How does a traffic stop, police pulling over a 17-year-old driving to a friend’s house, go horribly wrong so fast?
A stun gun is used while the teenager is still in the car. He falls to the ground, appearing in one witness video to be unconscious while lying facedown and handcuffed. Then he must be rushed to the hospital, suffering cardiac arrest.
The play-by-play answers should be gathered, sorted and studied by Independence police.
And not simply because what happened after Bryce Masters was stopped by an Independence police officer Sunday will most certainly land the department in a lawsuit.
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Masters was slowly drawn out of a medically induced coma Monday evening as doctors tried to assess how much damage was done by a lack of oxygen to his brain, according to a statement by the family.
Ideally, every use of force by an officer should be tracked and analyzed. It’s the only way to answer the critical questions that arose after the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and now this case from Independence: Is use of force on the rise, and is it being appropriately used by police?
We simply do not know. Strong national data don’t exist. Consistent definitions don’t exist.
But experts in the field say data collection at the local level is imperative to exonerating police, holding them accountable and addressing the assumptions and perceptions of the public. A response from Independence police on their use-of-force statistics gathering wasn’t available Tuesday.
Everything an officer does beyond handcuffing a compliant person should be considered use of force, according to Eric P. Daigle, an attorney and member of the Connecticut State Police who spoke Tuesday at a conference in Kansas City.
Departments must study everything: how often police point their firearms at a person, how often they fire them, how many times they use stun guns, the types of verbal commands given and the person’s response, the ratio of the use of force compared with injury rates. That information will answer a more basic question: What are norms for the department so trends can be tracked?
Drilling down can discover if particular officers tend to use force more than others and determine if it is justified. Decisions can then be made about policy and training.
But departments have to be willing to ask the questions.