Police use of force lacks a universal definition. Generally, use of force refers to the force reasonably necessary and permitted to compel compliance (International Association of Chiefs of Police, 2008). Police use of force has been studied with a variety of geospatial methods such as hot spots and clustering (Hickman, Atherley, & Alpert, 2014), as well as density grids (LeBeau, 2001). Whereas repeat and near repeat methods have applied to the study of a variety of crimes including burglary (Townsley, Homel, & Chaseling, 2003), shootings (Ratcliffe & Rengert, 2008), and arson (Grubb & Nobles, 2014). While Youstin, Nobles, Ward, and Cook (2011), suggested that the repeat and near repeat phenomenon could be extended to the study of a variety of criminal behaviors, it has yet to be applied to policing activities, particularly police use of force. By examining the use of force data from the Orlando Police Department from 2009 to 2015, this study fills the gap in the literature by applying repeat and near repeat analyses to official records of police use of force.
Police Use of Force
Police utilize force through a variety of methods such as physical, electronic devices, chemical agents, impact weapons, and firearms (Police Foundation, 2015). While laws such as Tennessee v. Garner have established definitive regulation of lethal force, less lethal use of force lacks any such uniform definition (Tennessee v. Garner, 1985; Terrill & Paoline, 2017). What force applied by the police is allowable depends on what is considered reasonable based on the officer’s training, experience, and assessment of the situation (International Association of Chiefs of Police, 2008). Research indicates that law enforcement agencies vary in use of force policies and reporting guidelines (Terrill, Paoline, & Ingram, 2012). In 2008, it was estimated that use of force was utilized in only 1.4% of police-citizen contacts (Eith & Durose, 2011).
Literature on police use of force has addressed officer characteristics, situational factors, suspect characteristics, citizen complaints, and administrative policies (Hickman, 2006; Paoline & Terrill, 2007; Terrill & Paoline, 2017; Terrill & Reisig, 2003). The most unique and defining characteristic of law enforcement is their authority to use force to compel obedience and to enforce the law (Bittner, 1970). Research reveals that suspect demeanor and level of resistance impact the level of force used by officers (Riksheim & Chermack, 1993; Terrill & Mastrofski, 2002; Tyler & Huo, 2002). However, studies indicate that individual officer characteristics such as race and ethnicity do not influence officer use of force (Terrill & Mastrofski, 2002). External factors that do impact level of force are location of incident and administrative policies. Officers are more likely to utilize force in neighborhoods characterized by high rates of violent crime and concentrated disadvantage (Terrill & Reisig, 2003; Lee, Vaughn, & Lim, 2014). Organizational policy has demonstrated the ability to constrain officer use of force, as officers within agencies with more restrictive use of force policies are less like to utilize force (Terrill & Paoline, 2017) While spatiotemporal studies have been applied to a variety of criminal behaviors, it has yet to be applied to police actions or activities.
Repeat & Near Repeat Patterns
Repeat patterns demonstrate incidents that occur in the same location after an initial incident. Near repeat is patterning which occurs after an initial incident in a nearby location. The idea is that following an incident or crime, there is increased likelihood of similar incidents to occur in spatiotemporal proximity to the original event (Ratcliffe & Rengert, 2008). Knox (1964) implemented near repeat patterning through research on contagious diseases. This method assumes a null hypothesis of random distribution, comparing it to observed spatiotemporal incidents. Incidents which differ significantly from random are considered near repeat patterns (Knox, 1964; Youstin et al., 2011).
Near repeat patterning has traditionally been used in the study of burglary (Moreto, Piza, & Caplan, 2013; Townsley et al., 2003), and more recently with shootings (Ratcliffe & Rengert, 2008; Wells, Wu, & Ye, 2012), arson (Grubb & Nobles, 2014), terrorist events (Behlendorf, LaFree, & Legault, 2012), and maritime piracy (Marchione & Johnson, 2013). Extending repeat and near repeat patterns to police activities, such as use of force and officer involved shootings may provide information regarding the spatiotemporal relationship of such events. Such findings would be useful in guiding police department policies for use of force, deployment of officers, and better insight into the possibility of retaliatory relations between the police and the community.
The present study provides information on police use of force from a spatiotemporal perspective. The data in this study include police response to resistance for the Orlando Police Department (OPD) for January 1, 2009 through December 31, 2015. The city of Orlando is the county seat for Orange County, Florida. The U.S Census Bureau estimates that in 2015 there were 20,271,272 residents in Florida, 270,934 of which were in Orlando (U.S. Census Bureau, n.d.). Orlando contains 1.34% of the state’s population and is the 73rd largest city in the United States (U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, 2016). There is some variation of the city’s characteristics from those of national characteristics; however, the racial make-up in Orlando (28.1% Black, 25.40% Hispanic) are similar to other metropolitan areas in Florida and nationally, including Chicago ( 32.9% Black, 28.9% Hispanic), Houston (23.7% Black, 43.8% Hispanic), and Tampa (26.2% Black, 23.2% Hispanic) (U.S. Census Bureau, n.d.). (See Table 1).
Per the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Florida Uniform Crime Report for 2015, there were a total of 93,626 violent offenses and 570,270 property offenses. Of these, 2,525 violent and 16,148 property offenses occurred in Orlando (FBI, n.d.). Orlando accounts for 2.7% of the violent crime in Florida and 0.21% of U.S. violent crime, as well as 2.83% of Florida and 0.20% of the nation’s property crimes (FBI, n.d.).
The Orlando Police Department data are available through the City of Orlando’s open data portal. They provide information for 4,207 incidents of use of force, which make up 5,594 actual uses of force in the 6-year period. These numbers vary as a singular incident of response to resistance may require more than one use of force, such as multiple officers applying the same force to one suspect, one officer applying force to multiple offenders. The numbers also vary due to multiple types of force to be applied, such as chemical spray followed by a takedown, yet counted as one incident. The data also includes dates, locations, type of force implemented, officer and suspect demographics, arrest information, and geocodes.
Types of Force
The OPD reports seven types of response to resistance: electronic control device (ECD), chemical agents, physical strikes, tackle or takedowns, K9 units, impact weapons, and deflation devices. For 2009-2015, the greatest number of incidents (896) of use of force were reported for 2012 and exhibited a decrease to a six-year low of 633 incidents. The most frequently used force is the electronic control device (ECD), at almost 41% of the time. Followed by chemical sprays 35% of the time. However, just as the overall OPD response to resistance has seen a decrease since 2012, ECD usage has also decreased by 41%. (See Table 2). It is important to note that use of force is a rare event. During the same period, 2009-2015, Orlando Police Department reported 160,947 crimes. Therefore, police use of force was utilized 2.61% of the time.
Use of force incidents varied with the number of officers involved from one to nine. The vast majority (79.3%) of incidents involved one to two officers, while incidents most frequently (42.9%) involved two officers. Regarding race, 84.7% of the officers were white, 10.4% were black, 4.4% were Asian, and 0.6% were “unknown.” 92.9% of the officers involved were male.
Reported response to resistance incidents involved a range of one to six suspects, primarily (87.6%) incidents involved one offender, while 6.2% of incidents involved two offenders. Of the offenders involved, 41.5% were Black, 34.2% were White, and .5% were Asian. Additionally, the majority (67.4%) of the suspects were male. In regard to outcomes, just over 48% of the time, the incident culminated in a felony arrest, 40% resulted in misdemeanor arrests, while 11.6% did not result in an arrest.
Time and Space
To provide a context of time, when looking at OPD use of force on a daily basis, 37.6% of the incidents of force occurred on the weekend, on a Saturday (19.1%) or Sunday (18.5%). (See Table 3.) Additionally, almost 20% of all incidents of force occur between 2 am and 3 am, which is nearly double that of any other time period. (See Table 4).
For the analysis, the data consisted of three values: the incident date, the x-coordinate, and the y-coordinate. Any incident of force that did not include all three of these values was removed. 4,016 (95%) incidents remained for the near repeat analysis. Utilizing the Ratcliffe’s (2009) Near Repeat Calculator, Version 1.3, the data was tested for repeat and near repeat patterns for use of force by the Orlando Police Department. It is suggested that in order to study repeat incidents, that data consist of at minimum one year, or ideally, three years of continuous data (Farrell, Sousa, & Weisel, 2002). As the OPD use of force data are composed of six continuous years, this standard is satisfied.
Spatial bandwidths are selected to identify the distance in which the near repeat activity is expected to occur (Ratcliffe, 2009). The spatial bandwidths are typically chosen as the average block length of the research area (Ratcliffe, 2009; Ratcliffe & Rengert, 2008). City block lengths vary from location to location, and previous research has utilized lengths from 300 feet in Newark (Moreto et al., 2013) to 575 feet in Jacksonville (Youstin et al., 2011). Based on the mean length of Orlando street segments, 484 feet was chosen for the spatial bandwidth. Bandwidths were entered for 484 feet, 968 feet, and 1,452 feet.
Temporal bands were chosen based on the information that use of force incidents occurred most frequently on Saturdays and Sundays; therefore, 1-day, 7-day, and 14-day temporal bands were selected. Manhattan distance was selected for analysis as it is the more accepted method for urban settings (Ratcliffe, 2009). The Near Repeat Calculator utilizes Monte Carlo calculation to identify near repeat patterns. The maximum 999 iterations were selected to obtain patterns at the .001 p-value.
The repeat and near repeat analysis indicates that patterns for use of force exist. (See Table 5). The results table is comprised of Knox ratios of observed to expected mean frequencies of use of force incidents. Results which are significant at the .05 level and a Knox ratio of 1.20 or higher have been bolded to represent those that have at least a 20 percent greater likelihood of a subsequent incident. The top row represents near repeat and repeat patterns for 0 to 14 days. Looking at the following level, it compares patterns at a smaller temporal pattern of 0 to 7 days, and finally, the bottom level identifies patterns at 1-day intervals. Only the days which included significant ratios were included in the bottom level. These comparisons allow for identification of patterns in more specific time frames, illustrating how the larger temporal bands may be driven by the first day or two.
The results indicate that a repeat and near repeat pattern of use of force is present. The repeat pattern is strong for the same location within 1 and 2 days as opposed to if there were no pattern. In regard to near repeat patterns, the greatest support is in the 0 to 1-day temporal band within 1 block of the initial use of force. There is an increase in use of force during the first 2 days, and then every 5 to 7 days after. Looking at the ratios, the likelihood of additional use of force is 275% greater in the same location and 106% greater within one block within one day of the original use of force. That percentage fluctuates when moving further away in both time and distance. These findings are not surprising when compared to the descriptive results that the majority of OPD’s reports of use of force occur on the weekend and within a specific 1-hour period. However, these results, like those of criminal behaviors, support the proposition that police use of force exhibits statistically significant near repeat patterning.
The available data from the Orlando Police Department is based on official reports of police use of force. These numbers do not include any potential situations in which officers may utilize force but fail to report to the department. Secondly, these data group each report of response to resistance into a singular incident, therefore, it does not truly capture the number of individual uses of force. For example, one report of use of force may include multiple officers, multiple offenders, and/or multiple types of force. Additionally, this data does not provide insight into the events that led up to the officer use of force regarding suspect behavior, demeanor, level of resistance, or state of mind. Also, generalizing reports of use of force across agencies may prove difficult as police departments vary in their requirements for officer reporting of use of force in respect to thresholds for use of force as well types of force to be reported. Finally, Orlando provides a unique situation in which their city includes high numbers of entertainment venues. The majority of their police use of force occurs in two specific non-residential block groups, one containing the downtown entertainment district, including sports and large event facilities, and other contains a large public tourist attraction. Future research should consider the use of force in these locations in comparison to social disorganization theories.
Identifying locations which experience frequent repeats of use of force allows police agencies to assess how to best utilize and dispatch patrol officers to those locations. In Orlando, the spaces frequently experiencing repeat incidents of response to resistance are establishments that serve alcohol downtown and near theme parks. Identifying specific locations, days, and times provides guidance to police availability. The specificity of spatiotemporal data allows law enforcement administrators to better deploy officers by identifying specific problem locations in relation to both time and space. Alternatively, such information may identify locations where increased police presence may be contributing to the increased use of force. This data does not provide police data regarding resource deployment or officer saturation. It does open the discussion of city regulations for concentrated entertainment districts, or the possibility of staggering closing times of establishments, in order to avoid the mass exodus of patrons when multiple businesses close at once.
While repeat and near repeat pattern analysis have been utilized in a variety of crimes, they have yet to be extended to police actions. This study provided an analysis of patterns for use of force in an urban environment. Using six years (2009 to 2015) of geocoded response to resistance data from the Orlando Police Department (OPD), use of force incidents are analyzed for spatiotemporal interaction. The analysis found that there were patterns of repeat uses of force and near repeat uses of force within 0 to 1 day and within 1 block of the initial use of force. The risk of an incident of police use of force is 275% greater in the same location and 106% greater within one block than expected. These findings can benefit agencies in identifying locations prone to police altercations and tailor patrol and proactive response to potentially reduce negative police-citizen interactions.
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Table 1. Orlando Descriptives
|Percentage of Orlando Residents||Estimate:
|18 years & older||186,531||78.10%||24.00%|
|Mean household income*||$42,318||–||$53,889|
|Families below poverty level*||54,728||20.2%||13.5%|
SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau (2010).
*Data estimates from 2015.
Table 2. OPD Response to Resistance Descriptives by Type of Force
|Electronic Device||Chemical Agent||Physical Strike||Tackle/ Takedown||K9 Unit||Impact Weapons||Deflation Device||Total|
Table 3. OPD Response to Resistance Descriptives by Day
Table 4. OPD Response to Resistance Descriptives by Hour
Table 5. Ratios for Use of Force with Temporal Bands
* p<0.05, ** p<0.01, ***p<0.001
Sherah L. Basham, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Social, Cultural, and Justice Studies at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She has over 20 years of experience in the criminal justice field in the areas of administration, investigations, campus security, and higher education. She holds a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice from Walden University, an MSA in Criminal Justice from the University of West Florida, and a BS in Criminal Justice from Pensacola Christian College. Her research interests include policing, campus law enforcement, and education.
Areas: Criminal Justice