MEMPHIS, Tenn. — FOX13 investigates allegations of excessive force by Memphis Police Officers, your ability to know how many cases exist and what happened to the officers investigated for possible wrongdoing.
We discovered that kind of data is only available through Memphis Police and is not easily accessible to you, the public.
Advocates for policy transparency said that it is unacceptable.
Three recent cases of allegations of excessive force by MPD officers put the spotlight on the department and its use of force policy.
On the first night of protests against the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis Police officer, a Memphis Police Officer is caught on cell phone camera knocking a protester to the ground with his riot shield.
The woman appeared to be unaware the officer was going to use force.
Commercial Appeal photojournalist recorded video of police forcibly removing activist Victoria Jones from a crosswalk during a protest downtown May 31.
Jones has hired an attorney.
During the same night, a Memphis Police officer pointed an SLG rifle, which according to the department’s public information officer, is used to fire rubber bullets at a FOX13 News crew as they walked backward covering the demonstrations.
While all three cases are currently under investigation by Memphis Police, Cochran Law Firm of the Mid-South with managing partner Howard Manis called them troubling.
“I think there is some significant overreacting and over-policing going on, which, whether intended or not, is to intimidate,” Manis said.
At a June 1 news conference, Memphis Police Director Mike Rallings told FOX 13 those three cases don’t accurately portray Memphis Police Department’s interaction with the public.
“Each year this police department makes over 60,000 arrests,” Rallings said. “With those arrests, officers use force only two percent of the time.”
FOX13 wanted to verify those numbers independently.
We searched the MPD website’s annual reports and found no mention of the number of arrests and the use of excessive force.
We also discovered the number of times an officer’s use of excessive force and is investigated by internal affairs is not collected by the U.S. Justice Department COPS program, which Memphis Police has a memorandum of understanding for technical assistance.
The only agency that can provide data to verify Rallings claim is his own department.
FOX13 filed an open records request on June 1 for the number of claims of excessive force and the results of the internal affairs investigation for the past 18 months.
The department has acknowledged getting our request but has not responded about when those figures will be made available.
“I think it is something that the people have a right to know and the people should know,” said Memphis City Councilman J.B. Smiley Jr.
Smiley sits on the City Council Public Safety Committee.
He introduced a resolution to make data on officers accused of excessive force and violation of the body-worn camera policy available on a public portal such as the Memphis Police Department’s own website.
“I believe we should not charge people a dime for information or matters that are specifically related to these types of issues,” he said.
Numbers are one thing but context is another said law enforcement consultant Bob Scales.
“Departments know that use of force is a very serious subject,” said Scales, who runs a Seattle, WA based company called Policestrategies.com.
It provides in-depth scientific technology and analysis to 88 law enforcement agencies in seven different states who want to implement effective policies, training and accountability.
Scales told us a portal with just raw numbers or data won’t answer all the questions.
“So just counting the raw numbers doesn’t tell us anything,” Scales said. “And what we need to know was the force they use justified necessary and constitutional? Was the force they used excessive.”
The lack of accessible data on excessive force is not just a Memphis problem, but a national one, because there is not one clearinghouse for that kind of information, not even the FBI.