Report: Arrests Up, Use of Force Down

While there was an overall increase in arrests made by Austin Police last year, the overall rate of police use of force declined, according to a recent APD report

While there was an overall increase in arrests made by Austin Police in 2005 – up 6.7% over 2004 – the overall rate of police use of force declined by 4.5%, according to a report compiled last month by the APD. While police use of force increased against both whites and blacks (10.6% and 10.8%, respectively), the rate of force used against suspects per 1,000 arrests declined 4.3% for whites, while it increased 6.8% for blacks. (Overall, the arrest of white suspects increased 15.5%, while the number of arrests of blacks increased just 3.7%.) In contrast, the incidence of police use of force against Latino suspects declined 9%, as did the rate per 1,000 arrests.

According to the report, the increased use of force rate against blacks was driven by a "significant increase in the number of black subjects that used aggressive actions requiring force." Nonetheless, the report notes that, overall, "fewer black subjects were injured" as a result of police force. Nelson Linder, president of the Austin chapter of the NAACP, thinks that's nothing more than a rationalization. Nationally, he said, there is no data to back up an assertion that blacks are more combative with police. While Linder says he's "thankful [for the] overall reduction in force," he still finds the increased incidence of use of force against blacks – and the city's apparent explanation for the increase – "very problematic." (Linder says he is working on crunching the numbers for himself and that he finds it interesting that the Northeast Area Command saw such a significant reduction in use of force – from 114 reports in 2004 to 91 in 2005, a 20.2% drop. "I think that is something the department should explain – why such a large decrease there," he said, and not in other sectors of the city? APD spokesman Kevin Buchman says APD isn't sure what's behind the NEAC decrease but is in the process of "studying" the data.)

The department also reports that police use of Taser weapons has decreased nearly 36%, while officers reported a similar increase (31.3%) in the use of so-called soft-hand control techniques – including "escort holds" and pressure-point manipulation.

Still, as in years past, in 2005 officers working the Downtown Area Command, which includes the Sixth Street entertainment district, filed the most police use of force reports, 37.1%. Also unsurprisingly, and in keeping with past data, most incidents take place on the weekend (52%) and between 10pm and 3am (57.1%).

Overall, the numbers are encouraging, says Mike Sheffield, president of the Austin Police Association. "We have a city where [police] make well over 1 million [citizen] contacts per year," Sheffield said. "We notice that minorities have a disproportionate representation in arrest statistics, and people may assume that race is the issue, but it's not; it's poverty, and poverty generally equates to an increase in crime." Social factors – "lack of educational opportunity and lack of adequate health care" – are the real culprits, he says, "and it has not a lot to do" with race. "If we look at the overall context, we're doing a lot better job arresting more people and using less force than ever," he said. "To me, that's the crux of the story." To download a PDF of the APD's "2005 Annual Use of Force Report," click here.

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