Burlington Police Report That Officers Use Force Less Frequently | Off Message

Burlington Police Report That Officers Use Force Less Frequently


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Burlington police crime analyst Eric Fowler presents a use-of-force study in the Fletcher Free Library. - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • Burlington police crime analyst Eric Fowler presents a use-of-force study in the Fletcher Free Library.
Burlington police officers have used force against suspects less often in recent years, according to a study the police released Wednesday.

But they may be disproportionately targeting minorities, it says.

In 2016, 21 percent of arrestees were not white, and 24 percent of the people that police used force against were not white.

Those figures have held relatively steady since 2012, according to the report. Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo said the gap is "relatively small," and "may not be statistically significant."

But department officials acknowledge one worrisome statistic: Nonwhites in Burlington were 37 percent more likely to have a firearm pointed at them than whites, according to the department's analysis of six years worth of data documenting when officers use or threaten to use force.

"We’re wrestling with why that's the case," del Pozo said in an interview. "We all know one of the problems with American society is people of color are much more likely to find themselves in situations where they're subject to arrest than whites and when we look at the demographic of those interactions ... that's a problem this nation needs to wrestle with."

Burlington police crime analyst Eric Fowler presented the report on Wednesday to a community group, the Community Council of Accountability With Law Enforcement Officials. The department voluntarily compiled the report.

"We're doing this as a way to be forthcoming and transparent," del Pozo said. "Use of force in American policing is one of the issues people have taken a profound interest in."

Mary Brown Guillory, president of the Champlain Area NAACP and a council member, said the report's suggestions that minorities are treated differently are not surprising.

"We know this to be true. It's part of our lives," she said. "The report reveals how the police think. It's a good learning experience."

Other members of the community council said that police should provide more detailed information about racial breakdowns instead of broadly classifying "nonwhites." Studies have repeatedly shown, they noted, that police treat black suspects differently than other minorities.

The study examined 1,700 use-of-force incidents — everything from brandishing a weapon to deploying pepper spray or striking suspects with a baton — from July 2010 through October 2016. The incidents are self-reported by officers.

Overall, Fowler said, the report shows that force is used in about 1 percent of police contacts with the public and in 11 percent of arrests. Such incidents have declined more than 15 percent since 2010.

"We seem to be using weaponless tactics more and threatening weapons less," Fowler said.

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