Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists, as part of
their Campaign Zero campaign to "end police violence in America," have launched a new website called the Police Use of Force Project which they say is "the first open-source database of police use of force policies for the 100 largest U.S. city police departments."
Using documents procured through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, the site's creators aim to demonstrate how these departments' publicly available policies regarding the legal limits to use of force "help enable police violence."
According to the Project, many of these policies "fail to include common-sense limits on police use of force," such as:
- Failing to make life preservation the primary principle shaping police decisions about using force
- Failing to require officers to de-escalate situations, where possible, by communicating with subjects, maintaining distance, and otherwise eliminating the need to use force
- Allowing officers to choke or strangle civilians, in many cases where less lethal force could be used instead, resulting in the unnecessary death or serious injury of civilians
- Failing to require officers to intervene and stop excessive force used by other officers and report these incidents immediately to a supervisor (bold in original)
Both websites provide a database with easy access to PDFs of government documents, and the creators of the sites allow the policies to speak for themselves, with almost no editorializing other than suggested policy solutions. Although even in that section, they cite examples of already existing "good" policies regarding the use of force in cities like Seattle, Denver and Las Vegas to demonstrate that the solutions they seek are possible given the right circumstances.
Examing the policies of the 17 largest PDs in the US, the Project found:
- Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Antonio police are not required to give a verbal warning, when possible, before shooting at civilians.
- Minneapolis, New York, Phoenix, and San Francisco police departments are the only departments in our analysis that prohibit officers from hog-tying civilians, a cruel form of restraint where a person's wrists are shackled to their ankles behind their back.
- 12 of the 17 departments reviewed permit officers in some cases to shoot at moving vehicles when the vehicle is the only threat; a dangerous, ineffective practice that the Policing Executive Research Forum and International Association of Police Chiefs have recommended be prohibited.
As we've noted often here at Reason, US police departments have a transparency problem, and while the Police Use of Force project was able to compile an impressive amount of data, some departments (Houston and El Paso among them) would only release heavily redacted files of what should be publicly available data.
The Project also notes that four of the largest PDs do not make their use of force policies available to the public online, that only three of the largest "require police to report every time they used force, including incidents where police point a firearm at civilians," and that some departments refuse to even release the names of people killed by police.
If you're curious to see the use of force policies in your city, check out the database here.