The people of Pierce County need our criminal justice system to ensure all our communities are safe and that the system is fair, just and equitable for every resident.
A milestone in this effort, the County’s first-ever Use of Force report was presented to the Council’s Public Safety Committee this week. The report is the second major research effort by our Criminal Justice Work Group (CJWG) – comprised of key leaders from the Executive’s Office, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Department of Assigned Council, and the Sheriff’s Department. The CJWG’s first report was presented last year and, among other important findings, it documented that Black/African Americans were arrested at a rate disproportionate to their population, in every jurisdiction in Pierce County. That finding was a key catalyst for this Use of Force Report.
You can find the entire report here and take a look at the underlying data at Open Pierce County. As you can see, it is a comprehensive and rigorous deep dive into how, when and which types of force were used by the Sheriff’s Department from 2016 – 2020. It also reflects our values of being transparent and accountable to the people of Pierce County – even when the data is challenging.
The report, compiled by Joe Izenman and Julie Demuth in the Finance Department, is based on a couple of Sheriff’s Department databases. The types of force evaluated range from non-physical, non-deadly, intermediate, and deadly force. Deputies record every “use of force” from a verbal warning to the active use of a firearm. Notably, neither the databases nor the report includes the thousands of interactions the Sheriff’s Department has with our community that do not involve any use of force.
The charts and graphs reveal a lot about our community and policing in Pierce County. You can see that deadly force is used very rarely. Concerningly, the report documents a disproportionate use of force involving Black/African Americans and Native Americans – as compared to our population. This disproportionality is highest involving the use of force with juveniles. Even though the number of incidents with youth is small, it is very concerning.
What is next?
First, the body-worn and dash cameras that have been purchased need to be implemented as soon as possible. The footage from those cameras will provide key transparency and accountability. The cameras will both build community trust and provide a measure of confidence to our men and women on patrol who must make split second decisions in difficult situations.
Second, I am pleased that the Sheriff’s Department is going to start additional reviews of every time physical force is used with any young person. Pierce County Juvenile Court has been a leader in our nation with innovative approaches to justice-involved youth. Getting our juveniles back on track to a constructive life remains one of our highest priorities.
We have also asked our talented CJWG to propose the next steps for the further review of use of force – including incorporating body and dash camera footage. This effort must be done in coordination with several new state laws, but I have asked them to prepare a recommendation by the end of the year.
My thanks to Joe and Julie for their hours of diligent work. My thanks to the Criminal Justice Work Group for both this report and their continuing broader look at our entire criminal justice system.
We are providing unprecedented levels of transparency and accountability in all facets of County government. I’m pleased that we are taking another large step forward in our commitment to our residents.
Have a great weekend,