Less than 1 percent of the arrests in Pasadena in the first six months of this year involved the use of force, according to a report recently released by the city Police Department, but the numbers are up slightly from previous years.

Between January and June there were 22 use-of-force incidents involving 35 officers from a total of 2,767 arrests made during that period.

According to the documents released last week, the current statistics are tracking at about the same pace as last year when there were 20 use-of-force incidents over the first six months of the year. In that same period in 2015, there were 19 use-of-force incidents.

Oddly enough, it does not appear as though recently issued body cameras played a role in deterring such incidents, as they have in other communities around the country.

Nevertheless, “The numbers are very encouraging and suggest that is there a high degree of accountability in the department,” said Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez. “I hope the low numbers are a trend going forward.”

These incidents included 25 body strikes to an undisclosed number of unnamed suspects and six incidents involving the use of Taser guns. In one use-of-force incident during the first six months of 2017, an officer applied force to the carotid arteries of a suspect.

The carotid arteries are two large blood vessels in the neck which supply the brain with blood. Pressure applied to them can lead to unconsciousness or death.
According to the department’s use-of-force policy, carotid holds may only be applied under certain conditions. The officer has to undergo departmental training, and the hold can only be used when the suspect is violent or physically resisting arrest. It can also be used when a subject or suspect verbally or physically expresses an intent to be violent and has the potential to cause harm to himself or others.

Pasadena officers are required to inform paramedics that the hold was applied even if the suspect does not lose consciousness. The officer is required to properly record the incident and inform a supervisor the hold was used.

The Los Angeles Police Department banned the use of chokeholds in 1982 after police placed a 20-year old black motorist in a fatal carotid hold following a high-speed pursuit. His death was the 16th fatality over seven years that was attributed to the carotid chokehold. The final lawsuit involving those deaths concluded in 1993.

Pasadena police also opened 19 internal affairs investigations. None of the names of the officers involved in those incidents are included in the report. However, details of two of those investigations have been reported by the Pasadena Weekly. 

On Feb. 16, the department opened an internal affairs probe into the activities of Lt. Vasken Gourdikian. Gourdikian, a 26-year veteran of the department, was placed on paid administrative leave in February after the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) informed the Police Department that he was selling off roster firearms over the Internet.

Police officers can buy and sell off roster weapons, but they cannot purchase weapons for the purpose of reselling them, which is apparently what Gourdikian was doing. Many of the listings for guns posted by Gourdikian on a gun-selling website listed the weapons as brand new in the box, or BNB. Furthermore, gun sales must be completed by someone in possession of a federal firearms license. In February, ATF agents seized 57 weapons from Gourdikian’s home.

The ATF has not concluded its investigation, and Gourdikian has not been charged with a crime.

An internal affairs investigation was also opened against Sgt. Michael Bugh, who in early 2016 had his sister Michelle Rodgers arrested on two occasions — one time on his day off — as part of a family dispute over control of their elderly mother’s finances.

It all started after Rodgers wrote a check for $1,000 from her mother’s credit card account, which she was legally entitled to do. After learning of this, Bugh drove to his mother’s home, where his sister was residing, and had other officers arrest her on suspicion of felony elder abuse.

About a month later, he had Rodgers arrested again, along with her friend Sélah Chavét, this time for trespassing after Rodgers entered the mother’s home through a window to open a door so Chavét could enter. It was later ruled that all of the arrests were made without probable cause and the city paid Rodgers and Chavét $300,000 in an out-of-court settlement.

In early 2017, Bugh left the department on medical leave before the internal investigation into his role in the two incidents could be completed. Several of the other officers involved were disciplined for their respective parts in the arrests of Rodgers and Chavét.

The City Council’s Public Safety Committee was scheduled to review the use-of-force numbers this week.

The city’s 275 police officers have been wearing the cameras since November. By the end of December 2016, there were 23 more use-of-force incidents since the previous June. The report does not specify exactly which weeks these incidents occurred. Nor is there an explanation for why there were nearly the same number of use-of-force incidents at the end of last year as there were in the first six months of this year, while police were outfitted with body cameras.

According to a study by the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology, video recording creates “self-awareness” in all participants during police interactions, which can lead to fewer use-of-force incidents by both officers and the people with whom they come into contact.

In some cases, people who initially say they want to file a complaint back off after seeing footage from body-worn cameras.

About 30 percent of the nation’s 17,000 police agencies require their officers to wear equipment to record their daily interactions with the public and gather evidence at crime scenes, according to the ACLU.

In a 2012 experiment conducted in the city of Rialto, use-of-force incidents by officers wearing cameras fell by 59 percent and reports against officers dropped by 87 percent when compared with the previous year’s figures, according to the researchers.

In another study in San Diego, use-of-force incidents dropped by 45 percent and public complaints fell more than 40 percent after officers began wearing body cameras.

In Pasadena, officers are prohibited from tampering with or dismantling any hardware or software component of the body-worn cameras. In addition, officers are not required to activate the cameras if it compromises their safety to do so.
According to use-of-force data being collected for the first time by the Department of Justice, police in California shot at or used force against black people in 2016 at triple the rate relative to their portion of the population.

According to the report, law enforcement agencies reported officers shot at or otherwise seriously injured 782 people across the state in 2016. In dozens of these incidents, officers perceived the people as armed when no weapon was found. More than half of the people were unarmed, the data show.