By Grace Mayer
FRAMINGHAM – The use of force by Framingham police officers was higher among Black individuals compared to the population of Black individuals in the City in 2020, according to Framingham Police.
Police are aware of the issue, working on it, and in the first 6 months of 2021, use of force cases are down 36% overall said Framingham Police, in a meeting with the public Tuesday night, June 28.
The Framingham Police Department met with the public Tuesday to discuss the department’s plans to lower the number of cases where force is used against suspects when officers respond to emergency calls.
“If you don’t get to learn your community and understand who they are, and they don’t get to understand who we are, there’s going to be friction,” said Framingham Deputy Police Chief Sean Riley. “… You’re less likely to use force against your community, when you know your community.”
Between releasing police reports to the public, adopting the “8 Can’t Wait” police reform policies, and Mayor Yvonne Spicer’s police reform bill, the Framingham Police Department is working to reduce use of force against civilians and toward greater transparency to the public about their policing tactics.
In the aftermath of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests, including several BLM protests in Framingham, many police departments are examining their policies and practices.
“In law enforcement, it’s been a tough year and a half as far as the use of force incidents around the country,” Deputy Sean Riley said.
Statistics from the Framingham Police Department, presented by Deputy Riley, showed that disproportionately officers use force against Black people more often than against white people – a trend that’s consistent with departments across the nation.
Use of force is categorized as instances where police officers display or discharge a weapon, like a taser, a bean-bag shotgun, or a firearm, or use physical force against a suspect.
Out of 88 individuals who police officers used force against last year, 25 were Black, accounting for around 28% of cases where force was used.
In Framingham, where about 75,000 people reside, only around 7% of residents are Black, according to Data USA.
According to another data pool, 22 out of 88 cases occurred where force was used against a Hispanic person, making up 25% of cases involving force.
The number of cases where force was used against Black people “is higher than what the population is, and we want to reduce that, and we will keep continuing to worry to reduce that with everybody,” Police Chief Lester Baker said.
Last year, the Framingham police responded to 41,394 calls – 78 events where force was used were counted, which makes up less than 0.2% of cases where police responded to calls. There were 88 individuals who were impacted by use of force, a slight disparity from the number of events because more than one person could have been involved in one event, Riley said.
Although this data wasn’t included in Riley’s presentation, the Deputy Police Chief said that the first six months of 2021 saw a 36% decrease in use of force cases compared to the previous year’s first six months.
To reduce cases where force is used, Deputy Police Chief Riley said the department is focused on de-escalating situations between officers and citizens to the point where force isn’t necessary.
Deputy Police Chief Riley also said that choke holds or strangleholds, which was seen in the video the captured George Floyd’s murder last summer, never have any place in Framingham’s police policy, unless as a last resort.
To de-escalate situations, Deputy Police Chief Riley said verbally communicating with the other officers and the suspect about what the officer is going to do, like that they’re reaching for a taser, can help the suspects to comply with the officers. For cases where the suspect may be experiencing a mental health crisis, he said, clinicians, who arrive at the scene with the officers, also help to calm the suspects down.
With the City of Framingham’s new police reform bill, Deputy Chief Riley said the department will expect more civilian oversight, since use of force reports will be released to the public.
Residents can go to the Framingham government website, search for police, and, under the transparency and accountability tab, they can review use of force police reports from the past year.
While the Framingham police department will be going through de-escalation trainings later this year, Deputy Chief Riley said learning to mitigate situations requires having conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion—and learning to take these factors into account when responding to emergency calls.
“It’s not always about race,” Deputy Police Chief Riley said. “It’s about where people come from, like in conversations, their religious backgrounds, maybe their sexual orientation, how they identify—all of those conversations.”
Grace Mayer is a senior at Boston College studying marketing and journalism. She is also the head arts editor for Boston College’s newspaper, The Heights, where she’s covered the arts beat for three years. She is excited to report on a variety of beats for Framingham SOURCE this summer. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.