Report: Officers rarely faulted for use of force

One officer suggested that his department should release more information.
Internal reviews and grand jury investigations rarely find fault with police officers who fire their guns or otherwise use force in making arrests, newspapers in Cleveland and Columbus reported.
Departments rarely involve outside reviewing agencies, and records often reveal only scant details about the incidents, The Columbus Dispatch and The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported Sunday.
All 4,427 uses of nondeadly force by Cleveland police were ruled justified in a nearly three-year period from 2003 through last September. One case involving an off-duty officer using pepper spray was deemed "inappropriate" but justified, The Plain Dealer reported.
The investigations were done by district supervisors who directly oversee the officers involved -- a practice that the U.S. Justice Department warned the city in 2002 could create a conflict of interest.
The Dispatch reviewed 112 police shootings in Columbus from 1996 through 2005. Of those, six ended with rulings that officers violated department policy. One was fired. Franklin County grand juries independently reviewed only the 25 shootings that resulted in deaths. Most 2006 cases are still under review.
Missing records
The newspapers noted either missing records or a dearth of public information.
About 30 percent of the cases reviewed by The Plain Dealer -- after making a database from 238,000 electronic records and 2,000 paper ones including arrests, use of force reports and citizen complaints -- were incorrectly logged or had missing records. The department itself was not analyzing data or tracking which officers used force most often.
"How do you look for patterns or trends if you're not even paying attention to it?" said Geoffrey Alpert, who studies law enforcement at the University of South Carolina.
The newspaper said Patrolman Martin Rudin used nondeadly force in 36 incidents, or 12 percent of his arrests over the 44 months reviewed -- and the most among the department's 1,600 officers. Rudin also was involved in three shootings from 1990 to 2004. One shooting killed the suspect.
Rudin said he patrols dangerous areas overnight and follows department rules. The police union also defended his record.
"In a perfect world, bad guys would stop and put their hands behind their backs," said Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association. "The reality is they don't. They run, they fight, they spit, they shoot."
Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath has ordered officers to keep complete and accurate records and start analyzing data to look for officers who most frequently use force and attract complaints. Police officials also said they would simplify the form officers use to report incidents so fewer mistakes are made while entering data.
Columbus police say the few cases of unjustified shootings show good training for the city's 1,870 officers. Police say suspects threatened officers with a weapon or vehicle in 85 percent of the shootings.
However, the department routinely keeps secret all but the most basic details of the shootings, the Dispatch reported.
Releasing information
Officer James Scanlon, who was involved in two shootings in the 10-year period reviewed, said the department should release more information. He said friends and relatives of the suspects often fill in the gaps with rumor, and officers already under stress then face criticism without a public response from their bosses.
"The brass could be more proactive by coming out with enough to counter some of the misinformation, a few facts that would indicate the officers did what they had to do," Scanlon said. "The facts are always going to benefit us."
Fred Gittes, a Columbus civil-rights attorney and frequent police critic, said a citizen commission to review officers' use of force would boost public confidence.
"Police policing the police doesn't work very well," he said. "And a grand jury isn't a substitute for an independent review. It's all done in secret."
In Cincinnati, where a police slaying of an unarmed black man in 2001 triggered rioting, the department has agreed to use a court-appointed outside monitor to review its traffic stops and use-of-force policies as part of a 2002 settlement of a racial profiling lawsuit.

Subscribe Today

Sign up for our email newsletter to receive daily news.

Want more? Click here to subscribe to either the Print or Digital Editions.