Even when police use of force is later found to be justifiable, the question remains: Just how often does force come into play?, asks the Springfield (MO) News-Leader. “It’s one of those urban legends that cops are always fighting for their lives. The truth is, we don’t fight that much,” said Steve Ijames, a retired Springfield police major. Ijames, who has frequently served as an expert witness and consultant to departments accused of heavy-handed use of force, said the best way to explain that objectively is to “lay out the numbers.” “What you’re looking for is a relationship between how frequently you arrest people and how frequently you use force,” Ijames said, describing the process he has used when evaluating agencies including the New York and Los Angeles police departments.
Law enforcement agencies seeking accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies Inc. are required to track and analyze use-of-force incidents annually. A News-Leader’s review of 2007 use-of-force data found that, in general, local officers applied some level of force in less than one in 20 arrests — at some agencies, the number was about one in 100. “About 30 percent of the cases I review, I tell the agency, ‘You’ve got big trouble here,’ ” Ijames said, noting that the repercussions can be severe when law enforcement is perceived to abuse its power.”