CSPD seeks outside analysis of use-of-force data

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Alexis Acker, then 18, was slammed to the floor while handcuffed by a CSPD officer in 2013. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Alexis Acker, then 18, was slammed to the floor while handcuffed by a CSPD officer in 2013.
Would you like to know whether local cops target people of color more often than white people when they use force?

If they do, would you like to know why?

Those are but two questions that would be answered by an "Assessment of Colorado Springs Police Department's Use of Force" study for which the department issued a request for proposals (RFP) on July 20.

The stated goal calls for "a comprehensive assessment of the police department's use of force," notably including demographics of those who find themselves under assault by police.



Proposals are due August 19. The posting doesn't state a cost estimate, and CSPD spokesperson Natashia Kerr says it's not clear how much the study will cost.

It's no secret the CSPD came under fire for its response to Black Lives Matter protests this summer following the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, which sparked demonstrations nationwide.

Kerr says the study was initiated by the department, not the City Council or Mayor John Suthers.

"There was no one incident that prompted this study. For more than a year, the CSPD has been having internal discussions about bringing in external expertise to help us analyze use of force data," she says via email.



Although the department performs some analysis as part of its accreditation requirements, command staff wants to know more and wants to go deeper for a more robust analysis, she says.

From Kerr:
We believe there is a lot of benefit in bringing in outside experts to provide a transparent, fair, and thorough analysis. Additionally, we believe that we must engage is [sic] sophisticated analyses to get a clear and true understanding of use of force. There must be a level of complexity to the analytics, and we cannot rely on rudimentary benchmarks such as unadjusted census data as an example. And hitting those correct benchmarks — as well as getting meaningful statics — takes experts in their field who can correctly analyze complicated data. And if it comes from outside expertise, it paves the way for true and impartial analysis for both the department and our community.

In the way of background, we've written about the CSPD's use of force several times over the years. This cover story ran in July 2015 with this sidebar report about a woman who was slammed to the floor. Then last fall, we researched nearly 20 years of officer involved shootings for this report, which concluded there's thin evidence that officers fire their weapons at people of color significantly more often than white people.

Most recently, this report came out July 1 and took a look at payments the city has made in past use-of-force cases.

It's not the first time the CSPD has looked at its use of force practices. It did so in 2016, and then-Chief Pete Carey said he would adopt all recommendations handed down. But that analysis didn't look at demographics, which is one goal of the planned deep dive into officers' use of force.

Vince Niski, named as chief in February 2019, is now in charge, and new research is being ordered.

According to the RFP, CSPD officers filed an average of 2,056 force reports in the last two years. That's nearly three per day on average.

Of those, 60 percent involved pointing a firearm at someone, which the CSPD considers a use of force and requires officers to report when they do it.

Take a closer look at CSPD’s force and force reporting policies here.

The RFP's scope of work requires the vendor to:
• Conduct a comprehensive analysis of CSPD use of force, to include demographic data.
• Use scientifically valid methods to determine whether and to what extent CSPD use of force data reflects disparities among various demographic categories.
• Compare CSPD use of force data to similarly situated cities as one benchmark to provide context to the study.
• Identify possible reasons for any disparities that are found, grounded in extant research.
• Make recommendations for future data collection and research methodology that could be used by CSPD to help clarify reasons for any disparities in force that are found.
• Provide scientifically valid recommendations on reducing disparities in police use of force, which may include community recommendations and police recommendations.
• Conduct a presentation in a public forum in Colorado Springs on the findings.

The study must be completed within six months of the "notice to proceed."

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