New Study: Some Notable Patterns In Officer Use of Force Injuries

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A study of a year’s worth of force reports in one major US police department reveals some interesting patterns of officer injuries in non-shooting confrontations.

The review was led by Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, an epidemiologist with the University of Texas School of Public Health who specializes in violence prevention and injury. Her team included Dr. Steve Bishopp, a sergeant with Dallas PD.

The researchers analyzed 2,244 UOF reports, exclusive of shootings by or at officers, which by mandate must be completed every time a Dallas officer uses force “greater than compliant handcuffing.” The team sorted filings from 1,028 individual officers into four broad categories: verbal direction, including commands and “combat stance”; soft empty-hand control, including pressure points and threatened use of a CEW; hard empty-hand control, such as joint locks and “weapon display at person”; and intermediate weapon use, including “pepperball saturation and TASER deployment.”

Most officers (87%) who reported using force were male and non-Hispanic whites (58%). Forty per cent had been with DPD for fewer than five years and 13% recorded more than four UOF experiences during the year studied. Of suspects involved, nearly 80% were male and more than half were non-Hispanic blacks.

Out of 2,244 total reports, 10% “disclosed that an officer was injured,” the researchers found. Many hurts (38%) were just abrasions or swelling (20%), but 2% of officer injuries resulted in hospitalizations and some officers reported fractures and bites. Close to 2/3 of officers injured had multiple UOF encounters during the study period, with nearly 30% submitting four or more UOF reports. Up to 13 injuries were said to have occurred per incident.

Not surprisingly, Jetelina writes that “the odds of officer injury were significantly higher among active aggressive citizens.” Perhaps more notable were these other findings:

  • The odds of officer injury were significantly lower “when [a suspect] displayed a weapon,” the team reports. Jetelina speculates that this “suggests that DPD officers are employing tactical [maneuvers] by increasing distance and time, if possible, upon encountering a suspect with a weapon [and thus preventing] premature and unnecessary physical force which leads to officer injuries.”
  • Black officers were “significantly less likely to use verbal commands and hard empty-hand control than non-Hispanic white officers.”
  • Officers with less than 10 years’ experience “were significantly more likely to use verbal commands and soft empty-hand control and less likely to use hard empty-hand control or intermediate weapons than officers with more than 10 years on the force.”
  • Officers with five to 10 years on the job were “significantly more likely to sustain an injury than officers with less than five years of tenure.”
  • Proportionately, male officers were “significantly less likely to sustain an injury.”
  • “[O]fficers were more likely to use verbal commands in interactions with non-Hispanic black citizens compared with non-Hispanic white citizens.”
  • Of particular importance, the researchers emphasized, was their finding that “gradual escalation of use of force [was] shown to reduce police officer injury in high stress, high anxiety calls….” The study concludes: “Police departments should continue to train and educate police officers on the importance of gradual escalation of force when appropriate.

“This is especially evident among police officers with greater tenure who were less likely to gradually move through the force continuum…. [O]fficers, and likely citizens, directly benefit from gradual escalation in terms of injury incidence and this only highlights the importance and need of de-escalation techniques….”

The study appears in the journal Injury Prevention, under the title “Gradual escalation of use-of-force reduces police officer injury.” You can see a free abstract by clicking here. The full report can be accessed for a fee at that site as well.

Our thanks to Lt. Glen Mills of the Burlington (MA) PD for alerting us to this study.

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