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The macho factor

Male officers use excessive force more often than female officers



When it comes to police brutality, it's a man thing.

Statistics show that male cops dominate the ranks of officers accused of using excessive force, including in Colorado Springs. For example, of the more than two dozen Colorado Springs Police officers named in excessive-force lawsuits against the city in the past five years, all are men. Moreover, in the same period, women represented fewer than 1 percent of those under review for an "escalating pattern of conduct" that includes excessive use of force.

The Police Department refuses to comment on those statistics. But they don't surprise Katherine Spillar, executive director of the Feminist Majority Foundation, which oversees the National Center for Women & Policing.

"They reflect the same kinds of stats we see in department after department, no matter what size, across the country," she says in an interview. "Male police officers are far more likely to use force and to cross the line into excessive force than their female counterparts."

Nevertheless, Police Chief Pete Carey has adopted a Physical Abilities Testing policy that's had the effect of targeting women for removal from the CSPD, according to a lawsuit filed against the city in April by a dozen female officers.

The city, meanwhile, denies that female officers' rights have been violated, saying the fitness test has been used merely as "a means of promoting personal wellness and officer safety."

As of last week, the CSPD had 632 active officers on the force, 79 of them women, or 12.5 percent. If the 37-member class of recruits, with 10 females, is factored in, the force is 13 percent women.

That's on par with local police departments across the country, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The bureau reports that between 1987 and 2013, the number of female officers increased from 27,000, or 5 percent of local police forces, to 58,000, or 12 percent.

Still, the population of the country — and of Colorado Springs — is 51 percent female.

"It is the imbalance and under-representation of women [on police forces] that's contributing to the excessive use of force," Spillar says.

One survey of five American cities found that male police officers are 8.5 times more likely than female police officers to have an excessive use of force allegation sustained against them, she says, and they're two to three times more likely to be named in an excessive force complaint.

Of the eight lawsuits filed against the CSPD in the past five years that allege excessive use of force — in which citizens were Tased, thrown to the ground, shot, manhandled or rousted using explosives — all officers named as defendants were male. The city settled four of those cases for a total of $412,500 ("Full force," cover story, July 15).

The most recent case was filed Friday and involves Officer Tyler Walker, who slammed 18-year-old Alexis Acker to the floor of Memorial Hospital's emergency room in November 2013. He's under investigation by the Internal Affairs Division.

While the CSPD doesn't track the gender of officers named in citizens' use-of-force complaints — there were 209 filed from 2011 through April 2015 — the department does report the gender of officers placed in the department's "Early Intervention Program." Of the 138 enrolled in the past five years, one is a woman, records show.

The program's criteria, described in General Order 1917, were largely redacted from the copy provided to the Independent in response to an open-records request. But the order says the program is designed to identify officers who "show symptoms of job stress and performance problems" and to detect an "escalating pattern of conduct."

Use of force clearly is one of the criteria for assignment to the program, because items an EIP file must contain include Response to Aggression forms, mandatory forms filed by officers who use force on citizens, and a "notation of involvement in a Deadly Force Incident," the policy states.

While the CSPD's percentage of female officers is on par with that of other departments across the country, the number could drop due to the physical test, commonly called the PAT. The PAT was first administered in October, November and December of 2014, after which several female officers were penalized by being removed from certain duties.

The test emphasizes upper-body strength and has caused a disproportionate number of women over age 40 to fail the test, the female officers' lawsuit alleges. Under the city's policy, those who fail can lose the right to wear a CSPD uniform, lose eligibility to work overtime and extra duty, be disqualified from serving as a training officer, lose eligibility for pay increases, and be denied applications for transfer and promotion.

In the past, officers were evaluated on communication, customer service, initiative and use of time, knowledge and application of policies and procedures, teamwork and leadership. But the PAT allows dismissal based on test results alone.

That speaks volumes about the CSPD climate, says the female officers' attorney, Donna Dell'Olio, via email. "The City is trying to get rid of highly qualified women police officers who are less likely than men to go 'hands on' unless truly necessary," she says. "The City has adopted a policy of selecting police officers which emphasizes physicality over brains."

Moreover, she adds, "The City doesn't value women who use their brains and verbal skills before resorting to physical force."

And that, Spillar says, should worry taxpayers "big-time."

"Now we know, with all these videos cropping up across the country," she says, "it's men who are doing the abuse. Police have got to take notice, and citizens who are worried what it's costing them in payouts should take notice."

For example, a 2002 study by the National Center for Women & Policing found that from 1990 to 1999, judgments and settlements by the Los Angeles Police Department totaled $63.4 million for excessive force cases involving male officers; the payout for cases involving female officers was $2.8 million.

"Women believe policing should be a service to a community," Spillar says, while male officers tend to view their role as exerting authority and gaining compliance. That translates on the street to women more often relying on de-escalation skills involving communication, while men resort to use of force, she says. And, she notes, women "tend to be the ones to report the incident."

A bias against women runs especially deep among law enforcement, she says, which has always been dominated by men. "If you surveyed anonymously the officers on the Colorado Springs department and its senior leadership, there would be overwhelming bias against women officers," she says. "They think [women] can't handle themselves on patrol, and they have a disdain for the type of policing women bring to a department."

And that can motivate women to remain silent in the face of sexual and gender harassment, because if they speak up, "The next time you call for backup, no one will show up," Spillar says.

But the female officers' discrimination lawsuit and Acker's excessive force lawsuit will train a spotlight on issues surrounding women on the force, Spillar says.

That's badly needed, she argues, because outside of a Department of Justice investigation resulting in an order that the department hire more women, the two lawsuits are "your only hope to break this up."

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