PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. (WDVM)– Prince William County police are pledging to investigate disproportionate use of force rates after the department’s annual report showed Black residents were more likely than other groups to be subject to police force.
Peter Newsham, Chief of Police for Prince William County Police said, “More than 95% of the time when we have to make an arrest we don’t use any force at all. With that being said when we do use force it does seem to be with these numbers the disproportionate on our African American community.”
This is the first time the police department has released an annual report with use of force numbers. According to Newsham, 49% of African Americans are being arrested in the county while 24% were white and 23% percent were Hispanic. However, when having these conversations, officials said it’s important to know what use of force is.
“Whenever a police officer has to detain somebody and as a result, the person who’s being detained resist and the police officer has to use some type of physical force to take them into custody we consider that a use of force and we conduct a use of force investigation,” said Newsham.
Newsham said that the use of force was related to the number of assaults on officers, which according to the report, were from 2019 to 2020 at about 150. With the help of Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton, they’re seeking federal funding to study the root cause of this disparity. However, the common theme they’re seeing is a lack of trust between the community and police.
“Hopefully Congress will come through with the money so we can get this study done by an objective party and make whatever changes we need to ensure that we’re continuing to do the best we can for our community,” said Newsham.
The department is also in the first year of a co-responder pilot program. This is a joint effort between the police department and the county’s Community Services Agency. According to police, the unit pairs a mental health professional and a crisis intervention trained police officer on duty. With the joint effort, the goal is to decrease the use of force incidents when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis.
According to the report, the number of aggravated assaults also increased to 716 from 476 in 2019, an increase of about 50% The use of firearms in these incidents also increased 115%.
For training purposes, every year officers have to go back to the academy for re-certification and go through professional development training to make sure they are up to date on new protocols and laws. Newsham believes more diversity within the force will also increase trust in the community.