New Orleans police use force against African-Americans at a higher rate than black people's share of the population, but more information is needed to determine whether that statistic points to a problem within the department, a law enforcement watchdog agency said in a report released Monday.
The Office of the Independent Police Monitor’s annual report found that in 2016, about 83 percent of the people against whom police used force were black. That rate is significantly higher than the percentage of the city’s population who are black.
But officials said a lack of detailed data prevented them from drawing firm conclusions from that statistic.
“We were reticent to draw conclusions without more data,” said Deputy Police Monitor Ursula Price, saying that more information on the race of all those who are arrested or whom officers encounter at crime scenes could show that force was not being used at a disproportionate rate against African-Americans.
New Orleans Police Department spokesman Beau Tidwell said the statistics used in the report did not support a “meaningful conclusion” and needed to be viewed in light of training and outreach to the community that have resulted in an increase in the department’s approval rating from 30 percent to 62 percent.
“Looking at the city’s overall population demographics against the uses of force — which often occur in communities disproportionately impacted by violent crime — doesn’t offer a meaningful conclusion,” Tidwell said. “There is not a one-to-one relationship between city population statistics and crime data.”
The statistics come in a report that is largely positive for the NOPD. It found that all but the least serious types of force — which include displaying a weapon and laying hands on a person — are on the decline. And the largest increase in that category involves officers showing their gun, something that is likely due to better reporting requirements.
When the U.S. Department of Justice released a damning report on the New Orleans Police Depa…
“We applaud NOPD for tracking this. Not all departments do,” Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson said at a meeting of the City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee on Monday.
And while police used force against more people in 2016 than the year before, the overall number of incidents involving force is on the decline. Police used force against 1,563 people in 589 incidents in 2016, compared with 1,071 people in 724 incidents in 2015.
The number of times police fired their weapons fell from 12 incidents in 2015 to five in 2016.
Hutson’s office raised concerns about two other issues with the use-of-force data.
In all but one incident last year, later reviews found that the use of force was justified. Based on national statistics, a department the size of the NOPD would typically have more than six “unauthorized” uses of force annually, according to the report.
That raises a red flag about the quality of the investigations that follow up those incidents, Price said, particularly when two instances where an officer’s gun went off accidentally were marked as “authorized.”
Also, in about a third of the incidents, the reason the officer used force is listed as “other,” the second-largest category behind “resisting a lawful arrest.” That broad category makes it hard to determine why officers were resorting to force, said Marvin Arnold, who works with NOPD data for the monitor's office.
NOPD officials said more information is maintained in the records that the department keeps on those incidents and they would work to include more descriptive categories.