With addition of new category, 2020 sees slight increase in RCPD uses of force

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Savannah Rattanavong, The Manhattan Mercury, Kan.
·3 min read
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Apr. 20—Use of force by Riley County police increased slightly in 2020 from 2019 by about 4%, according to an internal report and analysis.

Officials said Monday the increase is because they are now tracking the pointing of Tasers as a new category.

Officials pulled information from use-of-force reports filed in the last calendar year for its compilation report, examining each one for every application of force during a particular incident. The report said at least six department members analyze each use of force to "ensure all actions were reasonable and within policy."

RCPD Director Dennis Butler and Capt. Brad Jager shared the report's findings with the Riley County police board on Monday.

Butler said in general, an officer may use force in a situation when someone ignores a verbal command from an officer before being detained or arrested and the person resists. He said officers may use strength to grab them, or use pepper spray, a Taser, impact weapon or firearm.

In 2020, the department recorded 106 total incidents in which officers used force and 329 applications of force; 2019 saw 100 incidents with 316 applications of force.

The report additionally included data from 2018, with 91 incidents and 271 applications, and 2017, with 122 incidents and 241 applications.

Butler said the increase is not dramatic, but the department last year began tracking the pointing of Tasers, not just the deployment of them, as an example of use of force. It recorded 47 instances of pointing Tasers in 2020.

"In the report it shows a pretty drastic decrease in calls for service during 2020 (about 50,300 in 2019 and 42,700 in 2020), which, while we haven't studied this or analyzed it, we're pretty sure it's connected to the lockdown and a lot of our crime activities and accidents declined significantly," Butler said. "So one might wonder, 'Well, if you have had such a dramatic decline in calls for service, why would you see any increase at all in the application of use of force?' And again that can be explained by now we're tracking pointing of a Taser, which we never did before."

Jager said the department compiles the information not only to show to the public but also to use in guiding how it trains its officers and staff members.

"For the most part, it has remained consistent among the years," he said. "There was (an increase) with the pointing of the tasers, but when you remove these, we actually had a decrease in use-of-force applications."

In 2020's 106 incidents, its most common type of incidents in which force was applied included domestic violence (25), suicidal or mental health emergencies (20), batteries or fights (14) and traffic incidents (11).

Using body strength was the most common type of force reported with about 140 applications, and pressure point techniques and pepper spray were the next most common at about 30 applications each.

Arrests led as the most common type of detention following use of force with 63 incidents, down from 70 in 2019. There also were 25 incidents involving restraint and detention, an increase from 19 in 2019, and 18 protective custody detentions, up from 11 in 2019.

"Force is used at a significantly higher rate during protective custody incidents when compared to arrests," the report said. "In 2019, there were 43 protective custody reports filed and force was used 26% (11) of the time. In 2020, there were 36 protective custody reports filed and force was used 50% (18) of the time. There are a multitude of factors that likely contribute to the higher usage of force during protective custody incidents. The largest factor is the unstable nature of the incident and an individual's capacity to fully understand the situation or comply with directives. The training section will continue to train and educate our officers on mental illness and de-escalation tactics."

The report said officers are trained to gain compliance through verbal discussion or commands before resorting to force. The full report can be viewed in the April police board meeting packet on RCPD's website.