N.C. – Feb. 23, 2018 – Police officers rarely use force in
apprehending suspects, and when they do they seldom cause significant injuries
to those arrested, according to a multi-site study published in the March
issue of the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery.
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.”
reviewing 1.04 million calls for service received by three mid-size police
departments in three states over a two-year period, the researchers found 893
use-of-force incidents, which represented 0.086 percent (1 in 1,167) of all
calls and 0.78 percent (1 in 128) of the 114,064 calls that resulted in
the 914 suspects affected in the 893 use-of-force incidents, 355 incurred
mild injuries such as abrasions and contusions, a rate of 39 percent. But only
16 of the suspects suffered moderate or severe physical injuries, a rate of 1.8
percent. One of those 16 cases was a fatality, from a gunshot wound.
physical force (51 percent) and conducted electrical weapons such as Tasers (36 percent) were the most common methods used by police,
followed by chemical agents such as pepper spray (6.3 percent), and dogs (3.4 percent).
Handheld impact weapons such as batons, impact projectiles such as plastic
bullets and firearms were less commonly used (each less than 1 percent).
showed that most of the 16 significant injuries were associated with firearms
and dogs while none were incurred in the 504 uses of conducted electrical
the 355 suspects who were transported to medical facilities, 277 (78 percent)
were released and 78 (22 percent) were hospitalized, but only 19 of those
hospital admissions (5 percent of those taken for evaluation and 2 percent of
all suspects after use of force) were due to injuries related to police use of
suspects were primarily male (89 percent) with a mean age of 31. No data on
race or ethnicity was available to the researchers.
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.
research was funded by National Institute of Justice award numbers
2009-MU-BX-K248 and 2009-SQ-B9-K016.
are Jason P. Stopyra, M.D., of Wake Forest Baptist; David A. Klinger, Ph.D., of
the University of Missouri-St. Louis; Brian P. Martin, M.D., and Derrel D.
Graham, M.D., of Louisiana State University Shreveport; James C. Johnson III,
M.P.A.S., of High Point University; Katherine Mahoney-Tesoriero, M.D., of St.
Luke’s University Health Network, Bethlehem, Pa., and Sydney J. Vail, M.D., of
Maricopa Medical Center, Phoenix.