Our country has been inundated over the past several years with stories of police use of force that’s been called into question. Sadly, this narrative has led to a situation where too many of these incidents, even those where the need for force was obvious area exists, become argued in the court of public opinion.
In such instances, police everywhere become targets for criticism, and sometimes, for violence and retribution. It’s could make our communities less safe if police hesitate before taking necessary action because they won’t want to be the next wrongly accused cop.
And it’s time to correct the record.
The public has the wrong impression about police use of force and, unless the record is corrected, the effectiveness of law enforcement is at risk.
Police don’t look for opportunities to use force. We aren’t racists targeting specific populations and we’re not gunslingers looking for a shootout. And we don’t shoot first and ask questions later.
I know this because I’m a career police officer and I’ve literally talked to thousands of fellow officers around the nation. But you don’t have to take my word for it.
A study published last month in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery was authored by Dr. William Bozeman of the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. His goal was to look at how often police use force. The research was funded by National Institute of Justice during the tenure of President Obama.
These researchers reviewed over one million calls from three different police departments during a two-year period.
Of those calls, 114,064 resulted in criminal arrests. That’s about 11 percent.
The study reported just 893 use of force incidents. That’s less than one-tenth of one percent of the total calls and less than one percent of the calls that resulted in criminal arrests.
That means 1 in 1,100 calls results in a use of force. And only 1 in 120 arrests requires force.
Simply put, police aren’t looking for opportunities to use a Taser, gun or other physical force. Police must survey a scene and determine what is necessary and in less than one-tenth of one percent of time do they decide that use of force is necessary.
Back to the study, they also looked at the resulting injuries, comparing the rates of injury resulting of various kinds of incidents.
There were 355 incidents where a suspect sustained minor injuries such as abrasions and contusions. Only 16 suspects suffered moderate or severe physical injuries. Of the suspects transported to medical facilities, 78 percent were released immediately and only 5 percent were hospitalized for injuries from police use of force.
The 16 suspects who sustained moderate or severe injuries represents 1 in 65,000 total incidents.
Even when force occurs, police aren’t seeking to pile on. They’re using the force necessary to bring a suspect under control and to stabilize whatever situation exists.
Police get into the job because they want to serve the community. That is surely true of the people I’ve met and know as president of the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio which represents over 25,000 law enforcement officers.
As with any profession there’s always room for improvement. We continue to work with local, state and national authorities to expand and improve training. We continue to push for the best equipment to help our members respond to incidents in the safest way possible – safe for them, safe for the suspects and safe for the community.
Every law enforcement officer is committed to use of force as a last resort.
We’re also committed to reducing the number of police line-of-duty deaths to zero. That can start with accepting the findings of the Wake Forest study and stopping this concerted effort to turn our communities against police.
We can – and must – ensure that our communities and our police remain safe.
Jay McDonald is a police officer in Marion, Ohio and the President of the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio.