While arrests have fallen and police contacts have similarly dropped over the past two years, Austin police are using force against citizens at higher rates. While police officials say this is due to better incident reporting by officers, a Statesman report looks at other factors that may be coming into play.
The Statesman found that use of force incidents by Austin police had jumped more than 80 percent between 2009 and 2011. This is a significant increase. In 2011, police reported 1,686 uses of force. This averaged out to 4.5 incidents each day.
Austin police commanders say that officer-reporting changed in 2008 with a new policy that required officers to not just report “serious” types of force, but all physical confrontations. But that was 2008 and the jump occurred in 2009. Still, officials say, the jump is due to increased reporting. That, and increased assaults on officers.
The public is being more aggressive, says Chief Art Acevedo. “The level of resistance against officers on the street has increased,” he said.
While there aren’t any hard numbers to back his statement, if it’s true it would buck the national trend. Nationwide, assaults against officers have dropped 10 percent between 2007 and 2011, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report.
On a positive note, Austin is tracking officer uses of force more closely than other cities. Everything from a “tackle to a gunshot” is reported by officers, and this is good. Still, however, the rise in force is disconcerting.
In other cities of comparable size, uses of force have dropped. Portland, Sacramento, Charlotte, Seattle, and Ft. Worth have all remained steady or fallen.
A small rise in uses of force wouldn’t perhaps be as troubling. But an 80% leap is quite alarming.
Many of the uses of force, say police, are occurring in the party-areas of town, where alcohol is common and people are more apt to resist an officer.
But, many of the same officers are reporting using force again and again. In the past 3.5 years, 21 officers reported using force 40 times or more. Six had single years where they used force more than 30 times. Many of them worked in the entertainment district.
One last troubling finding of the Statesman report: many of those citizens who are having forced used against them are not arrested. In other words, they don’t commit a crime worthy of arrest but they do commit some action worthy of force. Shockingly, about one in seven uses of force didn’t result in an arrest.
Austin citizens have a history of difficult relations with the police. We’ve noted in the past their difficulty with being video recorded by citizens. Last year, their was also a story about the police frequently arresting people for intoxication, yet charges are almost always dismissed.
When you deal with the police, you should be on your best behavior. Not because the police are always right, but because the police have more power afforded to them by the law. If you are wrongfully arrested, fight them in court rather than on the street. Contact our offices today for a consultation on your criminal case.