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Internal report shows players' crime rates down 39 percent

Player arrests are down significantly this year, but the NFL has had difficulty gaining cooperation during investigations into player misconduct, an internal league report obtained by espnW showed.

A year after high-profile conduct-related cases sent the NFL reeling, a letter to team owners from the chairman of the league's new personal conduct committee, formed on Dec. 10, 2014, as part of an overhaul of the personal conduct policy, details the challenges the league faces in implementing new provisions.

The NFL is leading the way on character issues, making a difference in how domestic violence and sexual assault are perceived in the culture at large, a report from committee chairman and Arizona Cardinals president Mike Bidwill says. Yet an ongoing challenge for the conduct committee in the past year has been the NFL's own investigation into potential code of conduct violations.

"The committee is cognizant that, as a private employer, the league is taking on a challenge most other employers do not assume," the letter reads.

The good news for the league is that there have been fewer cases to look into. In the past year, overall crime rates for NFL players are down by 39 percent, Bidwill reports, in the wake of ongoing training on the subjects of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and drunken driving.

According to the report: "Between 2007 and 2014, the league averaged approximately 70 arrest incidents annually for players, 20 for violent and 50 for non-violent conduct. Since Jan. 1, 2015, there have been 11 arrests for violent offenses and 28 for nonviolent offenses, a 44 percent decrease in total arrests from the historic average, and a 39 percent decrease in total arrests as compared to the same period in 2014."

Last year the league created a unit to oversee investigations, led by former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives director Todd Jones and former prosecutor Lisa Friel, who were hired in the wake of Ray Rice's suspension for punching his then-fiancée in an elevator. The league was greatly criticized for not getting a copy of the elevator video, especially when TMZ was able to acquire it.

"The league is constrained by the fact that it is not a law enforcement agency and lacks subpoena power or other authority to secure an interview or other physical evidence without cooperation," the committee tells owners. "Often alleged perpetrators and victims are not willing to be interviewed if a case is pending in the criminal justice system."

The league has had difficulty gaining the cooperation of witnesses and alleged victims in some cases, as well as law enforcement. There have been cases closed by the NFL because of a lack of evidence, but the league retains the ability to reopen cases if new evidence is uncovered or if a witness comes forward with additional information.

"There's no question in my mind that the league gets a much fuller picture of these incidents than a year ago," Friel said. "Although we don't have subpoena power we're still able to get a lot of evidence.

"I think we will have a much better idea with a few more years of data, but that's a significant decrease. A 39 percent decrease is really significant, and I think that's a result of all the education we have done, and that education has been reinforced by the clubs."

Bidwell notes that the committee also has been able to work with the NFL Players Association, a relationship that has been contentious in the past.

"We are glad that there is a greater cooperation with the NFL on these issues, but that is only because we have been strong enough to hold them accountable to the CBA," George Atallah, NFLPA assistant executive director, said. "The better way forward is to negotiate and agree to a comprehensive new personal conduct policy that includes neutral arbitration and greater transparency on these issues. Once the majority shareholders of the clubs commit to this, we are sure it will happen."

The NFLPA appealed or filed suit in the cases of Rice, Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson. The players have won those appeals based on the retroactive application of penalties in the new policy or other inconsistencies in the way the league handled cases. Going forward, there are no more cases that fit into that time period.

Friel said the league had to decide to handle the cases that took place before the new policy was put into effect and decided to investigate those as thoroughly as it could.

"We've been busy, but I think the thoroughness and expertise we brought to the investigations has brought a lot of respect to the process," Friel said.

The league's expectation is that the new policy can be implemented fully now, while the NFLPA contends that, as a new policy that was not collectively bargained, there is more negotiating to be done. Both the NBA and MLB negotiated their conduct policy with counterparts in the unions and, after a penalty is determined, have the right to appeal to a neutral arbiter. NFL appeals go back to the office of commissioner Roger Goodell.

In terms of outreach, the league has invested time and money in taking what it has learned about anti-violence efforts to the college, high school and middle school level. The NFL's foundation put $1.5 million toward character education programs aimed at students in high school and middle school.

The NFL continues a comprehensive training program for all players, coaches and staff members, and this year it was held during training camp to reach the maximum number of rostered players. The league consulted with 150 experts in their field to put the conduct policy together.

From the report: "It is also important to put this report in context by noting that the vast majority of NFL employees support and meet the high standards set by the league, and have always done so. This reality can be obscured in discussions of personal conduct, particularly when they involve NFL players."

Some other notable items:

• Expansion of individual services for alleged perpetrators and victims

• Teams are now obligated to report to the league office any possible code violations

• The league is investing in sophisticated data analysis that it hopes will identify behavioral trends that will allow NFL to intervene before players engage in misconduct

• The league is working to settle investigations more quickly

• All NFL teams are working with local domestic violence groups

• Next areas of focus will be alcohol- and weapons-related offenses