Pierce County Sheriff's Department Use of Force

About this Report

In 2020, Executive Dammeier convened a Criminal Justice work group comprised of senior staff appointed by the Executive, Prosecuting Attorney, and Sheriff. The work group was tasked with reviewing Pierce County criminal justice policies and practices.

Recommended by the Law and Justice Public Review Committee, and produced at the direction of the Criminal Justice work group, this report focuses on demographic proportionality in use of force by the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. 

This report does not address questions of whether use of force was reasonable or justified in any case, nor the specific cause of incidents.

This report was updated in 2023 to reflect new data recorded in 2022.

The analysis below looks at use of force incidents over a seven-year period, from 2016 to 2022. Proportionality is analyzed across five racial and ethnic groups:
  • Asian or Pacific Islander
  • Black or African American
  • Hispanic or Latinx
  • Native American or Alaska Native
  • White

View the updated report below, or download a printable version of the original 2016-2020 report here.
The dataset analyzed in the report is available here. An interactive dashboard is also available. The data can be viewed using a combination of force measures, baselines, and categories of force. 

Defining Use of Force

The Pierce County Sheriff's Department (PCSD) reports on all uses of force. Physical force is defined in the Pierce County Sheriff Department's Policy Manual as "the application of physical techniques or tactics, chemical agents, or weapons to another person." This can range from guiding a subject by the arm to discharge of a firearm. Unless otherwise specified, this report focuses on use of physical force.
Also tracked are several non-physical, or "officer presence" actions, which use an officer's authority or show of force to direct behavior and attempt de-escalation. Use of force categories and types are described below. 
A new state law became effective July 25, 2021, prohibiting the use of Vascular Neck Restraints. The data in this report was collected prior to the legislative change. 

Use of Force Over Time

Different force categories show different patterns, but overall force use rose 2016-2018, and fell 2019-2021. 2022 saw an increase in lower-severity incidents from 2021, but remained lower than the previous three years.

Distribution of force across the racial and ethnic groups covered in this report does not show significant variation over the seven-year period.

Types of Force

The dataset used in this report contains all uses of force reported by the Pierce County Sheriff's Department from 2016-2022. Uses of force can be counted in terms of incidents or applications. A single incident may be comprised of multiple applications of force used to deescalate a situation.

Initial Findings

A standard measure of force establishes the amount of force experienced by each group in the population. This report uses incidents as its measure of force, with the following effects:
  • Incidents display a lower estimate of total force numbers.
  • Rate comparisons do not vary significantly between measures.
  • Report conclusions are not substantially impacted by this distinction.
A baseline population establishes the size of a group within the population that may experience force. This report uses the PCSD's direct service area (unincorporated Pierce County, University Place, and  Edgewood) as its population baseline.
  • This population better represents those most likely to encounter PCSD.
  • This population has a higher White population share, which leads to a higher estimate of disproportionality.
  • As the largest racial group in Pierce County, the White population is used as a baseline for comparing each racial group. 

Use of Force By Race

  • Black or African American residents comprise 4.8% of the Pierce County Sheriff Department's service population, and 5.3% of the analyzed population, but accounted for 21.0% of total physical use of force incidents.
  • White residents make up 69.1% of the PCSD service population, and represented 58.7% of total physical use of force incidents

Measuring Proportionality: Risk Metrics

Using the force measure and population baseline, several metrics can be calculated that show different characteristics of overall proportionality.
  • Risk Index: The rate at which a population experiences force as compared to their representation in a base population. This is scaled as the number of incidents of force per 10,000 residents.
  • Risk Ratio: Compares the risk between the analysis group and a baseline group, indicating how much more or less the analysis group experience force.
  • Raw Differentiated Risk (RDR): Applies real-world scale of any difference indicated by Risk Ratio, estimating difference in total force if the group had a Risk Ratio of 1.0, experiencing force at the same rate as the baseline comparison group.

Comparing Risk

  • Black or African American residents experienced 5.10 times as much force as White residents, which resulted in an estimated 74 additional incidents each year.
  • Native American or Alaska Native residents experienced 3.78 times as much force as White residents, which resulted in an estimated 6 additional incidents each year.

Use of Force by Category

The sections below further analyze use of force by the following categories: Deadly Force, Intermediate Force, and Non-Physical Force. 

Deadly Force

Total Deadly Force per Year
Deadly Force is the least common force level, containing 7.2 incidents per year*, including:
  • Use of a firearm (5 per year)
  • Vehicle ramming (0.8 per year)
  • A small number of other force types

*Total includes incidents categorized as Two or More Races, Some Other Race Alone, and Unknown Race, which are not shown in the risk metrics.

Deadly Force per 10,000 Residents
Black or African Americans experienced deadly force at a rate 2.7 times that of the White population. 
No residents identified as Native American or Alaska Native experienced recorded Deadly Force in the seven-year time period.

Risk Ratio
The small number of incidents makes statistical conclusions from Deadly Force unreliable, but the pattern is consistent with use of force as a whole.

Intermediate Force

Total Intermediate Force per Year
Intermediate Force contains 213 incidents per year, including:
  • Non-lethal weapons or tools (132.7per year)
  • Strikes (Hard Empty Hands) (73.9 per year)
  • Vascular Neck Restraints (58.7 per year)

Intermediate Force per 10,000 Residents
Intermediate Force was used 20.8 times per every 10,000 Black or African Americans, with Native American or Alaska Natives at 19.0 incidents per 10,000.
Asian or Pacific Islander and Hispanic or Latinx populations show very similar rates of Intermediate Force to the White population. Force was used 4.0 times per every 10,000 White residents. 

Risk Ratio
Black or African Americans experienced Intermediate Force at a rate of 5.25 times their White peers. Native American or Alaska Natives experienced Intermediate Force at a rate of 4.78 times the White population.
Intermediate Force shows the largest disproportionality toward Black or African American residents. 

Non-Deadly Force

Total Non-Deadly Force per Year
Non-Deadly Force contains 312 incidents per year, including:
  • Control Tactics (Soft Empty Hands) (302 per year)
  • Leg Restraints (Hobble) (39.3 per year)

Non-Deadly Force per 10,000 Residents
Control Tactics (Soft Empty Hands) is the most common Non-Deadly force type and covers a wide range of different techniques.

Risk Ratio
Black or African Americans experienced Non-Deadly Force at a rate of 5.19 times the White population.  
As the largest category of physical force incidents, Non-Deadly Force most closely resembles the risk ratio of force as a whole.

Use of Force By Reason

Why was force used? Force Reason is the law enforcement officer's justification for initiating a use of force incident.
  • The most frequent reason cited is Resisting Arrest, followed by Non-Compliance and Combative Subject. The selection of a force reason is at the discretion of the officer.
  • Different force reasons may be selected for each application associated with a single incident.
  • The least-used categories are difficult to analyze in isolation, to due the high variation in small groups.
Since the risk ratio below is measured against a baseline population, all scores for the White population are 1.0.
The six largest force reasons each contain at least 100 reports and at least 8% of all force applications.
Risk ratio patterns remain consistent across all services.
Because the Native American or Alaska Native population is already the smallest, further subdividing it introduces a substantial variation.
The largest disproportionality for both Black or African American (6.54) and Native American or Alaska Native (8.27) populations occurs in incidents categorized as High Risk Arrest.

Use of Force By Age

Demographically disproportionate force is experienced across all age brackets for the Black or African American population. The disparity tends to be the most prominent for the younger Black or African American population with juveniles experiencing the greatest disproportionality, and younger adults (18-25) the second most.
Approximately 4% of force reports, or 160 incidents over five years, lack information on the subject's date of birth or age. These reports have been excluded in this section.

Use of Force Involving Juveniles

Use of Force by Age
71% of force incidents with juvenile subjects involve those in their late teens, ages 15-17. 

Use of Force on Juveniles
The number of use of force incidents is lowest among juvenile subjects compared to other age groups, and includes 28.1 Non-Deadly, 11.3 Intermediate, and no Deadly Force incidents per year*.

*Totals include racial groups not analyzed in this report. Because some incidents include multiple force levels, as well as multiple subjects of different races and ages, totals will not match exactly in all charts. 

Risk Ratio
Differential force experienced by Black or African Americans is substantially higher for juveniles than the adult population.
Black or African American youth under 18 years of age experience force at 7-13 times the rate of their white peers, depending on the selection of force measure and population baseline.


Data Collection Recommendations

Increase context surrounding individual incidents
  • Accurate context can help normalize the data to account for the reasons why force was deemed necessary.
  • 24% of force incidents have a case number that does not match with an incident in LINX.
  • Data received includes limited information on force justification per application.
Improve consistent use of existing fields, including date of birth, race/ethnicity, and location
  • 3.9% of the data lacks a birthday or age.
  • 7.2% of the data has either a missing or unknown race or ethnicity.
  • 14.2% of the data lacks a location.

Research Recommendations

Legislative Impact Analysis 
Several new pieces of legislation were passed in the 2021 session, with a broad impact on stops and interventions, tactics available, and reporting methods.
Continuing analysis may help evaluate the impact these new legal standards will have on force disproportionality, and policing in general.
Jurisdiction Benchmarking
Updated statewide standards and data collection will enable more consistent and valid comparison between jurisdictions. 
By comparing to statewide standards, as well as identifying peer agencies of similar size and makeup, analysis can help evaluate Pierce County's efforts to improve equity in policing. 
Incident Outcome Analysis
Approximately 75% of force records match up to an incident in Pierce County's criminal justice database. Focus on complete and consistent data collection may increase the number of matches found. This connection provides the opportunity to analyze the relationships force use has on the rest of the criminal justice system, including arrest, charging, and eventual plea and sentencing outcomes.
Body Camera Context
The biggest gap in analyzing use of force is the missing context of subject interactions that led to the use and choice of force. A significant research effort may be able to encode more of this context from body and dash cameras into the data for eventual analysis.

An exploratory dashboard of the dataset included in this report can be found here. The data can be viewed using a combination of force measures, baselines, and categories of force.