After nationwide protests against racism and police brutality, the Brookhaven Police Department responded with a social-media “Transparency Project” promoting certain policies and procedures, though use of force and complaint reports were more challenging to obtain. Meanwhile, statistics show the city government staff and BPD are roughly representative of the community’s diversity.
BPD said it already bans the neck restraints like the one used by Minnesota police in the killing of George Floyd, which triggered nationwide protests.
Mayor John Ernst said the city is “actively listening” to residents during the protests and wants to take time before making any citywide initiatives toward inclusion. He said the biggest systemic racism problem in Brookhaven is other residents racial profiling people of color and calling the police.
Ernst said racist suspicious-persons calls have always been a problem, though the city has never addressed it before and has no concrete plans to.
“There’s not a public policy solution, which makes this whole problem very difficult,” said Ernst, who hopes community protests and more neighborly interactions because of the pandemic have helped alleviate some of the problem.
BPD “Transparency Project” includes information about demographics, body cameras and some use of force policies and reports.
However, the project did not include the release of primary documents on BPD use of force reports or complaints against officers. The city initially demanded an unwaivable fee of more than $500 for use of force reports through an open records request, but BPD later agreed to provide use of force and discrimination reports at no cost.
Deputy Chief of Police Brandon Gurley said the department spent 10 to 15 hours of staff time creating the “Transparency Project” posts and videos.
City Manager Christian Sigman said the city intends to eventually set up a system for making use of force reports, along with such other information as city financial transactions, available online.
Use of force
All neck restraints, including knee-to-neck or chokeholds, are considered deadly force, said Brookhaven Police Department spokesperson David Snively. Those restraints are prohibited except in situations where the suspect is deemed to be an immediate threat to killing or severely injuring another person.
Brookhaven police officers are obligated to intervene if another officer is using excessive force and must try to de-escalate a situation before using force.
All use of force incidents, which include anytime an officer displays a weapon, are documented and evaluated by four supervisors before being completed, according to a BPD social media post.
Officers reported 251 uses of force during 3,066 total arrests in 2019, according to an annual use of force report posted by BPD. They include one use of deadly force, 17 Taser deployments and 53 incidents of physical contact. About 180 of reports involved displaying a weapon.
BPD does not include Hispanic people in the data of arrested individuals because the state only records race, not ethnicity, for crime data. The use of force reports has an ethnic breakdown because the department created those reports themselves, Snively said.
White people accounted for 61% of all arrests in 2019 but 19% of all use of force reports, whereas Black people accounted for 38% of arrests but 44% of all use of force reports, according to BPD’s social media graphics.
Snively said these percentages do not reflect the circumstances around each use of force report, and the department assesses each report individually for racial or ethnic bias.
“People who do not resist lawful arrest or offer violence towards police officers are least likely to have force presented or used against them, irrespective of their race or ethnicity,” Snively said.
In the past 12 months, BPD had 36 complaints against officers, four of which alleged discrimination, according to documents obtained in an open records request. All four complaints were investigated and considered unsubstantiated.
One of the complaints ruled as unsubstantiated alleged racial profiling when an officer stopped a man who was said to match the description of another person wanted in connection with a theft.
The Brookhaven police force is representative of the city’s population, though it slightly under-represents Latino and Asian people. Nineteen percent of the police force is Latino whereas 23% of the population is Latino. Three percent of officers are Asian, though 6% of the city is Asian.
About 53% of the police force is White, compared to 58% of the city’s population. Black people are over-represented in the force, at 23% of officers compared to 10% of the population. Women are under-represented in the force compared to the city population, but above the national average for women officers.
Those numbers include all 95 full-time staff members, not just sworn officers.
Ernst also complimented the diversity of the city staff, which has similar diversity as the police department, though slightly under-representing the Latino and Asian population by about 9 and 3 percentage points, respectively.
–John Ruch contributed
Correction: A previous version of this article did not include comment from the Brookhaven spokesperson about use of force statistics due to an editing error.