Dayton police used force less often last year, but trend might not be sustainable

Dayton Police Department said its officers used force fewer times last year for the second year in a row, which some community members said is a good result that is in line with the goals of police reform efforts.

“All parties involved celebrate decreases in police use-of-force incidents,” said Jacob Wourms, vice chair of Dayton’s Use of Force Committee, which was created as part of the police reform efforts. “It’s very encouraging that the proportionality of force incidents to both total calls for service and total arrests have also decreased.”

But some committee members say they are troubled that the number of use-of-force incidents involving Black male subjects basically remained flat, even as other demographic groups saw declines.

Credit: noelker

Credit: noelker

Down in 2021

Dayton police officers used force 151 times in 2021, which was a more than 10% reduction from 2020, according to draft report by the Dayton Police Department’s Professional Standards Bureau.

Use-of-force incidents decreased for two consecutive years, falling from 198 in 2019 (-24%).

Police department data show officers made about 8,700 arrests in 2021, which was nearly 1,000 more than in 2020.

2020 was an unusual year because of COVID. Police made about 10,150 arrests in 2019.

Despite the significant rebound in arrests last year, there were still 18 fewer use-of-force incidents.

Wourms said generally speaking the committee would like to see the number of arrests decline.

“Far too many people are getting wrapped up in the criminal legal system who don’t need to be,” he said. “But in terms of use of force decreasing, the 2021 data is encouraging.”

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

In a statement to the Dayton Daily News, the Dayton Police Department said it’s possible the decrease in incidents could mean more community members are complying and are not resisting arrest or fleeing, which would be a positive trend.

“It is difficult to quantify what effect the pandemic had on the use of force numbers in 2020 and 2021,” the police department said. “A two-year reduction in use-of-force incidents may be related to decreased arrests and contacts with citizens during the pandemic. It may not be indicative of any sustainable trends.”

Police responded to 139,760 calls for service or engaged in self-initiated activities in 2021.

The department says officers used force during 1.2% of arrests and less than one-tenth of 1% of public interactions.

The police department says it thoroughly investigates incidents in which force was used to ensure compliance with policies and procedures and determine if officers need additional training so they follow best practices and de-escalate situations when possible.

Types of force

Taser deployment was the most common type of force police used (93 incidents). Last year police used tasers 14 fewer times than in 2020 (-13%).

Officers threw punches in 29 incidents, which was 19 fewer times than in the prior year (-40%). Police also wrestled with subjects, used knee strikes and performed controlled take-downs fewer times in 2021.

However, police tackled more subjects and officers have used canines against subjects more often in the last couple of years.

Dayton police Lt. Col. Eric Henderson, who is the assistant police chief, said the important thing is that officers use the lowest level of force needed to handle each individual situation.

Demographic differences

Police department data show a decline in use-of-force incidents involving white males, white females and Black females. Police used force against white male subjects 39 times last year, down from 49 in 2020.

But police used force against Black males in 99 encounters last year, which was just one less incident than in 2020.

Black males were the subjects involved in nearly two-thirds of use-of-force events.

Dayton’s population is 54% white and 39% Black.

However, police and city officials said a greater share of crime victims and people arrested by police are Black.

Use of Force committee member Carmen Culotta said Black males in this country are stopped, searched, arrested and incarcerated at higher rates than their white counterparts.

Unfortunately, she said, the police department’s 2021 use-of-force report does not contain enough relevant data to determine with certainty how disproportionately police use force against Black males.

Culotta said she wants the 2022 report to include calls for service and arrests broken down by race and gender in order to better analyze any “disparate harm” to Black males.

“The absolute numbers in Dayton are concerning — if use of force incidents are decreasing for all other demographic groups except Black males, we need answers,” she said.

David Fox, another member of the committee, said he would like to see the police department set annual goals for reducing the number of use-of-force incidents or some other measure of progress.

The police department said this goal while “well meaning” might be challenging because use of force is reactionary by nature and comes in response to community members’ actions.

By the numbers

Dayton police use of force incidents by year

2021: 151

2020: 169

2019: 198

2018: 173

Common types of force used by police

Taser: 93 in 2021; 107 in 2020

Punches: 29 incidents in 2021; 48 in 2020

Controlled take down: 20 in 2021; 21 in 2020

Canine: 12 in 2021; 11 in 2020

Knee strike: 11 in 2021; 14 in 2020

Wrestle: 12 in 2021; 17 in 2020

Tackle: 9 in 2021; 4 in 2020

SOURCE: Dayton Police Department’s Professional Standards Bureau

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