Connecticut police use-of-force report hampered by incomplete data
The first analysis of how Connecticut’s police officers use force in the course of their duties provides some insights, but officials on Thursday warned about drawing conclusions because of a lack of standards in data collection and incomplete participation among police departments.
The report, issued by the University of Connecticut’s Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy, collected data from nearly 1,300 use-of-force reports submitted by 60 police departments across the state for incidents in 2019 and 2020.
Connecticut is only the second state in the country, after New Jersey, to start collecting and independently analyzing use-of-force reports from all of its police departments.
But in a presentation to the Police Officer Standards and Training Council before the report was released to the public on Thursday, the institute’s director, Ken Barone, cautioned against drawing too many conclusions from the data or trying to compare departments because there was no standardized form to submit information when the program started in 2019.
So while some departments reported use-of-force incidents in which someone was just handcuffed, others reported incidents only when officers drew their guns or activated their Tasers, Barone said.
“Data collection is inexcusably deficient” to draw conclusions, the report states. “The data must be much more reliable and comprehensive before it can show any causal relationships based on race, ethnicity, gender, underlying behavior, or crime rates that might identify and explain any trends and disparities.”
Barone said a new law that went into effect July 1 of this year established a uniform report that all departments must submit. The hope is that, with a uniform reporting system, the data will be cleaner to analyze, he said.
But the existing data do provide some insights for the departments that participated.
Overall, officers used force at a rate of just over 1% of all arrests. There were 11 people shot and killed by police in 2019 and 2020.
People involved in a confrontation with police that led to use of force were more likely to be unarmed, Black, male, under 40 years old and not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, according to the report.
There were 649 incidents during which officers drew their Tasers, although they were actually used only 40% of the time.
The youngest person involved in a use-of-force incident was an 8-year-old boy, Barone said.
Among the report’s other findings:
- When compared to residential census data, Black and Hispanic males were more likely to be involved in reported use-of-force incidents by police. However, when compared to reported arrest statistics, the disparities decreased.
- Younger people between the ages of 18 and 40 were more likely to be involved in reported use of-force incidents than people over the age of 40.
- About 40% of individuals involved in a reported force incident were identified as under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs or possibly intoxicated.
- Most incidents where force was used (65%) involved only one police officer.
- The most common applications of force used by police were pressure point/control hold tactics and takedown maneuvers, which are generally used to control or subdue a non-compliant or aggressive individual.
- An overwhelming majority of persons involved in force incidents were unarmed (90% in 2019 and 85% in 2020).
Some departments not complying
While the law that was first passed in 2019 and updated in 2020 required all police departments to submit use of force reports to the UConn agency, there were nine departments that submitted none in either 2019 or 2020, including New Britain, Shelton and Torrington.
In 2019, 31 departments reported no incidents of force. That number dropped to 24 in 2020.
University of New Haven associate professor of criminal justice and former legislator Mike Lawlor, a member of the council, asked Barone why some departments apparently are ignoring the law and didn’t submit any reports for two years.
Barone said his staff did training sessions for every department on the new forms.
“So we trained every single department, just so that we’re clear — every single department sent somebody to participate in the training of the new system that needed to be complied with starting July 1,” Barone said.
Barone said because the law allows police departments to wait until the end of the calendar year to submit their use of force reports, it’s too early to tell if every department is now complying.
“We won’t know until the beginning of next year whether or not there are departments that continue to not be in compliance with the law,” Barone said. “I can tell you that some of the departments, although not all, that didn’t report in 2019 and 2020, we have seen reports submitted using the new form.”
Lawlor said there are no excuses for departments not to be complying with the mandate, particularly now that there is a standardized reporting system.
“There are outliers who apparently aren’t complying with the law. Why is that?” Lawlor said in an interview after the meeting. “Why are they ignoring the law when everybody else seems to be able to comply?”
In general, Lawlor said, it is too early to draw many conclusions from the data, mostly because it wasn’t standardized.
“It’s going to take a while to get everybody on the same page, reporting the same data, so we can compare apples to apples,” Lawlor said.
The state’s largest police departments submitted the most use-of-force reports. Bridgeport Police submitted 264 reports, followed by Waterbury with 229 and the state police with 181. New Haven police filed 161 reports, and Hartford, with 91 reports, round out the top five. Stamford reported 66.
Barone said departments were submitting data differently, so it’s not fair to compare departments. For example, Barone said, Bridgeport submitted forms for any instance when an officer came in physical contact with a suspect, while others only submitted forms when a weapon was drawn.
Barone said the other big issue with the data is that reports didn’t include any narrative of the circumstances surrounding the use-of-force event, which has now been rectified.
“There was no ability in this report to analyze sequence actions between police and the subject,” Barone said. “So in a perfect world, you would want to know that an officer began with verbal commands and then maybe they move to a physical force action, and then maybe they moved to, say, use of an electronic defense weapon. The way force data was reported in these two calendar years, we knew what force officers use, but it wasn’t clear the order in which the force is used, so we were left sort of guessing.”
Lawlor and other council members compared the new reporting requirement to 20 years ago, when police had to start reporting traffic enforcement data, and many were slow to submit.
“When it came to traffic stops, police were resistant at first, but now they realize that it can be helpful to have the data to analyze,” Lawlor said.
He believes the same thing will happen with the use of force data.
“I think eventually the data can be used to develop policies for training and within departments,” Lawlor said.