KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Black people are far more likely to be subjected to use of force by police in Kansas City, Missouri, according to police data obtained by the Kansas City Star.
The Star reported Wednesday that more than 57% of use of force incidents from 2019 to July 2021 were against Black people, who make up just 28% of Kansas City's population.
Records obtained by the Star after lengthy discussions with police contained more than 600 entries reflecting police use of force, and more than 330 of those were against Black people.
Use of force can involve police using bullets, bean bag rounds, police dogs, Tasers, pepper spray and their own bodies. The newspaper reported the numbers are likely higher than reported because some confrontations, including a deadly 2019 police shooting, were unaccounted for.
Police Capt. Leslie Foreman said use of force is “based on the actions of another person, not on the race of that person,” and that Kansas City officers were focused on relationship building in the community.
Nearly 75% of the incidents resulting in use of force occurred during a call for service while about 25% were “self-initiated activity,” said Sgt. Jake Becchina, a spokesman for the department.
“That says to me that officers are overwhelmingly more often called to the situations that lead to resistance by a subject against them and an associated response than they are ‘seeking out’ enforcement situations that lead to a response to resistance,” he said.
Civil rights organizations last year called for a Department of Justice investigation into how Kansas City officers treat communities of color. In November, a white detective was convicted in the shooting death of a Black man. Days after the verdict, it was announced that Chief Rick Smith would leave the department this spring.
Mayor Quinton Lucas said he and other members of the Board of Police Commissioners should examine the disparity in use of force incidents.
“Data like this suggests perhaps that we certainly have more evaluation to do,” Lucas, who is Black, said.
Ken Novak, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said the fact that Black people are over-represented in use of force incidents doesn't necessarily reflect racism.
“What I think we can say is that is indicative of the perhaps more confrontational nature of police-public encounters with people of color," Novak said. "People of color experience policing differently than majorities ... that speaks to maybe an unequal protection.”
The data found 170 encounters requiring hospitalization, though it was not always a direct result of use of force. Of those, 60% of people hospitalized were Black.
Officers cited many reasons for using force. In some cases, the person had a weapon or went for an officer’s gun. Others kicked or punched the officer.
But in several instances, someone who “refused to move” was met with pepper spray, bean bag rounds or stunned with a Taser. In numerous other instances, the reason listed was “non-compliant” or “other.”
The data also cited 41 incidents of police using a maneuver called the Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint. Police say it's safer than a chokehold, but critics — including activists who called for banning all neck restraints after George Floyd's death in Minneapolis in 2020 — say it can become as deadly as a chokehold if done incorrectly.