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New data show Irving Police Department uses force against Black people more than other groups

A photograph of a black and white police S.U.V. that says Irving Police on the side parked next to a road cone.
Krystina Martinez
The Irving Police Department is one of 29 agencies nationwide listed in the Accountable Now database that tracks police use of force. Many more police departments are expected to be added to the database over the next year.

More than a third of police use of force incidents in Irving involved Black people between 2017 and 2019 – but only 1 in 7 Irving residents are Black.

That was among the latest findings of the Accountable Now project of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a 72-year-old civil rights organization. The project was launched in early 2021 to create a national database to help communities better understand how, when and against whom police use force.

The Irving Police Department did not respond to requests for comment.

Use of force is poorly tracked and ill-defined, according to Bree Spencer, Police Program Manager at the Leadership Conference. There are no universal standards for what constitutes a use of force incident, and scant federal oversight for how more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide use force.

“It’s like the Wild, Wild West when it comes to police reporting on use of force,” Spencer said.

The Leadership Conference’s Accountable Now project includes 25 different types of force. Among those: the use of restraints like handcuffs, using police dogs, deploying chemical agents like pepper spray, and using Tasers and guns. Gun use might involve shooting a gun, or drawing one and pointing it at a suspect.

Unequal treatment

The research also shows that the percentage of use of force incidents involving white suspects in Irving was slightly higher than their percentage of the population.

People identified by the police as Hispanic, according to the data, were on the receiving end of a smaller share of the force incidents than their share of the population.

Use of force incidents in Irving went down slightly between 2017 and 2019.

The Accountable Now database has data on 29 police departments across the country, and the project’s researchers are currently sifting through data for more than 120 other agencies.

It takes about 150 hours to process the data for each department. There are about 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

A disproportionately high use of force against Black people by police shows up in large and small communities across the country, Spencer said. The Leadership Conference released data last year showing that trend in Dallas and Austin. Data on other Texas communities is still being processed.

“We over-police Black and Brown communities. Police are more present in those areas. Black and Brown people are more likely to be stopped for trivial matters. And clearly connected to that is this use of force issue,” Spencer said.

Spencer said the data is hard evidence of racial disparity that communities of color have long complained about – and demonstrates “the ubiquity of it.”

“It’s connected to racism in the criminal legal system, and who the criminal legal system is set up to impact,” she said.

What is ‘use of force?’

In 2019, the FBI began collecting data on police use of force incidents for a national database. It’s the most robust effort to collect police use of force data by the federal government to date, Spencer said, but reporting is voluntary.

Last month, the Washington Post reported that the bureau may shut down the database due to insufficient participation by law enforcement agencies nationwide.

The FBI defines use of force to include whenever an officer kills someone or causes serious bodily harm, or when an officer fires a gun at a person.

That definition is significantly narrower than what the Leadership Conference uses. Spencer said other police tactics – like forcing a person to the ground to be handcuffed – aren’t included in the FBI data but can be “a hugely traumatic experience for the person who experiences it.”

“We’re trying to tell the comprehensive story of the way use of force is occurring in communities,” Spencer said.

The Accountable Now project partnered with researchers at the University of Chicago and at Georgetown University and uses pro-bono lawyers to help file public records requests to gather the raw data.

“We are really hoping to provide a tool that will allow local advocates and people who are looking for change to ask deeper questions and to really understand more about how the information’s being collected and how police officers are acting in their community,” Spencer said.

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.