Salt Lake police used force in less than 1% of their 2021 calls, chief says

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SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake police officers used force in less than 1% of the calls they responded to during 2021, according to statistics released by the department on Friday.

Last year, officers used force 985 times, said Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown. A "use of force" incident, according to police, can range from an officer struggling with a person resisting arrest, to ordering a person out of a car or a house at gunpoint, to using less-lethal force on a suspect.

The statistics do not include police shootings or any time an officer fired their gun. However, Salt Lake police say there were only four incidents of officers firing their weapons in 2021, which is not enough to change the statistics released Friday. A report focusing solely on police shootings is expected to be released later this year.

Salt Lake police had 172,536 calls for service during 2021. Brown said that means officers had to use force in just 0.57% of the incidents they responded to. The most common use of force was "physical," according to Brown, which means an officer went "hands on" or used their fists, hands or feet — without the use of a weapon — to take a suspect into custody.

"The use of a weapon by a police officer was very rare," Brown said.

The chief said the use-of-force statistics are even more impressive considering that the number of people arrested in 2021 was up nearly 5% from the previous year, the number of calls police responded to was up 2%, and the number of people resisting arrest or who assaulted officers was up more than 16%.

In 2020, the call for police reform across the country was at its peak following several high-profile shootings and incidents of police brutality. In Salt Lake City, Mayor Erin Mendenhall signed an executive order covering seven amendments to police department policies regarding the use of force, search and seizure, and body-worn cameras.

But Brown said Friday that despite using force in less than 1% of their calls — and even though assaults on officers and the number of people resisting arrest is up — his officers are not hesitant to "act" and are not shying away from dangerous situations.

"I think it's a combination of our policies and our deescalation and our training," Brown said of the reasons for fewer use-of-force situations.

"I think you look at good policies, you look at exceptional training, I think you look at great police officers and the compassion they're demonstrating and the tactics they're using and the deescalation of events that are taking place every day."

Some of those tactics include officers taking cover and maintaining a certain distance from a potentially threatening person, thus giving the officer more time, sending more officers to a scene — including a supervisor — to give officers more options for taking a person into custody, and "slowing down" an active scene, the chief said.

"As a police department, we are constantly striving to take a data-driven approach to policing," Brown said. That data is then used to make policy modifications if needed, identify patterns to increase training in some areas, and apply for equipment upgrades.

The other most common types of force Salt Lake police used in 2021 include applying a restraint known as a "wrap" on people who were combative, pointing a firearm at a person but not shooting, and using a Taser.

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Pat Reavy is a longtime police and courts reporter. He joined the team in 2021, after many years of reporting at the Deseret News and KSL NewsRadio before that.


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