Police force stats run both ways - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Police force stats run both ways

Excessive force investigations involving police officers across the state have increased this year. The GBI has investigated 82 cases of police use of force so far in fiscal 2011, compared to 74 in all 2010.

But Dougherty County law enforcement says the number of investigations involving them is way down.

Sheriff Kevin Sproul says the number of excessive force investigations involving his deputies is down 50% in the last year. Dougherty County Police say they have had only one. It's something they train to avoid, and equip officers to record exactly what they are doing.

When 36 year old Denevious Thomas died in the back of a Dougherty County Police cruiser, after being tased twice by arresting officers, the GBI conducted an excessive force investigation. The GBI ruled that Thomas died from cocaine, not the officer's taser. Law enforcement officials say no officer wants to hurt anyone.

 "We want to make sure that our officers are treating citizens the way that we would like other people to be treated. If it was somebody in our family," said Dougherty County Police Assistant Chief Cynthia Battle.

Sheriff Kevin Sproul says their use of force investigations are also way down. "We attribute a lot of it to our actual training. We have a mandated training on use of force once a year."

Police officers and Deputies also are equipped so there is proof when excessive force is questioned. Dougherty County Police and Sheriff's Deputies carry video and audio recorders like this on their shirts. Their patrol cars record automatically when they turn on their blue lights, and the cameras can be turned on with remote devices on the officer's belt. Those videos are reviewed by supervisors, so the public can feel confident.

"We review our officers recordings, because we like to see what they are doing. How they are interacting with the public," Battle said.

Officers tasers also have cameras that record when turned on. The Sheriff credits tasers with reducing violent confrontations.

 "Most people when you pull that taser out and that red beam placed on your chest, they are pretty much going to comply," Sproul said.

The Sheriff points out that more than one week of the 13 week Georgia Police Academy instruction involves use of force training.

The GBI says a possible reason for the increase in investigations could be that law enforcement agencies want to be completely open to public perception. Dougherty County law enforcement says the people's trust is something they value.

The GBI says most of the recent use of force investigations are related to officer involved shootings. And they report that several officers have been arrested in the past two months who were accused of aggressive behavior.

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