New Study: Rarity Of Police Use of Force & Severe Suspect Injuries Confirmed

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Contrary to the prevailing depiction of police in virtually every news cycle, a new study confirms once again that use of force by officers is actually a rare occurrence.

A research team headed by Dr. William Bozeman of the Dept. of Emergency Medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina reviewed police and available medical records for every UOF incident occurring at three mid-size law enforcement agencies in three states across a two-year period.

“Every type of police force-modality was tracked,” Bozeman writes, including soft and hard empty-hand physical control, CEWs, chemical weapons, batons and improvised impact weapons, K-9s, less-lethal projectiles, firearms, and even foot and vehicle pursuits.


Among the researchers’ findings:

  • Out of 1,041,737 calls for service, only one in every 1,167 involved the use of force, for a rate of 0.086 percent. Among criminal arrests, the UOF incident rate was 0.78 percent, 1 in every 128. (Some incidents involved more than one suspect and more than one application of force.)
  • Empty-hand physical force and CEW use “were the two most common force modalities used, representing 50.8 percent and 36 percent respectively,” Bozeman reports. “Traditional intermediate force options such as pepper spray and impact weapons were not commonly used, representing 6.3 percent and 0.6 percent of force utilizations. Firearms were used in 0.4 percent of force utilizations.”
  •  “Overall, 98 percent of suspects had mild or no observed injury after police UOF,” Bozeman writes. “[M]inor injuries are not unexpected as a consequence of violent resistance or struggling with police, and are managed on an outpatient basis with a very low likelihood of complications or long-term disability.”
  •  Less than one half of 1 percent (0.4 percent) of subjects were severely injured. “There were no significant injuries” from CEW or chemical weapon use” and only one fatality from gunshot wounds. Unarmed physical force resulted in over one third of the significant injuries seen in the study, including head injuries and bone fractures. Still, the likelihood of physical control “producing a significant injury remains less than 1percent.”
  • “With over 500 uses resulting in no significant injuries, these data suggest that CEW use is the force option least likely to result in significant suspect injury,” Bozeman notes.
  • Of 78 suspects hospitalized after a force incident, only one quarter were admitted because of injuries related to the use of force. The vast majority were admitted “because of medical, trauma, or psychiatric reasons unrelated to UOF,” the research team’s medical experts concluded.

The study, titled “Injuries Associated with Police Use of Force,” appears in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery. Click here for a free abstract, along with a link to access the full report for a fee.

Dr. Bozeman can be reached at: wbozeman@wakehealth.edu

Our thanks to Dr. Mark Kroll, an adjunct professor of biomedical engineering at the U. of Minnesota and the California Polytechnical Institute, for alerting us to this study.

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