The 4th, Force and Freedom (and a new COPS Report)

There can be no better time to release a report on police use of force than in the run-up to Independence Day.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

The police are the only agents of government who will come to my house for anything.  All I have to do is punch 3 digits on a phone.  Then, no matter how dangerous or how stupid my request seems to be, the government’s best-trained agents, authorized by me to take life and/or liberty (that includes mine) in lawful pursuit of their lawful duties, will fly to my side. So considerations of how, when, how often and why police use force seems especially appropriate around the 4th.

The COPS Office and the IACP have published a report on use of force by police officers.  The report is entitled, “EMERGING USE OF FORCE ISSUES: Balancing Public and Officer Safety.”  The study bears out one more time:

1) The rarity with which police use any kind of force in encounters with the public

2) The ways in which a history of mistrust between police and communities of color still influences public perceptions of the police use of force and police legitimacy.

To paraphrase Churchill: Never has so much influence been exerted on so many people and relationships by so few incidents.  In this post I have included also a CBS news summary of the DOJ’s study of the use of deadly force, released in 2010. Use of force will always be controversial in a free society.  The reports excerpted here provide some fact foundation for what should be an ongoing conversation between police and community.

Please read these excerpts and think about how police might enhance legitimacy.  Howard Lebowitz of the Massachusetts  Municipal Police Training Committee (MPTC) have been been working with the guidance of thoughtful police leaders on a curriculum on procedural justice for police supervisors.  It’s entitled “Closing the Gap.”  The gap to which the title refers is the one between police and community perceptions and realities.

Executive Summary of the COPS/IACP report
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 40 million persons had contact with police during the most recent year for which data was gathered (2008). An estimated 776,000 (1.9 percent) of the 40 million contacted respondents reported the use or threatened use of force at least once during these contacts. (I believe 40 million is a very conservative number.)

CBS News report, 2010

“More than 2,000 criminal suspects died in police custody over a three-year period, half of them killed by officers as they scuffled or attempted to flee.

“The study by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics is the first nationwide compilation of the reasons behind arrest-related deaths in the wake of high-profile police assaults or killings involving Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo in New York in the late 1990s.

“The review found 55 percent of the 2,002 arrest-related deaths from 2003 through 2005 were due to homicide by state and local law enforcement officers. Alcohol and drug intoxication caused 13 percent of the deaths, followed by suicides at 12 percent, accidental injury at 7 percent and illness or natural causes, 6 percent. The causes of the deaths for the remaining 7 percent were unknown.

“The highly populated states of California, Texas and Florida led the pack for both police killings and overall arrest-related deaths. Georgia, Maryland and Montana were not included in the study because they did not submit data.

“Most of those who died in custody were men (96 percent) between the ages of 18 and 44 (77 percent). Approximately 44 percent were white; 32 percent black; 20 percent Hispanic; and 4 percent were of other or multiple races.

“‘Keep in mind we have 2,000 deaths out of almost 40 million arrests over three years, so that tells you by their nature they are very unusual cases,'” said Christopher J. Mumola, who wrote the study.

“‘Still, they do need to be looked at to determine whether police training can be better or practices can be better,’ he said.”

And more from the COPS/IACP report:
“These facts stand in stark contrast to the public perception of the frequency and appropriateness of force used by the police. In large part, the public perception of police use of force is framed and influenced by the media depictions, which present unrealistic and often outlandish representations of law enforcement and the policing profession. Nightly, police dramas and news programs show officer-involved shootings, high speed chases, and trips to the morgue to recover microscopic evidence. These myths are further reinforced in popular books and film.

“Yet data produced regularly by government agencies and researchers who analyze the actions of law enforcement argue against this “made for television” or “ripped from the headlines” narrative that has skewed the public ideas of law enforcement. These reports describe a reality of law enforcement with regards to use of force that starkly contradicts the public perception. As a result of these misconceptions, the public has raised questions regarding police use of force practices. In turn, law enforcement has raised concerns about the public’s support of the public safety mission.
“In response to this complex environment impacting the critical relationship between police and the communities they serve, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) in partnership with the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) held a symposium that focused on police use of force. The primary goal of the meeting was to achieve consensus surrounding core use of force issues, identifying those topics of particular urgency, and proposing effective strategies that respond to the most critical areas of concern.

“In preparation for the symposium law enforcement professionals, use of force experts, and use of force researchers were identified and told to expect they would examine a wide range of topics, to include:
◾ Current use of force issues and concerns of law enforcement leaders ◾ Use of force policy and training advancement over the past 5 years ◾ Recent use of force incidents or issues that have affected law enforcement approach ◾ Use of force litigation and risk management from a local agency perspective ◾ New and emerging research on use of force at the university and law enforcement level ◾ Concerns about use of force that merit further exploration and investigation

“This publication presents a summary of discussions that took place during the Use of Force Symposium, key findings identified by the group, and recommendations for further action. The following suggested actions are systemic and would require funding support and collaboration between the IACP, the COPS Office, and any number of more private or public organizations to achieve successful completion. To further the good work done at the symposium, IACP and the COPS Office will be discussing the following recommendations shortly to determine possible courses of action to implement them:
◾ Develop a model communications strategy for law enforcement on the topic of use of force
◾ Develop a national media guide to inform the public regarding the necessity to use appropriate force in furtherance of public safety
◾ Develop a sustainable online resource library detailing programs and summaries of approaches that have proven to build better relationships between police and their communities
◾ Propose national use of force reporting standards
◾ Collect data and conduct annual national use of force analysis
◾ Conduct evaluation of use of force issues for the mid-size and small police agency
◾ Charge a single government sponsored entity with responsibility for disseminating real-time data describing violence directed at police
◾ Develop and fund a use of force management institute for police leaders ◾ Develop use of force management publication for city/town or municipal governance
◾ Survey to determine nationally the current spectrum of use of force training ◾ Develop model in-service use of force training ◾ Validate use of force in-service training in pilot departments ◾ Survey to evaluate the use of force mindset of police
◾ Support efforts such as the Department of Justice’s Officer Safety and Wellness Group, IACP’s National Center for the Prevention of Violence Against the Police (NCPVAP) and the FBI’s Law Enforcement Officer Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) program to collect, evaluate, discuss, and publish real-time, data that speaks to trends in violence directed against police.”



About stephenomeara

My name is Jim Jordan. I have had the privilege of working with the Boston Police Department and hundreds more departments over my nearly 30-year career in police administration and city government. I am now teaching and consulting independently at I have learned the best of what I know from the thousands of smart, dedicated and ethical police personnel and scholars who have guided me along the way. My address is named for the great Reform commissioner of the Boston Police at the turn of the 20th century. Commissioner O'Meara died just a short while before the Strike in 1919. He was replaced by a vicious puppet (of Gov. Coolidge) named Edwin U. Curtis. Had O'Meara lived events may have turned out quite differently.
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