Aspen cops’ use of force dipped in ’09
ASPEN – The Aspen Police Department saw its use-of-force cases total 11 in 2009, more than half as many as the year before and nearly one-fourth the number tallied in 2004.
That’s according to a report issued Monday by the police department, which reviewed the last six years. Use-of-force cases include any time an officer employed or displayed Tasers or firearms, or used physical control techniques, among others.
Police Chief Richard Pryor said there is no prominent theory pointing to the drop in cases in which police had to use force.
“The natural feeling is that fewer people were in town last year, which means fewer calls for service and fewer instances for use of force,” he said. (The police department has yet to release its crime statistics for 2009.)
Pryor said the drop does not signal a change in philosophy since he took the helm in December 2007.
“I don’t know if it’s a philosophy thing,” he said. “It would be encouraging to think that we try to use our heads more than muscle, but there’s no way I could take credit for that at this point.”
He added that because the department has made a number of new hires over the last year, “there may be an under reporting factor. We have a department with a lot of new officers. Perhaps some of the incidents aren’t being reported.”
The APD created a Taser policy in 2007, a year after officer Melinda Calvano was fired for using an electronic Taser on a 63-year-old homeless woman. Then-Police Chief Loren Ryerson stood by Calvano, but City Manager Steve Barwick elected to fire her.
“What the Calvano incident did for us in some respects was put officers off from using it in some instances,” Pryor said. “That’s OK, but in other instances I want them to use the tool if they need it. That’s what it’s there for, but that might be another reason for the drop-off in the last two years.”
Pryor said that since the Calvano incident, there have been no occasions with the use of force that prompted the APD to rethink its actions.
“I’ve read through all of the cases and in all of those incidents the officers did the right things at the right time,” he said.
Of the 152 use-of force incidents from 2004-09, 71 of them were cases connected to assaults, disturbances or menacing. Thirty stemmed from welfare checks involving substance abuse or suicides, and 15 were from traffic stops or driving under the influence cases, data shows.
One statistic gives credence to Aspen’s image as being a relatively safe town: Between 2004 and 2009, Aspen police did not use a firearm one time. During the same period, they displayed firearms for a combined 20 times.