DC police should reduce ‘racial disparities’ in use of force, report says

An independent agency that reviews complaints against D.C. police officers released a report Monday calling on the Metropolitan Police Department to “reduce racial disparities” after noting that 91% of people subjected to police use of force in 2020 were Black.

Takedowns and control holds were the most common types of force, accounting for 64% of all use of force cases, according to the Office of Police Complaints. D.C. police officers fired at nine people last year, killing two. Out of those nine people, eight were Black men.

“This blatant overrepresentation illustrates the systemic racism present in police departments,” the Office of Police Complaints said in its report. “MPD needs to implement strong and more effective racial bias training for all employees and make it a specific goal to reduce racial disparities.”

According to the OPC, Black civilians have made up 89% to 91% of all use of force incidents in D.C. since the office first started tracking such cases.

“This occurs despite Black civilians comprising roughly 43% of all D.C. residents,” said the OPC. “White individuals in D.C. make up 37% of all community members, but only represent 3% of all uses of force.”

Overall, the agency said that reported use of force incidents dropped by 22% last year when compared to 2019.

A total of 1,098 officers reported using force last year.

According to the report, nearly 70 officers reported using force at least five times and seven officers reported using force 10 times or more.

“Officer use of force was reported most in the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Districts, which together accounted for 59% of all reported use of force incidents,” the OPC said.

Officers reported pointing their firearms at subjects 400 times in 2020, a 27% increase over 2019.

“While this could be an unintended side-effect of COVID-19 and social distancing, there appears to have been a shift toward police officers pointing their firearms more often,” the OPC said.

The office urged the police department to start categorizing the “pointing of a firearm” as use of force, which it currently does not do.

“It is important to consider officers pointing their firearms as a use of force because the subjects are essentially being threatened with a deadly weapon and the prospect of sustaining serious physical injury or potential death,” the OPC said.

The report was submitted to Mayor Muriel Bowser, the D.C. Council and acting Police Chief Robert Contee.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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