Editorial: CT police use-of-force report comes up short

Police car

Police car

Hearst Connecticut Media

It’s news when arrests occur because the majority of people don’t break the law.

So it’s newsworthy that nine Connecticut police departments didn’t follow a new law in 2019 and 2020 that required them to file reports about use of force in the course of duty.

The first analysis of the information deems “data collection is inexcusably deficient” to draw conclusions.

That’s quite the sentence, with a damning verdict delivered by that single adverb, “inexcusably.”

It is, indeed, hard to comprehend why nine departments — including New Britain, Torrington and Shelton — would simply ignore the law over two years. We entrust police departments to uphold the law. Such profound trust is compromised when they fail to follow it themselves.

But that’s not the only problem with the data. Somewhere in the process, “use of force” was not clearly defined. It’s difficult to follow vague laws.

So departments defined “use of force” in different ways. Some narrowed it to incidents in which handcuffs were used. Others counted only when Tasers were employed or firearms were removed from holsters.

The confusion is understandable given the lack of clarity. Failing to provide a clear set of rules will always result in chaos. Imagine a baseball game where the pitcher gets to decide how many strikes determine an out.

In the case of the use-of-force data, this means the University of Connecticut’s Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy was left without the data it needed to identity useful patterns.

There was at least one conclusion reached — that the law needed tweaking. It was modified July 1 with a new definition that is (hopefully) more clear.

Why does this matter? Better data would reveal trends related to race, gender, etc., as it relates to crime statistics. Departments could subsequently be provided with appropriate training resources.

The UConn institute did highlight information drawn from the past two years of stats. According to those numbers, force was employed in 1 percent of arrests

Citizens involved in confrontations that led to use of force were more likely to be Black, under 40 years of age, unarmed and not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

One provocative detail is that Black and Hispanic males were identified as being more likely to be involved in use-of-force incidents in the context of Census data. But such disparities decreased when compared with arrest statistics. The implied suggestion is that force was used in incidents involving Black and Hispanic males without arrests being made. That raises the flag that suggests force was used inappropriately.

Despite flaws in execution of the law, there are a few things worth celebrating. It’s not surprising that the highest number of incidents were reported in Bridgeport, the state’s largest city. But that department deserves credit for counting any incident in which an officer came in contact with an individual. Some other departments only counted incidents in which a weapon was drawn. A few reported no incidents at all.

And while flouting a law grabs headlines, let’s end with good news. Connecticut is just the second state to collect and analyze use-of-force reports. Connecticut needs to uphold its own law a little better, but at least it has admirable intentions.