BOISE, Idaho — This article was written by Don Day of BoiseDev.
Boise has far fewer use of force incidents compared to peer cities, according to the department.
Newly appointed Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee gave a presentation to Boise City Council about the use of force statistics in the department on Tuesday evening, highlighting the department’s training tending toward de-escalation for incidents.
During 2019, Lee said 99.9% of the 152,585 calls for service did not result in use of force of any kind. He said the Boise Police Department uses a relatively liberal definition of what use of force means, which includes forcibly putting someone’s hands behind their back to handcuff them or a suspect accidentally falling to the ground in a pursuit. Each use of force incident is investigated by the officer’s supervisor, Lee said.
Between June 2015 and June 2020, there were 547 instances of use of force by the department’s officers.
During 2019, one in 1,378 incidents resulted in a use of force in Boise. This is less common than similar cities of Reno, NV, Spokane, WA and Greensboro, NC, which had one in 539 incidents, one in 993 and one in 1,128 respectively for the latest years available.
Changes after a summer of protests
Use of force by police once again came into focus this year after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Protests erupted nationwide, including in Boise, and city council members expressed desires to explore ways to reform policing and improve how the department operates.
In response to the outcry about policing, the city dedicated its additional funding for BPD in the fiscal year 2021 budget toward adding more specifically trained officers and civilian counterparts to respond to mental health incidents instead of rank and file patrol officers. This program has already been in place in Boise on a smaller scale for over a year.
Lee said he supports the goals of keeping police violence against citizens down, but was skeptical of policies that restrict use of force across the board in reaction to these protests. Instead, he said officers should be evaluated on whether they use the proper amount of force given the situation and properly trained to do so.
“If fundamentally what we’re looking at is if force should be reasonable and then we put a restriction on that, by very definition we’re asking officers to put themselves in an unreasonable position when using force application,” he said.
Suspension of LVNR
Prior to Lee’s arrival, BPD suspended the use of the lateral vascular neck restraint by officers, which cuts off blood flow to the suspect in order to subdue them. Unlike in the case of Floyd, the airway is not restricted. Lee said between June 2015 and June 2020 the neck hold was used 162 times. Of those times, the majority of instances the officer applied pressure to the subject but did not continue until they lost consciousness.
Lee said the neck hold can be helpful when an officer is trying to arrest a much larger suspect, but it has “multiple challenges,” including training, perceived legitimacy and the possibility it could harm the suspect in the long term.
“There’s a multitude of medical dangers,” he said. “Anytime we’re interfering with blood flow for an individual there are serious concerns about the potential for that.”