WASHINGTON -- Black Americans were more than two times as likely as whites to report being threatened with force or to have experienced it in their most recent police encounter, according to a new federal report.
The report from the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics looked at four surveys taken in different years over nearly a decade -- from 2002 through 2011 -- and found that during that period, 3.5 percent of African-Americans reported that police used or threatened them with force during their most recent interaction, compared to 1.4 percent of whites.
Police were much more likely to use force in street stops than in vehicle stops, and there was a signifiant racial split in those encounters. About 13.7 percent of blacks reported that police used force against them when they were stopped on the street, while only 6.9 percent of whites reported this.
The study was based on surveys of Americans over the age of 16, and it widely defined use of force and threats of force to include "shouting, cursing, threatening, pushing or grabbing, hitting or kicking, using pepper spray, using an electroshock weapon, pointing a gun or using other force."
Three out of four individuals who reported that police used force against them believed it was excessive, according to the report. While those who reported being hit or kicked were the most likely to think the force was excessive, the vast majority of people who were subject to force -- 87 percent -- believed police didn't behave properly. Alternatively, 90 percent of those who did not have force used against them believed the police behaved properly.
While there's been a significant focus on the lack of national data about fatal police encounters and officers' use of deadly force, there's also a lack of data about police encounters that involve nonlethal force.
There has also been surprisingly little study of U.S. law enforcement agencies' internal disciplinary processes, The Huffington Post reported this year. A federal survey of data from 2002 found that just 8 percent of use-of-force complaints that large state and local law enforcement agencies received in 2002 were "sustained," meaning the officer involved was found to be guilty of misconduct. Federal investigations into troubled police departments typically reveal that officers are found to be in the wrong in just a very small percentage of cases.
But Reuters reported this week that federal authorities -- who have stepped up efforts to collect data on police shootings -- will again begin collecting data on formal citizen complaints about use of force.
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