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Likewise, the notion that 20 percent of uses of force are excessive or unconstitutional reflects an ignorance of the scientific literature on police use of force. I am proceeding through the approximately 1,200 cases using the two dominant methodologies reported in the field of criminal justice for estimating use of excessive force, neither of which were used or even referenced by DOJ in their investigation. One is a static approach that compares, as a ratio, the highest level of force used by police in comparison to the highest level of suspect resistance. The other is a dynamic approach that considers the sequence of events in terms of actions of the suspect versus actions of the officer, allowing some consideration of escalation along the force continuum.
I don't know if DOJ was unaware or simply ignored the literature on use of force, but either case is simply inexcusable. Using these methodologies, it is highly unlikely that the distribution of force incidents would reflect a figure as high as 20 percent being labeled excessive. Based on published studies employing these methods to analyze police use of force in other cities, a more reasonable figure would be about 2 percent.
In addition to these concerns, if we assume that DOJ is using a somewhat liberal definition of excessive force, we begin with the notion that the 20 percent figure is somewhat high to begin with. We add to that a strong likelihood that DOJ failed to re-weight their much ballyhooed stratified random sample, thus giving additional weight to oversampled cases (such as baton cases) and leading to a biased estimate in the direction of excessive force. Finally, we add a margin of error to the estimate, which — based only on the content of the DOJ report — I estimate to be in the neighborhood of plus or minus 5 percent. All this is to say that the 20 percent figure is certainly inflated.
At this point, the City of Seattle should simply ignore DOJ and proceed with their 20/20 plan — 20 initiatives over 20 months to improve police practices. They might consider accelerating things to something more along the lines of 20/12 in order to show the public their commitment to reform within 12 months.
Meanwhile, let DOJ sue and make their case for a "pattern or practice" of excessive force. I doubt DOJ would actually go through with it, but if they did I would gladly volunteer to demonstrate to the Court the fundamental flaws underlying DOJ's investigation. A heavy-handed and over-reaching federal government is a far greater social justice concern.
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