New report shows racial disparity in use of force by police in Missouri

Law enforcement agencies in Missouri use force against people of color at a disproportionate rate, according to a new but incomplete report.

The report released Wednesday by the Missouri Department of Public Safety provided details on 113 incidents from March to December 2022. In over half of the cases, the subject was not armed.

In 42 of the encounters — or 37% — the subjects were Black. Across the state, Black people make up less than 12% of the population, according to the US Census.

Nimrod Chapel, president of the Missouri NAACPsaid the culture within policing needs to be examined and held accountable.

“We recognize that there are disparities within Missouri and the way that African Americans are treated. And that is on and off the roads, in and outside of the courthouse,” Chapel said. “The idea that 37% of the use of force with serious injury and death would involve African Americans, we believe speaks to bias within the system.”

The report was released after the legislature in 2021 passed the Police Use of Force Transparency Act requiring law enforcement agencies to annually report use of force data. The report said 393 of 643 agencies complied, although there is no formal penalty for failing to report the data.

“It’s unfortunate that we can’t have better participation from law enforcement on the compilation of important data to follow the law,” Chapel said. “That law is to provide some reassurance to the public that there is accountability and transparency.”

Kansas City metro

The Independence Police Department reported 16 encounters, including two deaths and several cases of a person suffering serious injuries or unconsciousness. Twenty-five percent of those incidents involved a Black person, although that group makes up just 9.6% of the population in Independence.

The agency did not respond to a request for comment.

The Kansas City Police Department reported four incidents, including two fatal shootings. The department said it promotes transparency and compliance with the new reporting act.

Steve Young, co-founder of the Kansas City Law Enforcement Accountability Project (KC LEAP), said he thought four incidents seemed low.

He cited the injuries Mack Nelson suffered last August when he was thrown to the ground by a Kansas City police officer. Nelson had to get several stitches on his head.

Mack Nelson, 44, shows his injuries after he was thrown to the ground at the scene of a police shooting.

He filed a lawsuit last month. The case remains under review for criminal charges with the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office. The police department declined to comment, citing the litigation and open investigation.

In recent years, prosecutors have filed charges against five Kansas City police officers. Former detective Eric J. DeValkenaere was convicted in the 2019 fatal shooting of Cameron Lamb. Form Sgt. Matthew Neal pleaded guilty to smashing the face of a 15 year old in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. Former officers Charles W. Prichard and Matthew G. Brummett were convicted after a passerby filmed them slamming the head of a transgender woman into the ground. Officer Nicholas McQuillen faces an assault charge after he was seen in a viral video dousing a man and his teenage daughter with pepper spray at a summer 2020 protest. His trial is scheduled for Aug. 21.

Last year, the police department’s Office of Community Complaints received 29 allegations of excessive force.

KC LEAP launched its own hotline to take reports of police misconduct, which organizers said receives several calls every week.

“The police have a whole mindset of it’s them against us,” Young said. “Until they can shake that, until they can get rid of that mindset, they’re going to continue to traumatize neighborhoods like mine, you know, communities like mine, people that look like me.”

Young also said there is “huge distrust” when it comes to Kansas City police and the community, which negatively impacts the rate crimes are solved.

To gain the community’s trust, Young said, leadership at the top needs to be vocal when it comes to officers who have used excessive force. Other activists and experts on use of force have said they support changing police union contracts that limit accountability, promoting de-escalation training, requiring officers to carry liability insurance and hiring more female officers, who have been shown to use less force and named in fewer complaints.

The Blue Springs Police Department, North Kansas City Police Department, the Gladstone Police Department and the Platte County Sheriff’s Office each reported one incident.

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