New Data: Police Use of Force Rising for Black, Female, Older People

The Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building in Washington, D.C., headquarters of the United States Department of Justice.
Photographed by w:User:Coolcaesar on August 12, 2006

By Perla Brito and Paloma Sifuentes

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Dept of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics has released a report based on a 2020 survey that provides data on police-public interactions in the U.S. in 2019 and the first half of 2020—the results revealed many interactions were racially discriminatory and involved improper or harmful conduct.

Police-public interactions were lower during 2020, and BJS acknowledges changes in police-public interactions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the survey results fail to provide information on these changes or what did not change.

Still, the findings brought attention to some police-public interactions, noting more than 20 percent of people reported had interactions with police in the past 12 months.

Half of these police-public interactions were initiated by residents seeking help or wanting to report a crime, while the other half were initiated by police for traffic stops and approaching or arresting a person.

There were fewer police-public interactions in 2020 compared to 2018 which is the last time the Police-Public Contact Survey was conducted.

The results suggest racial bias in policing continues, especially in regard to threats or use of force. Only two percent of police-public interactions involved use of force, but the survey revealed Black, Hispanic and “Other” (non-Asian, non-white) people were disproportionately affected.

Black people were 12 times more likely than white people to report that their most recent police interaction involved misconduct, such as racial slurs or bias, according to the report.

And, the study showed Black and Hispanic people were most likely to experience a search or arrest during a traffic stop. White people were least likely to get a ticket and also likely to get off with a warning during a traffic stop.

The DOJ study indicated older people experienced more police threats or use of force during 2020 than in 2018. More than 14 percent of people who were 65 or older reported a police interaction. Police interactions with other age groups were lower.

Data also shows that arrests of people 65 or older have increased over the years.

Women are also facing more police threats and use of force; the study notes 31 percent of women have experienced police threats or use of force, and 51 percent of women have experienced police threats or use of force in their most recent police interaction.

Most of the time police act “properly,” according to the findings; but do police provide solutions for the people that need help?

About 91 percent of people who contacted the police perceived them as behaving properly when they arrived, and 93 percent of them were as likely to contact the police again in the future. These people varied little by their race, ethnicity, and sex.

However, 36 percent of the people believed that the police did not improve the situation when they arrived, according to the survey.

Unlike the Police-Public Contact Survey, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released many publications based on administrative surveys of law enforcement personnel. These surveys were conducted during the full year of 2020, when the police were centered in the media regarding safety and social justice.

The recent data revealed that in 2020 the police were not “defunded,” that the number of full time staff in  police departments has not changed.

In fact, in sheriff’s offices and federal agencies, employment has increased in law enforcement. Additionally reports of stagnant or increase in budgets during 2021-2022 in police departments were found nationwide in 34 from the 50 largest cities in the U.S.

The findings also note that about 87 percent of sheriffs and police chiefs are white and 99 percent of sheriffs are male, while 96 percent of police chiefs are also male.

The data from the 2020 Police-Public Contact Survey only gained a small amount of information regarding police interaction with the community.

It does not include data of police contact by race, ethnicity, or sex, women of color and the LGBTQ. It also does not provide data from police interaction during the first year of Covid-19.

About The Author

Perla Brito is a 4th year undergraduate student at California State University, Long Beach. She is majoring in Criminology and Criminal Justice and is set to graduate by Spring 2023. After graduation she plans on working at a local police department in the criminal investigations division. She intends to pursue a Masters in Psychology with a focus in Neuroscience in hopes of working on neurocriminology research one day.

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