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Study points to disparities in police use of force against Black people in Indianapolis, Bloomington

Jail Handcuffs
Posted at 5:39 PM, Jan 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-17 12:34:19-05

A database recently published by a national civil rights organization shows Indianapolis and Bloomington police disproportionately used force against Black people between 2017 and 2019.

The organization says the data is connected to widespread disparities in policing of Black and brown communities.

IMPD called the statistics misleading. And a Bloomington spokesman said the data is skewed because it does not account for the visitors who get arrested in the city.

According to the Accountable Now database, compiled by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, police in Indianapolis used force against Black people in roughly half of all use of force incidents.

Bloomington police used force against Black people in about a quarter of all incidents, according to the Washington, D.C.-based organization that traces its roots to the 1950s Civil Rights movement.

"The work we're doing is to really raise awareness around how little information we tend to have," Bree Spencer, the Leadership Conference's police program manager, said.

Police departments are only required to report to the FBI the number of times an officer fires a gun, kills or seriously injures someone, Spencer said. Many police departments, including Indianapolis and Bloomington, voluntarily publish their use-of-force data, but Spencer notes every agency in the U.S. reports the numbers differently.

"There are so many other ways that police use force," Spencer said. "It might not, to an officer, seem a noteworthy thing to put handcuffs on someone, but for the person who's having the handcuffs put on them, it's certainly a use of force."

The Accountable Now project, launched last year, works with experts at the University of Chicago to "harmonize" the disparities in use-of-force data so the numbers closely match from city to city, Spencer said.

The data found disparities in use of force on Blacks in departments large and small throughout the country.

"It's connected to over-policing of Black and brown communities," Spencer said. "Black people are more likely to be stopped for trivial things, which leads to more interactions with law enforcement that wouldn't have had to happen if they hadn't been stopped for something trivial."

Spencer pointed to studies that find widespread disparities in policing, including that Black people are more likely than whites to be pulled over or questioned by police.

The Accountable Now project found that the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department used force against Blacks between 50% and 56% of the time from 2017 to 2019. The city's Black population is about 29%.

Lt. Shane Foley, an IMPD spokesman, called the statistics misleading.

"These numbers are concerning, but the statistics alone present a misleading picture," Foley said in an email to WRTV.

He pointed to a study showing violent crime disproportionately impacts the Black community in Indianapolis. The National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform's 2021 study found found that 77% of victims and suspects in Indianapolis homicides and shootings were Black.

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Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Public Information Officer Lt. Shane Foley responded to the scene of the officer-involved shooting on the morning of Friday, Aug. 20, 2021.

"African Americans make up a disproportional number of shooting victims and shooting suspects in the city," Foley said.

Foley said IMPD is engaging with the Black community "in hopes of bridging the gap, improving race relations, and working with the community to prevent and address violent crime."

The Rev. Charles Harrison said police go where there is crime.

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The Rev. Charles Harrison (left) and FOP President Rick Snyder

"To be fair to police, if they are having a higher incident of police encounters with African Americans, it's because of the crime data driving those numbers," Harrison said. "If you are having higher violence in those areas, you are going to have more police and more arrests in those areas."

Harrison leads the Indianapolis Ten Point Coalition, a nonprofit that hires former gang members and others to walk patrols in some neighborhoods. The group works to curb violence through one-on-one meetings with gang members and at-risk youth.

Poverty, broken families, and lack of opportunities are among the underlying factors that drive crime in the community, Harrison said. Those are issues the community must work together to fix, he said.

"What we’re trying to do, the churches and Ten Point, is reduce the level of violence so we reduce the level of policing in these communities," Harrison said. "If we reduce the level of violence, we reduce the policing in these neighborhoods."

The Accountable Now data shows the Bloomington Police Department used forced against Blacks in 21% to 23% of incidents from 2017 to 2019. Black residents makeup just 4% of Bloomington's population.

"Bloomington attracts a large number of visitors each year," said Captain Ryan Pedigo, a spokesman for the Bloomington Police Department. "These visitors to the city are not included in census data, but unfortunately do sometimes commit crimes... When an officer is required to use force and the arrestee is not a resident of the city, census percentage data cannot be accurately compared and analyzed."

Bloomington, population 80,000 and home to Indiana University, attracts about two million visitors a year. It's unclear how many use-of-force cases involved visitors.

In an email, Pedigo said Bloomington's officers are rigorously trained in use-of-force and de-escalation techniques and that each use-of-force incident is reviewed by at least two supervisors. The department also uses special software that tracks use-of-force incidents and can give an early warning when an individual officer might be pushing the limits.

"The Bloomington Police Department is committed to continuing to improve our service so that all feel safe and included, and treated with justice and respect," Pedigo said.

"BPD recognizes the use of force data trend is not unique to Bloomington, but will continue to use it and many other data points to improve service in measurable ways."

Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at victor.ryckaert@wrtv.com or on Twitter: @vicryc.