County Cops Rarely Use Force When Making Arrests

Despite a recent officer-involved shooting in Gambrills on Friday, statistics show that police usually practice restraint.


Updated: 3:23 p.m. Anne Arundel County police officers rarely use force when responding to calls for service and hardly ever discharge their firearms, according to police department statistics.

Officer-involved shootings are exceedingly rare, with most officers able to make arrests without using force about 99 percent of the time, statistics show.

Statistics from the department’s Use of Force Report from 2010—the most recent year available—show that officers made 18,256 arrests during the year. Only 186 of those required the use of force, and officers used their firearms in three of those instances.

Police spokesman Justin Mulcahy said detectives were continuing to investigate Friday night’s incident on Frost Valley Lane, when an

Figures on use of force from 2010 were generally in line with those of the previous five years. The number of incidents of use of force did peak at 210 in 2008, but still comprised about 1 percent of all arrests. 

Officers used their firearms 12 times in 2009, five times in 2008 and five times in 2007.

Department statistics show that of the 186 incidents of use of force in 2010, 23 involved domestic incidents, while 24 involved alleged assaults on police officers. Officers used force most often—42 times—in response to incidents of disorderly conduct.

National figures on officer-involved shootings are hard to come by, as the Department of Justice does not keep comprehensive data on such incidents. But criminal justice experts said available figures suggest shootings are rare. 

"What we do know is that when we look around the country, it’s very rare that police officers get involved in shootings," said David Klinger, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, who has researched the issue of police and deadly force. "Most police agencies in a given year, even big city agencies, are only going to have a handful of shootings.”

The Bureau of Justice Statistics published a review of more than 2,000 cases nationwide between 2003 and 2005 in which a suspect died during an arrest attempt or while in police custody.

A state or local police officer caused the deaths in 1,095, or 55 percent of those cases, according to the report. In three out of every four of those cases, an officer was attempting to arrest a person carrying out a violent crime. Suspects killed by police had weapons about 80 percent of the time, according to the report.

According to the official rules and regulations of the Anne Arundel County Police Department, officers are trained to use only the amount of force necessary to make an arrest, get an incident under control or protect themselves.

Officers are permitted to "repel force with force" if they meet resistance, but "only such force as may be necessary to overcome the resistance and make the arrest." In most cases where force is necessary, statistics show that officers most commonly used their hands, followed by tasers, batons and flashlights.

Officers may use deadly force, including their firearm, when they believe they are defending themselves or another person. Officers can also use deadly force to prevent the escape of a potentially violent suspect.

O'Brien Atkinson, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police lodge for Anne Arundel County, said the introduction of tasers has helped officers subdue suspects without using their guns.

"We’ve focused less on lethal munitions because at the end of the day no police officer wants to take the life of a citizen,” he said.

Atkinson declined to comment on Friday's incident in Gambrills, but said that all officers know that they may be forced to use deadly force in order to protect themselves or another person.

“There are few things more traumatic to an officer than taking the life of another human being," he said. "So obviously we try to avoid it, but officer safety and safety of the citizen is paramount and every office knows that when they walk out the door.”

Klinger said the county's guidelines for the use of deadly force are generally the same everywhere. He said most officers are careful to follow them and often practice extra caution.

“It’s very restrictive, but officers are still going to have a number of incidents where they could use deadly force, but don’t," Klinger said. "Police officers are typically very restrained.”

In instances when an officer uses deadly force, the department requires that the officer be placed on administrative leave until an internal investigation is completed. The officer also must be cleared by a mental health profession before returning for duty.

The department's Staff Inspection Unit reviews all cases in which an officer employs deadly force or discharges a gun. The unit has 21 days to submit a report on the incident to the chief of police. 

All incidents of deadly force are also subject to scrutiny by a review board comprised of fellow officers and county human relations officer.

Here's a look at the number of incidents involving use of force, compared to the total number of times officers come in contact with citizens.

Year Incidents of contact with citizens Arrests Incidents of the use of force Incidents of the use of a firearm 2005 455,261 21,404 161 1 2006 493,718 21,939 172 11 2007 525,865 21,401 175 5 2008 523,086 21,551 218 5 2009 514,722 19,992 187 12 2010 495,939 18,265 186 3

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include comments from the Fraternal Order of Police and to clarify the type of ways an officer can use force against a suspect.

John Frenaye April 16, 2012 at 07:04 PM
Tim--real interesting stats.....do you know how the AACOPD defines "force" is it strictly use of a firearm (is it the discharge of a firearm?) or do batons, tasers, and manual force count as well?
Tim Lemke April 16, 2012 at 07:31 PM
John - the use of force reports include everything from batons, flashlights, beanbags, tasers and even K9 dogs. But the most common "weapon" used by officers was their hands. You ask a good question regarding how the firearms were used. The reports we have don't specify whether the guns were discharged or used in some other way against a suspect. However, we do know that simply drawing your gun is not considered use of force.
Richard Hertz April 17, 2012 at 10:11 PM
Who determines whether or not force was used? Who determines whether or not a suspect resisted? My guess is that the cops themselves make both determinations, which should cast some doubt on these numbers.


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