Over the past 20 years, author­i­ties have made more than a quarter of a bil­lion arrests, the Fed­eral Bureau of Inves­ti­ga­tion esti­mates. As a result, the FBI cur­rently has 77.7 mil­lion indi­vid­uals on file in its master crim­inal database—or nearly one out of every three Amer­ican adults.

In 2011, the most recent year for which fig­ures are avail­able, the Bureau of Jus­tice Sta­tis­tics put the number of full-​​time equiv­a­lent sworn state and local police offi­cers at 646,213—up from 531,706 in 1991.

A crack­down on what seemed like an out-​​of-​​control crime rate in the late 1980s and early 1990s made sense at the time, says Jack Levin, co-​​director of the Brud­nick Center on Vio­lence and Con­flict at Boston’s North­eastern University.

Zero-​​tolerance policing spread across the country after the 1990s because of the ter­rible crime problem in late ‘80s and early 1990s,” says Mr. Levin.

The push to put an addi­tional 100,000 more offi­cers on the streets in the 1990s focused on urban areas where the crime rates were the highest, says Mr. Levin. And there has been suc­cess, he says, as crime rates have fallen and the murder rate has dropped.

But as a con­se­quence, “you’ve got these large num­bers of people now who are stig­ma­tized,” he says. “The impact of so many arrests is catastrophic.”

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