The Star-Ledger/NJ.com/NJ Advance Media continues to publish reporting from “The Force Report” — an ongoing investigation into police use of force that includes a database of use-of-force reports filed between 2012 and 2016 across New Jersey (the incidents are self-reported by police officers).
Yesterday, NJ Advance Media published an article ranking the top 25 NJ police departments by percentage of arrests using force per arrest and inviting department chiefs to comment.
Maplewood came in No. 1 with 172 incidents of reported use of force with 1,549 reported arrests in the same period — or 11.1 percent of arrests using force. On average, NJ Advance Media found that force was used in just over 3 percent of all arrests across NJ during the period of data collection.
Maplewood Police Chief Jimmy DeVaul was one of 15 chiefs in the “top 25” towns who took the opportunity to comment on the rankings. DeVaul said that Maplewood PD’s numbers were high as compared to others due “to a strict interpretation of what constitutes force, which he believes is not in place elsewhere,” reported NJ.com.
“What we consider a ‘use of force’ in a situation is very simplistic,” DeVaul told NJ.com. “Did I have to touch you to make that arrest? And if the answer is ‘yes,’ you’re doing that report.”
According to NJ.com:
DeVaul also said, however, that he’s taking steps to reduce the amount of force used. Juveniles account for more than a fifth of Maplewood’s uses of force, annually. (Statewide, they make up about 6.8 percent of all reports). DeVaul said he is instructing officers not to handcuff a juvenile unless they plan to completely follow through with an arrest and formal charge.
NJ.com also conceded that their numbers were not “perfect”:
Several departments, for example, said their arrest numbers are not representative of the actual number of people they detain because certain types of arrests are not publicly reported. Interviews with police chiefs also revealed disagreements across the state about when an officer should fill out a use-of-force report.
The Maplewood Township Committee and Police Department responded to the original release of the database in a statement (read it in full here) by announcing that the Township would host a forum on the report on an as-yet named date and listed steps that the Township has taken to improve police/community relations and reduce use of force.
The statement read in part:
Maplewood Township and the Maplewood Police Department are committed to fairness and respect for all individuals in our community. The Maplewood Township Committee and Maplewood Police Department are aware of “The Force Report” that has been published on NJ.com by NJ Advance Media. The use of force by Maplewood Police officers is an issue of great importance to the Township Committee and one that merits further review. We recognize that improvements are necessary, as shown clearly in the events of July 5, 2016 and suggested in “The Force Report”. We are striving diligently to enhance safeguards against bias and disparate treatment and to reduce the use of force by Maplewood Police officers as much as possible.