Use-Of-Force Data From Burlington Police Reveals Racial Disparities, Overall Decrease

Jan 27, 2017

This week, the Burlington Police Department released data showing how officers used force for the last six years. The department's analysis showed that overall use of force is going down, but the data also showed some cases of racial disparity.

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Overall, use-of-force incidents make up a small portion of police activity in Burlington. According to the report, only 1 percent of police contacts and 11 percent of arrests resulted in force.

However, one of the report's main findings says that people of color have a 37 percent higher chance of having a weapon pointed at them.

Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo says the department released this data voluntarily, and he said this analysis sets a baseline for further examinations.

“We're kind of looking at these results at the same time the public is going, ‘Hmmm, you know, where should we take this deeper?'” he said. “And these are the types of cases in which we will be looking at weapon versus non-weapon weapon displayed, versus weapon used. These are these are really rich areas for research.”

For example, del Pozo says he wants to look more closely at instances when cops draw their firearm before they even meet a person — such as investigating a possible home invasion.

“We also want to make sure that if there's any evidence of bias that we can we can ascertain as meaningful as bias,” del Pozo said. “We want to address that. We want to see those trends flatten out.”

"If there's any evidence of bias that we can we can ascertain ... We want to address that. We want to see those trends flatten out." — Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo

"I think this is definitely sort of a first step in looking at how are we doing and what needs to happen,” said Sarah Kenney, chairwoman of the Burlington Police Commission.

She says she's troubled by the initial data showing racial disparities in some use-of-force incidents.

But Kenney says it's a complicated issue to address.

“Our police department [is] one small part of this much bigger criminal justice system, which, like many of the systems in our society, is infused with institutional racism,” Kenney said.

Kenney is hopeful that the use-of-force data will help identify where changes can be made.

"Our police department [is] one small part of this much bigger criminal justice system, which, like many of the systems in our society, is infused with institutional racism." — Sarah Kenney, Burlington Police Commission chairwoman

The raw use-of-force data is posted on the Burlington Police Department's online transparency portal.

Del Pozo says he hopes people will take a look at the data for themselves.

“Poke around ... draw your own conclusions,” del Pozo said. “You can share the data with other folks and see what they think, so we're not just giving an analysis — we're trying to make our results replicable.”

The transparency portal also contains other data the department collects such as data on traffic stops, arrests and citizen complaints.