (Click to enlarge and look at the table below.)
Distribution of arrests for the six most frequent charges across teams. The net (hard to find as this is busy): each frequent charge has one team with the most arrests for it. (Click to enlarge and look at the table below.)

It turns out each of the six most frequent charges has one team with the most arrests:

Charge Total Arrests Most Frequent Team
DUI 205 Minnesota (16 arrests, 2.3x more likely than the median)
Drugs 105 Jacksonville (8 arrests, 2.7x more likely than the median)
Domestic Violence 85 Denver (11 arrests, 5.5x more likely than the median)
Assault 76 Cincinnati (8 arrests, 4.0x more likely than the median)
Gun 56 Indianapolis (6 arrests, 3.0x more likely than the median)
Disorderly Conduct 46 Minnesota (7 arrests, 3.5x more likely than the median)

Of the most frequent charges, conviction rate varied enormously

The distribution of legal outcomes across the six of the most common criminal charges was virtually unchanged when compared to the distribution across all cases (see above). However, breaking down the most common criminal charges by legal outcome highlights very different ways those charged with these crimes navigate our legal system:

Distribution of legal outcomes for most frequent charge. The net: DUIs almos have "polar opposite" outcomes vis-a-vis Domestic Violence. (Click to enlarge.)
Distribution of legal outcomes for most frequent charge. The net: DUIs almos have “polar opposite” outcomes vis-a-vis Domestic Violence. (Click to enlarge.)

Note: in two cases (one for Assault and one for Gun charge) the accused player died before the case when to trial (or was resolved)

Some observations looking at the data

  • Conviction rate is highest with DUIs (50%) and lowest for Domestic Violence (19%). DUIs also had the highest acquittal rate (7%)
  • However, in Domestic Violence cases convictions (including plea agreements) outnumbered acquittals by a factor of 10x (19% to 2%)
  • Diversion Programs are used in Domestic Violence cases 5.2x more often than the other frequent violent crime, Assault. (Meanwhile, Assault cases are Dropped more often than others, followed by Domestic Violence as a close second

These sample sizes are large enough to show some definite variation in treatment of different criminal charges. It is an area I would dedicate more attention to were I in a public policy, team policy or crime prevention role (see my closing notes below.)

Next: Surprising patterns from player size, speed and strength