Internal Killeen police administrative reports show an increased use of physical force on suspects in recent years.
However, a second set of numbers provided to the Herald last week by Killeen police Chief Dennis Baldwin shows instances of use of force by officers have actually diminished.
Annual use of force reports obtained by the Herald through the Freedom of Information Act show a 36 percent increase in instances where an officer hit, pepper sprayed, used a Taser on or fired a weapon at a suspect from 2009 to 2012.
After showing the reports to Baldwin, the police chief gave a new set of updated numbers indicating a decrease of 48 percent over the same period.
The department began keeping track of physical confrontations with suspects by requiring officers to create “use of force” reports in 2009. The department changed the policy to meet criteria to become accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.
Figures Baldwin provided show use of force incidents occurred nearly half as many times in 2012 as they did in 2009. Baldwin said the numbers are more accurate and result from a more thorough review of incidents than the annual reports.
KPD tracks use of force, pursuits and officer accidents through its Administrative Investigations Management system, which is maintained by the Internal Affairs division.
The old way
Prior to its implementation in 2009, the department collected that data manually. It “tended to be inaccurate, was of poor analytical use and did not provide for an early warning system for officers who were more prone to using force on calls,” Baldwin said.
High turnover in the command of Internal Affairs also contributed to inaccuracies after the management system was implemented. In 2012, Baldwin ordered a complete review of use of force reports dating back to 2009.
In the review, administrators found 162 more instances of use of force than reported in the annual reports. Part of the disparity stems from a new KPD practice to count use of force incidents by the number of officers involved.
A situation where three officers may have wrestled a suspect to the ground in order to subdue him now generates three use of force reports — one for each officer — as opposed to one.
Administrators also have grown more accustomed to working with the reporting system since its implementation, Baldwin said.
The gap between the two sets of numbers narrows from 169 percent to 12 percent from 2009 to 2012.
Every report is reviewed by supervisors and may be referred to KPD’s Internal Affairs division for possible disciplinary action. The level of discipline can range from a written reprimand to suspensions and possible termination.
Use of force has resulted in firings. Such was the case for former officer Anthony Maskunas, who shot a suicidal individual in the head in what he said was an attempt to disable the man before he shot himself.
The victim, 34-year-old Seleucus Pollock, ended up shooting himself in the head as well. An investigation determined Pollock fired first, and a grand jury cleared Maskunas of any possible criminal charges in February.
But an internal investigation determined that Maskunas acted inappropriately when he fired his weapon at Pollock during the Feb. 28, 2012, incident on Granex Drive in Killeen.
Maskunas appealed his firing, which was later upheld by an arbitrator.
Another Killeen police officer resigned in 2011 after firing his weapon at a car attempting to leave a scene. Firing weapons at moving cars that do not pose threats to the officer or bystanders is generally prohibited, according to use of force policy documents obtained from multiple area law enforcement agencies.
Incident in Cove
Deadly force resulting in a fatality is rare. The most recent incident occurred in Copperas Cove on Feb. 5, when an officer shot and killed 24-year-old Kristopher Charles Gagilardi while responding to a domestic disturbance in the 500 block of Westview Lane.
Copperas Cove police have remained mum on the incident. CCPD does not create individual use of force reports, and officials said they would require a fee of $12,000 in order to create such documents. The Bell County Sheriff’s Office also does not track use of force, Deputy Chief Chuck Cox said.
Both law enforcement agencies said they have not needed to take any disciplinary action against officers since 2009.
The Harker Heights Police Department began tracking use of force as a part of updated criteria from the Texas Police Chiefs Association required them to do so to remain accredited under its best practices program.
No data from HHPD was available at press time.
Tasers top list
The past two years have shown that officers have come to rely on Tasers more often than any other form of force. In 2011 and 2012, officers used Tasers in 70 percent of instances where force was applied, the reports state.
Officers began carrying Tasers commonly in 2010, Commander Margaret Young said. Prior to that, they had only been available to KPD’s SWAT Team, Baldwin said.
The use of Tasers is more advantageous to officers than other “less-than-lethal” tactics, such as the use of OC spray, known commonly as pepper spray.
“OC spray used to be more prevalent,” Baldwin said. “(Tasers) lowered the use.”
Tasers cause less harmful injuries than strikes or batons, Baldwin said. An officer also must “decontaminate” a subject sprayed with pepper spray before placing them in the jail to prevent affecting other inmates. “With Tasers we don’t have to do that,” Baldwin said.
The likelihood that an officer has to use physical force on a subject increases depending on the circumstances. Baldwin said it happens more often when suspects are under the influence of drugs, alcohol or are experiencing mental health issues. Domestic disputes, vehicle pursuits and felony arrests also have a higher prevalence.
In 2012, officers made 7,932 arrests. Meaning, for every 132 people arrested, one required physical force to be restrained. During that same period, 14 Killeen police officers were assaulted.
The city of Killeen continues to fight open records requests for the use of force reports generated in 2011 that led to administrative review, stating the documents amounted to personnel files and are not public domain. The city also refused to provide its general policy for use of force, stating the publication of such documents would jeopardize law enforcement efforts.
Contact Philip Jankowski at email@example.com or (254) 501-7553