COLUMBIA — In the first quarter of the year, 72 incidents prompted a mandatory review of police officer conduct, and 45 of those incidents involved the use of force.
The Columbia Police Department released those numbers in a quarterly report completed by its Professional Standards Division. A copy of the release is available at the department website.
Of 38,564 interactions with the public from January to March, police made 1,873 arrests, about 500 more arrests than the previous year.
Officers used pepper spray less often this the quarter, but used Tasers more often when compared to this time last year.
In the first quarter of 2010, officers drew their Tasers 15 times but fired them only seven times. In one of those incidents, the officer also used the Taser's "drive stun" mode, which is when a Taser is used to shock a suspect without deploying the probes. The other six times the officers used probe deployment mode, which allows an officer to shock suspects from a distance.
In eight incidents, officers threatened to use the Taser with its laser sight or by showing the electric arc between the two probes.
Sgt. Lloyd Simons of the Internal Affairs Unit said officers use the threats to end an incident without having to actually deploy the Taser.
“That’s our goal. We don’t want to use force, but at times we’re going to have to,” Simons said.
Officers used Tasers nine times in the first quarter of 2009, seven of which involved probe deployment or "drive stun", and twice as a threat.
In the first quarter of 2009, officers used pepper spray 33 times compared to only 15 uses in the first quarter of 2010.
The press release states there were 13 uses of firearms, two of which were ruled improper. Simons said the two improper uses were “accidental discharges." The majority of the firearm uses involved the killing of animals who had been injured, typically deer.
Police officers were also involved in 12 motor vehicle accidents, seven of which were deemed improper. Public Information Officer Jessie Haden said this number is not unusual.
“Your car is your office, and sometimes that can be a lot to assimilate,” she said.
Haden said the accidents are usually minor, but an improper accident is defined as preventable. She said any accident involving Columbia police officers requires a supervisor to work the scene, then shift the investigation to Internal Affairs.
Simons said he doesn’t recall any major accidents or injuries from the past quarter.
Additionally, 27 people filed formal complaints against an officer. Four of these complaints were sustained, and seven are still pending.
The punishment for these improper behavior can range from an informal memo to suspension without pay or termination, Simons said. He said he didn't know how officers were punished in the four sustained complaints.