New Atlanta database details use of force incidents involving police

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms leads a press conference Tuesday, Aug 3, 2021 at City Hall to address a rise in crime, the recent murder in Piedmont Park and covid delta concerns.  She is supported by Deputy Chief Charles Hampton, Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant and Emory infectious diseases Dr. Carlos Del Rio to address while addressing city's current issues.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Caption
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms leads a press conference Tuesday, Aug 3, 2021 at City Hall to address a rise in crime, the recent murder in Piedmont Park and covid delta concerns. She is supported by Deputy Chief Charles Hampton, Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant and Emory infectious diseases Dr. Carlos Del Rio to address while addressing city's current issues. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Atlanta Police found justification for 87% of the use of force incidents reported since 2019, according to a new database released Monday to track force used against citizens.

The public dashboard displays information about at least 47,000 arrests and 501 use of force reports involving some of the city’s 1,600-plus officers. Up to 335 officers have been involved in use of force cases since 2019.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ office released the database as part of her police reform efforts, according to the mayor’s office. The dashboard was one of her seven administrative orders to address 16 of the 33 recommendations from her Use of Force Advisory Council.

“The purpose of the Use of Force Dashboard is to improve transparency, increase trust between the public and APD and facilitate fact-based discussions around police performance,” a statement from the mayor’s office said.

Bottoms has tried to improve public trust and conversations around Atlanta’s policing amid her administration’s promise that officers are “putting a dent” in crime since last year, when dozens of officers left the force citing lack of support from City Hall and the district attorney’s office.

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While the dashboard lacks some specifics, it allows residents to see trends over time, the demographics of officers or individuals involved in incidents, the type of force used, the time of day when force was used, and the reason for it.

The data stops at 2020, but the next update is slated for October. The police have provided annual use of force data on their website since 2015.

The city reported a 33% decline in arrests and a 26% drop in use of force reports between 2019 and last year. In the last year, nearly 55% of the incidents involved physical force that could have resulted in minor or major injuries, including death. Force was used 37% of the time when police responded to suspicious person calls.

Atlanta police spokesman Sgt. John Chafee said in a statement that a number of factors contributed to the number of arrests made and the number of times force was needed in recent years.

“Between businesses being closed, fewer people outside, fewer events and then the period of time where many of our resources were responding to civil unrest issues, it is no surprise our arrest numbers and use of force incidents were lower than the year before,” Chafee said.

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Black male officers made up the majority of the reported use of force incidents between 2019 and last year. During that period, 85% of the people who experienced force were Black. Men made up 82% of those incidents.

When use of force occurs, a police sergeant or supervisor is required to visit the scene to complete a report, according to the mayor’s office. The findings are reviewed by two other people in the officers’ chain of command. If any of the reviewers think the force was excessive or a policy violation, the Office of Professional Standards investigates.

Results of that investigation could include discipline such as oral admonishment, written reprimand, suspension without pay, demotion, or dismissal.

Only 13% of the department’s reported use of force cases have been referred to the department’s internal investigations unit for further scrutiny since 2019. It’s unclear if the department took disciplinary action in those cases.

Only around 1% of Atlanta police arrests each year resulted in force being used, Chafee said. He also said their full data includes force used against property, which is when officers force entry into a vehicle or building.

Bottoms’ office also released a public website for video evidence submissions. The public can also submit video footage to the Atlanta Citizen Review Board’s online complaint form.

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