Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Houston cops use force at traffic stops at 18x San Antonio's rate: #SandraBland data provides new insights into roadside police violence

You'd have to be naïve to think police should never use force when doing their job, and traffic stops can be a dangerous setting. But training and supervision matter. How frequently and how aggressively police use force at traffic stops varies widely from department to department. 

While preparing some testimony for the Texas House County Affairs Committee, your correspondent pulled data from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement's website regarding use of force at traffic stops, which agencies had to start reporting thanks to County Affairs Chairman Garnet Coleman's 2017 Sandra Bland Act.

Looking at the 50 agencies reporting the most force incidents at traffic stops, ten agencies reported using force at every stop; these were clearly errors and Grits discounted them. The 40 remaining collectively reported 5,951 use-of-force incidents out of more than 4.4 million stops in 2019, the majority of them by Houston PD and Texas DPS.

However, the difference between those two agencies was remarkable. DPS troopers make vastly more traffic stops than HPD, using force at only 5.2 per 10,000 stops. By contrast, Houston PD for the second year running topped the list of larger jurisdictions, using force at 71 out of every 10,000 stops. Other agencies with high rates included Texarkana PD (62.2), Eagle Pass (60.1), and New Braunfels (52.8).

Use of force rates in Dallas were high, though not as bad as in Houston: Dallas PD reported using force at 32.4 stops per 10,000; the Dallas Sheriff's rate was 38.1 per 10,000.

By contrast, the Harris County Sheriff reported using force at 5.2 per 10,000 stops; San Antonio police used force at 3.9 out of 10,000 stops; at Austin PD, the rate was 6.8 per 10,000. So clearly Houston's high rate isn't inevitable; other agencies perform traffic enforcement without using violence as often.

Among the rest, two agencies that make relatively few stops - the Lubbock County Sheriff and the Kemah PD in Galveston County - had the highest use-of-force rates (278.9 and 113.5 incidents per 10,000 stops, respectively). But both those agencies accounted for fewer than 4,000 stops each.

Why do cops in Houston use force against motorists at more than 13x the rate as DPS troopers and 18x the rate of cops in San Antonio? You'd have to ask their Chief Hubert A. Acevedo (as he's listed in the racial-profiling database). 

Regardless of his answer, it's unlikely that large differences in use-of-force rates can be accounted for by the inherent dangers posed by drivers in one jurisdiction compared to another. More likely, that's a function of agencies' differing policies, culture, and supervision priorities.

Houston is about 1.5 times the size of San Antonio, but its cops use force at traffic stops on average six times per day; in San Antonio, that happens about once per week.

This is new data and the implications of gathering it have yet to filter into the political process. Eventually, the goal should be to identify agencies that are consistent outliers - and so far, Houston PD fits the bill - then seek to change policies, procedures and practices to drive those numbers down. Before the Sandra Bland Act, Texans couldn't know which agencies used force against motorists most frequently. Now that we do, the question becomes, what do we do about it?


Anonymous said...

The terms "use of force" and, "physical force that resulted in bodily injury." can be construed to mean the same thing or be two different concepts. Many officers consider an officer's presence, verbal commands, and mere physical contact with a subject, like peacefully handcuffing, to be a "use of force." That mixing of terms may explain the skewed results, particularly in those agencies that reported all their stops resulted in force being used.

The term in the Sandra Bland act specifies that the activity that must be reported is when a, "...peace officer used physical force that resulted in bodily injury, as that term is defined by Section 1.07, Penal Code, during the stop;" That definition of bodily injury, in my experience, is applied incosnsitently from jurisdiction to jurisdiction which, again, may contributes to the report not being wholly accurate.

It is a training and understanding issue at the agency level that needs to be addressed to help clean up the data.

Rob said...

OK first of all you get pulled over because of some type of violation they don’t pull people over because they’re black that would never hold up in court second of all it’s how the driver responds and reacts to the officer who’s asking them questions once again the officer doesn’t see a black person in the side OK I’m gonna pull them out of the car and be aggressive with them just because the color of their skin again that would not hold up in court why are more black drivers committing crimes I can’t answer that it’s kind of long and complicated why are more black drivers wanting to resist And fight police that’s kind of hard to explain also in the simple case of Sandra bland she was pulled over for something very simple but she immediately had an attitude and was smoking in front of the officers face the situation got way out of hand and it shouldn’t have gone the way it did but the officer didn’t start the aggression she did by resisting refusing his commands and smoking in his face

TheLawEnforcementProject said...

"DeMinimus" UoF is rarely counted in such databases. That type of "force" is likely exempt from Sandra Bland Act reporting requirements. Different departments define such DeMinimus force differently, but all that I know of include mere touching/physical contact as such. Some even include things like low level persuasion contact (eg; digit (finger) manipulation as such

TheLawEnforcementProject said...

Let's be absolutely clear:
A) there is no legal requirement for a stopped driver (or passengers) to answer any questions at any traffic stop, or any "consensual" stop for that matter (as opposed to a "detention"), or even to speak at all. That is well established case law.
B) The Only legal requirement for a stopped driver is to provide required documents.
The fact that an officer may...let's say...take offense to a stopped person "remaining silent" does not authorize the officer to act as if such silence is either a) resisting, obstructing or impeding b) disrespectful or c) suspicious.
Although many (most ?!) officers would in fact act as if such silence was some sort of personal or professional affront, or suspicious or resisting etc. does Not make it right or legitimate. Such conduct would fall under what is referred to as "unlawful" and/or "extra-constitutional" policing.
Also, in the instance of an actual "stop" (ie; detention, as opposed to a consensual "contact"), the only legal requirement, and Only in the approximately 28 states that have such a law on the books, is for the detained person to state thier name, orally.
In an instance of a consensual contact, there is No legal requirement for such contacted person to do or say Anything at all, nor to provide any "identification", either orally or by way of documents.
Like it or not, that is the law. Any officer coercing such identification in a consensual contact situation is engaging in unlawful policing, and is using "force".

Anonymous said...

You should NEVER talk to the police if you are stopped, detained or questioned. Everyone should watch this video by the Regent Law Professor James Duane:

You have nothing to gain and EVERYTHING to lose when talking to law enforcement. This video is extremely informative and relevant.

Gunny Thompson said...

From Unfiltered and Uncensored Minds of Independent Thinkers of the 3rd Grade Dropout Section:

In appreciation of The Law Enforcement Project and Anon on 11.12.20 @ 10:07, we thank you for your indispensable information.

No disrespect to Rob or anyone that has a opinion on the matter, but the unwillingness to consider other points of views may explain the differcuties in accepting facts and not opinions of others.

I have no idea of San Antonio PD internal operations, but Houston has a pattern of maintaining losers on its PD force. In incidents involving officer-citizen contacts,citizens making the complaints are often not allowed to present their complaints personally during Internal Affairs hearings. Legally, those complaint should be heard by a judge during a court of Inquiry hearing. Anything less is considered as a denial justice.

TheLawEnforcementProject said...

Gunny: welcome to the Administrative State, where "administrative" law is controlling law, at least at the primary level(s).
In such a system there are no actual "judges", but "commissioners", sometimes that may even call them "magistrates", but those are distinct from the magistrates in the actual "court" system.
Remember those "arbitrators" who are so often overturning chiefs terminations decisions and forcing departments to rehire such fired officers ? Yeah, like that.

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Anonymous said...

• Adopt Sir Robert Peel’s principles on policing:
To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
To recognize always that the power of the police to fulfill their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behavior, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
To recognize always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also securing the willing co-operation of the public in the task of observance of laws.
To recognize always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
To seek and preserve public favor, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercising of courtesy and friendly good humor, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
To recognize always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary, of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.
To recognize always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.
Other Suggestions: