Friday, December 31, 2010

Austin PD: Arrests down, use of force reports up, new police monitor named

I wanted to point out a few links regarding police oversight in Austin that may interest Grits readers. First, the City of Austin hired former Travis County Sheriff Margo Frasier as the new Police Monitor, which is a civilian police oversight position created around the turn of the century. Here's wishing her luck in the new post, though the position is so weak and structurally ineffectual, I fear Frasier will find herself frustrated by the new job.

Meanwhile, though it was completed in November, the City of Austin released its annual use of force report (pdf), euphemistically titled the "response to resistance" report, just days before Christmas. Debbie Russell of the Austin chapter of ACLU has a column in the Austin Post pointing out the most important finding: APD in the past had underreported use of force and new reporting requirements caused use of force totals to dramatically increase. From the report: "In 2008, 1.1% of all arrests resulted in the use of force, as compared to this year’s percentage of 1.7%." Russell thinks the increase was "generally due to new policies and practices in reporting: both with increased supervisory oversight and by using newer technology – reporting immediately on their patrol car computers so papers don’t get lost in the shuffle, or not filled out at all."

Another notable tidbit from the report: "The number of arrests citywide has decreased from 79,427 arrests made in 2008 as compared to 69,130 in 2009." That's a 13% decrease in arrests, which seems like an enormous one-year reduction. Normally the increased use of force numbers combined with declining arrests would raise a serious red flag, but because of the changed reporting protocols it's impossible to know whether violence really increased or was just reported more often. As Russell says, in the past many use of force reports were simply never filed, with APD basically accepting the "dog ate my homework" excuse from its officers. Chief Art Acevedo deserves credit for turning that ignominious trend around.

Less experienced officers are more likely to use force: "In 2009, officers with 1 to 5 years of service submitted the majority of response to resistance reports followed by officers from 6 to 10 years of service." That's in part because APD officers must spend their first five years on patrol, the report notes, and most use of force incidents (52.7% in 2009) occur at dispatched calls. "The number of reports submitted by officers in the 1 to 5 year range increased from 544 reports in 2008 to 859 reports in 2009, a 57.9% increase." Even more notably, use of force reports by officers with less than a year's experience increased 146% from 2007 to 2009, from 58 incidents to 143, though there's no way to tell how much of the increase may be attributed to increased reporting.

Black folks made up 25.4% of arrests - more than double their proportion of Austin's population; Latinos made up 34% of arrests, and white folks comprised 39% of the arrest total. Police were 42% more likely to use force when arresting black folks than with whites, and 36% more likely to use force when arresting Latinos. Force was used in 2% of arrests of blacks, compared to 1.9% for Latinos and 1.4% for whites, and all of those rates have roughly doubled since 2007 (again, at least in part due to increased reporting).

Lots of other detail in the report (pdf) for those interested.


Anonymous said...

With your last paragraph discussing the issue of race in the city's arrest stats (1/4 of arrests being Blacks and a greater chance that force will be used against Blacks), a question obviously comes into play.

Though recognizing the traditional problem of police and their dealings with minorities, using homicide statistics as a reflection of violence (as they are the most accurate stats available, and not trusting police reports justifying force as they are, in some cases self-serving), half of all murder victims are Black (the vast majority being Black-on-Black crime) with over half of all murderers identified in the UCR by race being Black yet the national percentage of Blacks is what, 15 percent?

Might that murder rate reflect, first, a potential for greater use of violence by Blacks therefore involving the police in more arrests (as violent crimes tend to lead to a greater chance of arrest) and second, a greater potential for the use of violence when reacting to street cops leading to police using force themselves during arrests?

Any opinion from you or any other commenters? Thanks.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

11:30, IMO that explains part of the data, but there is also countervailing evidence that racial profiling and disproportionate enforcement play a role. I recently had some related commentary on similar questions regarding racial disparities in incarceration rates here.

Anonymous said...


Enjoyed the link (missed reading it the first time around) and agree that disproportionate enforcement comes into play, as well as color being a substitute for class in many cases, but I am still bothered (if that is the right word) that the violence as reflected in homicide stats seems to be ignored by many on one side of the discussion as much as it is inappropriately used to justify the actions of some cops, DAs and others on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Always found it interesting when Black cops would tell me about the fights they had gotten into the previous night working various Black neighborhoods.

Thanks for the follow-up. More than happy for any other leads that come along regarding this issue.

rodsmith said...

Personally i think it's kind of silly and VERY two-faced to hire an EX Sheriff as a so-called "civilian monitor"

talk about having the fox watch the hen house!

Anonymous said...

I agree 2:23, a cop ought never to be in a position to judge wrongdoing by other cops. This code of silence bullshit (worse than the damned mafia, imo) has got to be rooted out and squashed like the disease it is before any rational person would trust one cop about another cop.