Frederick police have gradually increased their use of force in recent years, with Black people being the subject of nearly half of all uses of force, according to annual reports.
Total use of force incidents reported by city police more than doubled from 58 incidents in 2016 to 144 reported the next year, according to an examination of the department’s data. Since then, use of force incidents have increased every year, capping off at 174 last year, the data shows.
The reports also indicate that Black and African-Americans make up a much higher number of individuals subjected to force compared to their representation in population estimates. While Black people only made up about 18 percent of the city’s population in 2019 Census estimates, they accounted for about 45 percent of the individuals force was used on in the police department’s records for 2019.
The department is scheduled to address its use of force data in a presentation to the mayor and Board of Aldermen during its virtual workshop Wednesday.
The department maintains that no troubling trends were noted “based on any particular characteristic of race, sex, or ethnicity,” in its 2019 use of force summary.
Lt. Sean Carr, who commands the agency’s Professional Services Division that oversees use of force data collection, said comparing population data to arrest or force data is irrelevant as city residency does not factor into how officers make judgments in potential force scenarios.
“The numbers in the report reflect only arrests and are not intertwined with the residency of any citizen. The Frederick Police Department responds to many calls and self-initiated activity with individuals who reside both within the city limits as well as outside the city limits,” Carr stated in an email response to The Frederick News-Post’s questions. “The residence of the individual has no direct correlation with the officer’s response as every interaction is dynamic and individualistic.”
But while residency may be irrelevant to the department, Black people still made up about 49 percent of the individuals city officers reported using force on in 2018 and about 43 percent of those subjected to force in 2017, the department’s data shows.
Carr cited the many steps the department takes to evaluate each use of force against the department’s training and policies.
Every use of force is reviewed by the chain of command, Training Unit and Professional Services Division of the officer who used force, Carr wrote. The review will determine if the use of force followed compliance.
While the police department has more cases of use of force than previous years, the number of complaints has remained relatively steady. The department received six complaints about use of force in 2019, down from nine in 2018 and eight in 2017.
But Willie Mahone, the president of the Frederick County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, disagrees with Carr’s assertion that the department is fair and equal with respect to race, pointing at the use of force numbers as proof.
“I think we have a racialized policing and that’s not something new. I think maybe about 15 years ago we looked at reports in terms of [traffic] stops and it showed the same thing,” Mahone said when reached for comment about the numbers. “Either that or there is something inherent in the African-American community that somehow warrants a different kind of policing.”
Mahone said he believes the numbers themselves aren’t as important as they would be with additional context, such as the types of calls which led to uses of force and how race is reflected in that breakdown, or the types of force used by race.
While both the Frederick Police Department and the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office provide analysis in their use of force reports of the most common types of force used and call types, neither agency broke those categories down further into race or ethnicity in their published reports.
“I think the data on its face raises questions, but I think there needs to be further delving and additional inquiry into these incidents, because it would give us a better understanding of the situation,” Mahone said.
While use of force incidents by county sheriff’s deputies dropped from 143 in 2018 to just 115 last year, the agency’s data also showed Blacks and African-Americans made up a higher number of those subjected to force than their representation in the county’s population.
Of the 75 people who were subjected to force by sheriff’s deputies last year, 25 were Black, according to the sheriff’s office’s annual report on use of force for 2019. Black men and women also made up 43 percent of those subjected to force by deputies in 2018. According to 2019 Census estimates, Black residents make up about 10 percent of the county’s overall population.
Addressing those numbers, Lt. Col. Scot Hopkins pointed out that, while the majority of the county’s population is white, the sheriff’s office receives more calls for service from the southern portion of the county, which is also where the most use of force incidents occurred, according to the 2019 report.
“Those areas there have more of a diverse community than the rest of the county and we’ve got more deputies deployed there due to the higher volume of calls that we receive from that area,” Hopkins said. “There are more businesses that call us more often, there are more crashes, just more calls for service in general.”
Hopkins and Lt. Jason Null, who compiles the sheriff’s office’s annual use of force reports, also pointed out the strict oversight and review that the agency dedicates to each use of force reported by a deputy. In much the same way city police review their own data, reports from officers who have used force are passed along to their supervisors and reviewed for compliance along with other information from the call.
Beyond that, annual force reports are also used to try to reduce future uses of force, Null said. For example, if the agency notices a higher number of force incidents stemming from calls that involve people suffering a mental health crisis, commanders can use that data to direct more training for deputies to better handle those types of calls, he said.
“Ultimately, how do you reduce use of force? There are going to be some times where force has to be used, and that’s not decided by the deputy, that can be something that is decided by the individual that we’re dealing with ... But it comes down to training,” Null said. “You can reduce it by de-escalation training, by being able to talk to people, especially people going through a mental health crisis.”
Mahone also posited several ideas for reducing uses of force and helping local law enforcement build trust within minority communities. In addition to a closer examination of the use of force numbers, which Mahone suggested as a step that can take place immediately, independent civilian review boards with some level of oversight and authority to review allegations of misconduct would also help.
“We need community control of police, and that warrants discussion, because there are different models in different jurisdictions, but ultimately it involves having community representatives involved in all aspects of policing, and that includes the hiring of police officers and the discipline of police, including the chief of police and other critical aspects of the policing,” Mahone said.
Local law enforcement officials, including former Frederick police Chief Ed Hargis and representatives with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 91, a union that represents city officers, have expressed reluctance and opposition to such independent boards in the past, saying civilians lack the training and experience to properly oversee officers. But, Mahone said he feels that community oversight is critical.
“Police officers are responsible to the community itself,” Mahone said.