Colorado Springs police reported using force at a disproportionate rate against Black people — at a percentage that’s about four times greater than their portion of the city’s population, according to a Gazette analysis of data from the department.
Nearly a quarter of the department’s use of force reports in 2019 involved a person whom officers identified as Black. The city’s Black residents represent 6.5% of the population recorded by the U.S. Census.
Similar trends existed in 2018, when 25% of use of force reports involved a Black person and in 2017, the reports involving a Black person totaled 22%, according to police data published on its website and Census records.
Fifty-six percent of use of force reports involved a white person in 2019, police data show, while the Census reported 69% of the Colorado Springs’ population to be white.
“The No. 1 thing: there’s a disparity,” said David Pyrooz, a criminology expert at University of Colorado Boulder who reviewed the data for The Gazette. “I think there are very few cities across the United States where you don’t see racial or ethnic disparities in use of force.
“What it can’t tell us is whether that’s representative of discriminatory practices on the part of the Colorado Springs police department,” Pyrooz noted.
Police use of force has been a contentious issue in Colorado Springs for years, spurring protests outside police headquarters in downtown Colorado Springs after 19-year-old De’Von Bailey, who was Black, was shot four times in the back while fleeing police in July 2019, and more recently, last summer’s weeks-long demonstrations by residents protesting the death of George Floyd — a Black man who was killed by Minneapolis police.
A grand jury declined to file charges against the two officers accused in Bailey’s death, concluding they were justified in their use of force. In April, a jury found Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murder. Three other officers in Minneapolis await trial.
Since Bailey’s death, a group of citizens has advocated for increased transparency and civilian oversight models. Floyd’s death sped up the process, leading to the creation of the Law Enforcement and Accountability Transmission last June.
“We know that the primary reason that we were even formed under city council was because of use of force as it pertained to the De’Von Bailey case,” said JJ Frazier, co-chairwoman of the council-appointed commission. The commission’s creation allows Frazier and the 10 other commissioners to present recommendations to council members, who can then make recommendations to the mayor on police policies and protocols.
Use of force has been a priority of the commission since its inception, Frazier said.
While police already review the department’s use of force data and have an internal team designated to do so, the department said it hired a contractor to better understand the data and determine to what extent it reflects disparities. Results from the analysis are expected by the end of the year, police said, and when completed, the contractor will present its findings in a public forum.
Colorado Springs police officials declined to comment specifically on the racial disparities in its use of force data.
Using population “is not a scientifically and statistically proven comparison method,” said a police spokeswoman who referred The Gazette to the department’s website in response to an interview request.
“It is like comparing apples and oranges,” the website states. “… If a higher percentage of Black men are found in police use of force data than the city population, that is not enough information to say police are unfair or biased. Again, it doesn’t answer our question.”
Transparency Matters, LLC., an independent consulting firm, will use its analysis to compare CSPD’s use-of-force data to similar cities and provide possible reasons for any disparities that are found, police said. It will also make recommendations for future data collection that could be used by police to help clarify reasons for any disparities.
Data shows that there was less of a disparity among use of force reports that involved people whom officers identified as Hispanic, Asian, American Indian/Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian. The number of those reports nearly matched with Census population data.
In 2019, 18% of use of force reports involved a Hispanic person and less than 1% of reports involved Asian, American Indian/Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian people, respectively, according to police data.
Colorado Springs police officers are required to document any kind of physical force they use to try to make a person comply. Between 2017 and 2019, police filed 2,122 reports to document instances in which police used force, including firing a Taser, using a baton, firing rubber bullets, striking, or kicking someone, using pepper spray, firing a weapon and positioning their patrol car to stop another car in a chase. One incident could have multiple force reports, according to the department.
In 2019, about 64% of officers filed at least one force report, according to the Colorado Springs Police Department website.
While the accountability commission members continue to learn more about the data and the department’s policies, Frazier said she can’t anticipate what recommendations commissioners will make to city council.
“It is in everyone’s interest for transparency and fairness to be utilized in the application of use of force,” Frazier said in an email. “Therefore, as the (commission) continues to examine this complex issue, we would appreciate everyone’s patience.”
According to the department’s use of force policy, it “values the use of de-escalation techniques to avoid or minimize force when the use of such techniques is reasonable, safe, and appropriate for the situation.”
While it is the department’s “ultimate objective” to avoid or reduce injury, “nothing in this policy requires an officer to avoid the use of appropriate lawful force,” the policy states.
During a May 17 accountability commission meeting, several officers explained the department’s use of force policies in one of several sessions on the topic. The public will be able to ask questions and share concerns after the commissioners have completed their sessions with members of the police department.
To understand what is causing the disparities, Pyrooz said it is imperative to examine police interactions on an individual basis. Reviewing body camera footage would be one way to do that, he said.
“That would give you a pretty good sense of what triggers use of force on the behalf of police and whether that is a reflection of citizen behavior or overly aggressive police behavior,” he said.
It would also be important to look at the prevalence of policing in certain parts of the city, he said.
“It could be that there are police practices zeroing in on the Black community,” the professor said. “That could be due to socioeconomic differences, to community differences, violence, and so on that brings about police response in those communities.”
The data published on the department’s website was a recent addition which officials said was designed to bolster transparency and accountability. The data do not specify which type of force was used or the extent of a person’s injury, but list several reasons why force was initiated, including actively resisting arrest, verbally threatening an officer, physically attacking an officer and for showing “pre-attack indicators, and the officer’s unit.
The department plans to add 2020 use of force data to the website by the end of the month, a police spokeswoman said.
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