Burlington police disproportionately used force on black residents, new report shows

Published: 11/15/2019 11:18:01 PM
Modified: 11/15/2019 11:17:46 PM

BURLINGTON — Black individuals were the subjects in more than a fifth of the cases where Burlington police used of force, despite making up only 6% of the city’s population, according to a report the department released Friday.

BPD used force in 1,639 incidents between 2012 and 2018 — during that same time, police made 14,068 arrests and responded to 240,137 incidents, according to the report.

Four African American men sued the department earlier this year alleging police brutality, and body camera footage released by the department showed officers pushing and tackling the men. The Burlington City Council established a special committee to review police policies, and the committee’s work is ongoing.

The report emphasized that the department responds to approximately 30,000 incidents and calls for service each year, meaning that force is used in less than 1% of all incidents. Use-of-force incidents have decreased by 40% in the last seven years, according to the report.

“This is a record of which this Department is proud, and on which it can build,” Deputy Police Chief Jon Murad said a statement released with the report.

But that statistic is only one point of comparison. John Jay Criminal Justice Institute professor Jon Shane said another benchmark could be the degree of force used compared against the number of arrests made.

“It’s not inaccurate, but it depends on what you’re trying to display,” he said.

The rate of force per arrests has risen since 2015, when it was used at a rate of nine per 100 arrests, according to BPD data. It was about 12 per 100 arrests in 2018.

The rate also rose compared with the number of offenses Burlington reported.

Use-of-force subjects were injured in 1 in 5 instances, and officers were most likely to use force downtown late at night.

A black person who was arrested between 2012 and 2018 was 22% more likely to have force used on him of her versus a white person in that same time span.

Physical force was used more with white suspects than black suspects, though the report also found that officers were more likely to point a firearm at a black subject than a white subject.

Physical force was used against 64% of white use-of-force subjects and 50% of black use-of-force subjects, while firearms were pointed at 25% of white use-of-force subjects and 39% of black use-of-force subjects.

The department believes that this disparity is caused by “firearm display only” incidents where firearms are pointed at a subject but no other force is used, according to the report.

One-third of black use-of-force subjects were involved in this type of incident, which the department attributed to search warrant executions or incidents involving a violent felony suspect. Only one-fifth of white use-of-force subjects were involved in firearm-display-only incidents.

The percentage of black people who are suspects and arrestees is also higher than the overall black population in the city, as 18% of suspects and 17% of arrestees are black.

Use of force covers any officer action “beyond that of persuasion.” Both firing a gun and grabbing a suspect’s wrist have to reported, as does displaying a firearm. Pepper spray and pointing a firearm are the two most common uses of force, according to the report.

Incidents of force have fallen from a high of 317 in 2012 to 191 in 2018, the lowest number recorded in the last six years.

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