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Black residents 6 times more likely to experience force from Pierce County deputies, study finds

Pierce County issued a report that paints a startling picture when it comes to its sheriff’s department's relationship with the Black community.

TACOMA, Wash. — A criminal justice workgroup put together by Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier issued a report to examine use-of-force incidents by the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.

The group looked into which demographics are most impacted. While the report doesn’t address if use of force was reasonable or justified in the incidents, the findings show a stark contrast along racial lines.

They found from 2016 to 2020, Pierce County’s Black residents experienced force at a rate almost six times higher than their white counterparts, a total of 87 more use-of-force incidents.

The numbers go even higher when you look at Black children.

The report says Black residents under the age of 17 are seven to 13 times more likely to experience use of force in their interactions with the Pierce County Sheriff's Department. They also represent almost 40% of use-of-force incidents.

For Tim Reynon, a member of the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability, the numbers are disappointing, but not surprising.

“The numbers among Black and Brown people, particularly Black people, it was astonishing,” Reynon said. “Our communities have been experiencing this and living this for generations, so it just confirmed what we already knew.”

The Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance put out a statement in response to the study and is calling for the Department of Justice to launch a civil rights investigation into the disproportionate use of excessive force against Black people and people of color by the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.

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During a public safety meeting held earlier this month, Pierce County Councilmember Ryan Mello asked what the sheriff's department would do "now that the disproportionality is so easily documented.”

Chief Kevin Roberts said that they’d analyze the numbers for more context, especially among juvenile interactions.

But Reynon said the time for analysis has passed.

“The numbers are clear. I don’t know how much more you need to analyze the numbers,” Reynon said. “Now is the time to start taking action to change the culture of policing in Pierce County.”

Reynon suggested that action should not only be improved training, the sheriff's department should also reach out to the community it serves and look for their input to improve the community’s relationship with law enforcement.

“Engaging with the community in the development of policies and practices, I think, would go a long way in building that trust and building those relationships again with our communities,” Reynon said.

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