Columbia Police Department use force against Black residents at a disproportionate rate

Data from a CPD analysis shows that CPD officers use force against Black residents at a rate five times larger than their proportion of the Columbia population.

The Columbia Police Department released their annual analysis of use of force incidents on March 31. The analysis revealed the department uses unequal amounts of force against Black residents proportionate to their population.

The racial breakdown of the uses of force in 2020 are as follows:

  • Asian: 1.03%
  • Black: 52.60%
  • Hispanic: 3.10%
  • White: 43.10%

In an attempt to further contextualize the racial breakdown of uses of force, The Maneater took a look at the disparity indices, or measures of disproportionate representation of a given demographic, generated by these uses of force.

In this context, a disparity index compares the use of force percentage against a demographic subgroup to its population in Columbia. The closer the index is to 1, the smaller the disparity. Cases where the disparity index is greater than 1 indicates a particular issue disproportionately affecting a demographic. In this case, the Black community in Columbia is affected by police use of force at an outsized rate.

Using 2019 census estimates, the disparity indices for CPD uses of force in 2020 by race are as follows:

  • Asian: 0.166
  • Black: 4.826
  • Hispanic: 0.861
  • White: 0.559

This means that Black citizens in Columbia are more than 4.8 times more likely to have police use force against them than is proportional to their population. Asian, white and Hispanic citizens all experienced police use of force at a rate lower than their proportion of the population.

CPD differentiates between "uses of force" and "shows of force." The CPD does not publicly specify a definition for “use of force” but lists criteria for reporting use of force incidents. When reporting incidents, there are 24 types of force available for selection. The CPD does define “show of force” as an officer displaying a firearm or Taser at another person. In 2020, there were 245 incidents involving 289 people. This is an 18.3% decrease in combined reported uses and shows of force incidents from 2019, where CPD recorded 300 incidents involving 360 people.

The COVID-19 pandemic encouraged people to stay home and avoid others. CPD Chief Geoff Jones said in an interview with the Columbia Tribune that the department began to reduce traffic stops and other non-emergency contact to reduce the chance of spreading the virus. CPD reported incidents online instead.

“We were really pushing some online reporting platform so that we weren’t face to face with anyone,” Jones said.

CPD tracks "the type of call an officer responded to and subsequently used force” against, according to the annual analysis. The three that yielded the highest uses and shows of force were disturbance, traffic stops and weapons offenses. They comprised 17.07%, 13.41% and 8.13% of incidents respectively.

There were nine instances comprising 3.66% of total incidents in 2020, in which a CPD officer responded to a call involving a "suicidal subject" and subsequently used force. This number is up from 2019, where there were eight instances of force, comprising 2.67% of total incidents.

The ages of Columbia residents affected by these uses or shows of force ranged from a 12-year-old child to a 69-year-old adult.

The most common type of force used by CPD in 2020 was drawing or exhibiting a firearm (238 instances), followed by balance displacement (123) and joint manipulation (78). The CPD does not have a publicly available definition for balance displacement or joint manipulation.

CPD dispatched deadly force once in 2020. In 2019, CPD never resorted to it.

Wednesdays are “all-squad days,” which means that most or all of CPD’s patrol officers are in the field that day. Wednesdays also had the most uses of force — 19.92% of uses of force occurred on Wednesdays.

Sgt. Scott Alpers of the Internal Affairs Unit included the analysis in a memo to Jones. The analysis included all uses and shows of force for the year 2020.

Unlike previous analyses, Alpers gave no recommendations for further review based on the available data.

Edited by Emmet Jamieson | ejamieson@themaneater.com

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