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Scant data available on Moab police use-of-force incidents

  • Updated
  • 3 min to read
Moab Police Department image

[Photo: Moab Police Department]

Moab Police Chief Bret Edge pledged to improve the department’s reporting of the use of force by officers in alignment with its existing policy at a June 23 meeting of the Moab City Council.

Now, the department has released its first annual use-of-force analysis, which covers the 2020 fiscal year.

The report identifies 10 use-of-force incidents with no major injuries, no weapons used, and no complaints of excessive force. The data, however, is not as comprehensive or accurate as that reported by other departments.

All on-duty police activities are documented in a shift log, Edge said in a conversation with the Moab Sun News, and any significant activities—those involving a potential crime or a significant civil issue—are documented in reports, which include information about officers, suspects, victims, and witness involved as well as a narrative of the event.

Thousands of police reports are generated each year and the MPD uses a software system to manage these records.

In 2020, the department spent $12,048 for the service, formerly called FATPOT and now owned by the software company CentralSquare Technologies. The company increases the fee by 5% each year, according to Edge. Until recently, the software wasn’t specifically flagging instances of use-of-force in MPD files.

To create the 2020 use-of-force report, which covers from July 2019-July 2020, a department staff member read through 300 digital arrest records to find those that were tagged as involving force.

The department narrowed the search down to only arrest records to make it manageable for a staff member to conduct a manual search. Edge said arrests are “typically when you have a use of force incident.”

However, that approach leaves a lot unaccounted for.

On June 23, the Moab Sun News reported on an incident in which officers from the Grand County Sheriff’s Office and the MPD responded to a call about a young Moab resident who “appeared distraught and was breaking things within his family home.” Officers found the man with a knife and making suicidal threats; officers used foam rounds and tasers on the man, who was then transported to Moab Regional Hospital and later brought to Grand County Jail. That incident was not included in the released statistics.

When asked about the omission by the Moab Sun News, Edge acknowledged the oversight.

“One of our officers did deploy the foam round but because we were only acting in a backup capacity, and our agency was not responsible for the arrest, our officers completed officer information reports - not arrest reports,” said Edge. “This use of force was overlooked in our manual review of arrest reports.”

It’s unclear if there were other incidents not accounted for in the report.

Edge said that the next report, which will cover July 2020 to July 2021, will flag all uses of force.

As of the summer of 2020, the department’s software has also been tagging incidents in which weapons were drawn but not deployed as use-of-force incidents; before that, those incidents were not considered use of force occurrences. Edge said research on modern reporting standards convinced him that this was appropriate information to include.

A proposal currently before the Utah State Legislature would make that a requirement. HB 264 would require police officers to file a use-of-force report when they draw and point their guns or a Taser at anyone. In other states, such requirements have been shown to reduce the number of police shootings.

According to the current Moab Police Department use-of-force report, next year’s report will include information on the type of force used in each instance (physical, chemical, impact, electronic, or firearm); the condition of the officer and the suspect after the incident; whether the officer or suspect went on to a medical treatment facility; the type of crime for which the suspect was charged; and demographic information about the suspect.

“I'm confident the implementation of new data gathering fields in FATPOT and the ability to automate a report will give us more useful and accurate data going forward,” Edge wrote.

The 2020 report lists 10 use-of-force incidents from July 2019 to July 2020. All of those incidents involved physical restraint with non-compliant suspects. Three incidents involved a Native American detainee and seven involved a white detainee.

In three of the reported instances, the detained person required medical treatment for “minor injuries” associated with the incident. Edge said the department does not have set definitions for “minor” or “major” injury.

The department review of use-of-force reports is carried out by Edge and Assistant Chief Mike Thurston, who analyze the findings to determine if there’s a need for training focused on a specific area, or if specific officers account for a disproportionate number of use-of-force reports. If a complaint is made or a specific use-of-force incident warrants an investigation, that is addressed at the time the report is filed.

Recommendations in the 2020 report include training in defensive tactics for all officers in 2021, as well as continuing education for force alternatives and maintenance of certification for the use of weapons.

Edge said the 2020 report will be publicly available when the department updates its website. Read the report on the Moab Sun News website at www.moabsunnews.com.

Meanwhile, Edge continues to review the use-of-force policy with a citizen task force. [See “Moab police use-of-force policy studied,” Jan. 14 edition. -ed.] Edge said he anticipates that that important process will continue for another two to three months.