Study: Police use of force, significant injuries to suspects rare

A multi-site study shows that officers rarely use force when apprehending suspects and seldom inflict significant injuries to them when they do


By Police1 Staff

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A multi-site study shows that police officers rarely use force when apprehending suspects and seldom inflict significant injuries to them when they do.

In a study published in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, 1.04 million calls for service received by three mid-sized PDs in three states were reviewed over a two-year period, according to a Wake Forest Baptist University press release. Of the calls reviewed, researchers found 893 use of force incidents, which represented 0.086 percent (1 in 1,167) of all calls and 0.78 (1 in 128) of the 114,064 calls that resulted in criminal arrests.

Police officers stand near the scene of a shooting in the Bronx section of New York, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017.
Police officers stand near the scene of a shooting in the Bronx section of New York, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

“The use of force by police can result in serious injuries and fatalities, but the risk of significant injuries associated with different types of force is poorly defined,” said the study’s lead author, William P. Bozeman, M.D., professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “We sought to determine the incidence of use of force by police and compare the rates of significant injury among the different methods that police officers employ.”

According to the study, among the 914 suspects involved in the 893 UOF incidents, 355 incurred mild injuries such as abrasions and contusions. Only 16 suspects sustained moderate or severe injuries, a rate of 1.8 percent. Only one ended in a fatality, from a gunshot wound.

The most common UOF methods used by police in the study were unarmed physical force and conducted electrical weapons, such as TASERs, which accounted for 51 percent and 36 percent respectively. Analysis showed that most of the 16 significant injuries were associated with firearms and K-9s, while none were incurred in the 504 uses of CEWs.

Of the 355 suspects transported to medical facilities, only 19 were due to injuries related to police UOF. 

“A remarkable finding in the study is how infrequently police use force at all – less than 1 in 1100 calls for service and less than 1 in 120 criminal arrests is surprisingly low, and contrary to many perceptions that police commonly use violence in their interactions with the public,” Bozeman said. 

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