The number of times D.C. police officers used force each year has increased nearly steadily since 2013, according to a report by a District government watchdog agency that studied several years worth of data.
Most of the incidents last year occurred as officers tackled or "took down" fleeing or combative people, the report by the Office of Police Complaints found. The next most frequent uses of force were officers using their hands to firmly grip or hold people, and handcuffing people who were resisting.
The report found that up to 93 percent of use-of-force incidents involved African Americans and that the three D.C. Council wards with the highest reported crime — Wards 5, 7 and 8 — accounted for nearly 40 percent of the use-of-force reports across the city.
The report's authors drew few conclusions but recommended that police record more details on incidents to give a better picture of when force is used. That includes noting whether, in each case, the person was arrested, under the influence of drugs, a suspect in a crime and whether the police action began with a citizen complaint or an officer's observation.
A D.C. police spokesman said the department "remains committed to limiting and managing use of force, and to fair, unbiased and constitutional policing." The department said it will review the report.
It is the complaint board's first broad look at use-of force in the D.C. police department, a study mandated by the council when it passed a crime bill in 2016 that increased some police powers but also set up a team to address neighborhood trouble spots and to work to prevent violence.
The Office of Police Complaints will compile the report annually, said its executive director, Michael G. Tobin.
The report found that in fiscal 2017, about 1,070 officers reported using force, which represents 28 percent of the total number of sworn officers. That is a 7 percent increase from the previous year. But Tobin cautioned that part of the increase is likely to be result of recent changes in police reporting requirements. Officers in 2017, for the first time, had to report tackles and "take-downs."
Also, that sharp increase came as police use of body-worn cameras was becoming widespread. "I believe there are incidents that are now being reported that may not have been reported in the past because we [now have] the cameras," Tobin said. The report concludes that overall, the D.C. police department "is doing a fairly good job monitoring officers involved in uses of force," Tobin said.
The report notes that use of firearms accounted for fewer than 1 percent of the use-of-force incidents reported in fiscal 2017. In that period, D.C. officers shot at 10 people, fatally striking three, wounding five and missing two. Civilians had weapons in nine of those cases, the report says.
Two of the shooting incidents in fiscal 2017 were ruled unjustified by investigators, including one in which unarmed motorcyclist Terrence Sterling was shot by Officer Brian Trainer. Investigators recommended that Trainer be fired, and he is expected to fight to keep his job at a hearing that could be held early this year. No one was hit in the other incident where the discharge of a police firearm was determined to be unjustified.