Lawrence Police Department’s use of force slightly increased in 2020, despite fewer calls
photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo
Instances of use of force by the Lawrence Police Department slightly increased in 2020 compared with previous years, according to the department’s recently published annual report.
LPD listed 20 instances of use of force in 2020, which is slightly above a recent average of 17 instances per year. The police department received more than 60,000 calls in 2020, meaning the use of force occurred roughly 0.03% of the time.
While the instances are a tiny fraction of the department’s responses, the number was still an increase over previous years. Between 2016 and 2019, the department saw between 74,000 and 95,000 calls and averaged about 17 instances of use of force. That means use of force for the department in 2020 increased, despite a decrease in calls.
Patrick Compton, an LPD spokesman, said the department found the increase to be too small to glean any specific cause.
“Reasonable and necessary use of force was applied in roughly 0.03% of LKPD’s calls for service in 2020. That’s a 0.01% increase from 2019, and it would be difficult to draw any conclusions based on a variation of less than one-hundredth of a percent,” Compton said in an email to the Journal-World.
Compton also noted that each instance of use of force was reviewed by the department to determine whether it was necessary under the circumstances. He said the department took “great care” in documenting those cases.
According to the report, LPD found the officers in each of the 2020 instances were operating within its policy, and none was related to a formal complaint. Of the 20 instances, eight were uses of pepper spray, five were uses of Tasers, and seven were general physical force by an officer.
Some of the reported incidents include:
• On Jan. 24, officers responded to a call in the 800 block of Massachusetts Street for a man wearing a bulletproof vest causing a disturbance in the area.
When officers arrived, the police found the man noncompliant and attempted to arrest him. He resisted arrest by punching one officer and pushing another to the ground. One of the officers intentionally struck the man’s head against the ground, resulting in the man losing several teeth. The man declined medical treatment and was booked into jail.
• On Aug. 5, officers were dispatched to a motel in the 700 block of Iowa Street where two men were reportedly drunk and accosting other guests. After the men refused to return to their rooms, the officers attempted to arrest them for disorderly conduct.
One of the men fled, running to the second floor of the motel. Once an officer caught up to the man, the officer used an “arm-bar technique” to bring the man to the ground. While the officer was taking the man down, the man’s head hit a railing, knocking him unconscious and leaving a laceration on his head. The man was treated at a hospital and later booked into jail.
• On Aug. 14, officers responded to a call for a domestic disturbance in the 500 block of Florida Street, where a woman had an argument with a man and then broke out the window of his vehicle before going back inside a residence.
Officers tried to contact the woman, but she barricaded herself in a room, claiming to have a gun. The officers determined the gun was a BB gun, and the woman was trying to die through “suicide by cop” by pointing the BB gun at them and threatening to shoot them. When officers did not fire their weapons, the woman attempted to set the room on fire.
An officer used a Taser to subdue the woman, which allowed other officers to put the fire out. Once the scene was under control, the woman was suffering from a seizure and was transported to the hospital for treatment. She was later booked into jail.
Meanwhile, internal investigations for major complaints against Lawrence officers decreased in 2020.
During a recent Community Police Review Board meeting, interim Police Chief Anthony Brixius explained the department’s systems of accountability and the kind of internal investigations the department conducts on complaints. Among them are major investigations, which are noncriminal cases of officers violating department policy that are investigated by the department’s Office of Professional Accountability, or OPA.
Instances of OPA investigations dropped further into single digits, with six occurring in 2020 and nine occurring in 2019. In previous years, the department averaged about 15 per year, according to the data Brixius provided.
But he said the decrease was likely partially caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. As people stayed home more often and many businesses and organizations closed to the public, police contacts with individuals decreased significantly.
“The less we contact people, sometimes the less they are mad at us,” he said during the meeting.
Another reason could be the increased availability of evidence in such cases, such as body camera footage. Brixius said that when people make a complaint, they could see the video footage of the incident and could sometimes realize that what they believe occurred does not match the video evidence.
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