The number of incidents that involved a D.C. police officer using force last year increased again, but at a much slower clip than in previous years.
The 64-page 2019 Use of Force report states that the total number of use of force incidents was up by less than 1% from the previous year. But the Metropolitan Police Department says incidents are up 84% since 2015, with more than half of them happening in the city’s 5th, 6th and 7th Police Districts. The Metropolitan Police Department is the D.C. police department.
D.C. Police said the primary reason for the spike has to do with the 2016 decision to add tactical takedowns to its definition of force. A spokesman said use of force incidents is down so far in 2020, and that 97 percent of all arrests this year have not required any force at all.
The 5th Police District primarily covers Ward 5 in Northeast D.C., while the other two districts are both east of the Anacostia River.
The department defines force as “any physical coercion used to effect, influence, or persuade an individual to comply with an order from an officer.”
In a city that’s 46% black, more than 90% of the incidents that saw a police officer use force involved someone who was black and 85% of the time it was someone who was male.
Those in their late 20s and early 30s were more likely to be subject to the use of force. Only 13% were over the age of 45, while 11% were under 18.
While those on the receiving end were likely to be younger Black men, more often than not it was younger white officers using force. Most of the time, the use of force involved either some sort of take down or a control hold, according to the report. Subjects were reportedly armed in 20% of use of force incidents.
Two-thirds of the time it was determined that when an officer used force against someone it was both justified and within department policy, the report says. Another 14% of the time it was justified, but allowed for what was considered “tactical improvement opportunity.” Almost 20% of the time, use of force was determined to be neither justified nor within department policy.
When an allegation of “excessive force” was made, 60% of the time it was unfounded, the report says.
D.C. Police recorded 10 incidents where officers opened fire on someone, resulting in one fatality — the lowest number since 2014. However, three of those shooting incidents were found to be “not justified,” including one where an officer used his service weapon to fire at two people he caught trying to steal wheels off his personal vehicle outside his Capitol Hill home. None of the bullets struck anyone.
Five other incidents are still under investigation.
The new report also looked at fatal vehicle pursuits for the first time and found there were a total of three fatal pursuits in 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively.
Two of those three pursuits were found to be “not justified, not within department policy,” including an incident in 2019 that led to the death of a Howard University student on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in Maryland.
That’s when police were chasing a suspected hit-and-run driver, who then struck a car driven by 27-year-old Brittany Burks, a dentistry student at Howard. She was stopped on the side of the parkway when 24-year-old Darnell Bassett rear-ended her during that chase. He later pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter.
The officers involved in that pursuit were cited for violating several policies while giving chase.