In the COVID-19-addled year of 2020, when most people were hunkered down in their homes, some Auburn crime statistics were down.
Auburn police made 3,629 arrests in 2020, and 4,606 arrests in 2019 — a 21 percent decrease — and booked into the SCORE jail mere 1,652 of those arrested, which is 42 percent below the 2,893 bookings they had made in 2019.
All told, officers responded to 73,998 computer-aided 911 dispatch software — CAD— incidents in 2020, 14 percent under the 86,062 incidents they had responded to the previous year.
“All of this activity accounts for only a portion of the personal contacts with our community members that are made by our police officers throughout the year,” Police Cmdr. Steve Stocker informed the Auburn City Council on March 9 as he presented the Auburn Police Departmednt’s annual Inspectional Services CIA — Commendations, Inquiries and Allegations— and Use of Force Analysis Report.
Here are some of the report’s highlights.
Investigations of personnel
Internal investigations relate to complaints of a possible violation of APD, city, or even civil service rules, perhaps related to biased policing, use of excessive force, insubordination, civil rights violations, false arrests, or allegations of serious misconduct. They could even concern an employee has made the same misstep multiple times.
In 2020, the APD conducted nine internal investigations, six of them resulting in a finding of misconduct. Those nine, Stocker noted, represent a mere .01 percent of the 73,000 contacts Auburn police had with the public last year.
“It’s important to keep in mind, too, that sometimes these allegations are derived from within the department,” Stocker said. “It could be a commander or a sergeant who notices, or sees something that starts the internal investigation.”
In 2020, the APD conducted 21 supervisory inquiries, which concern a complaint regarding quality-of-service delivery, and may vary in degree from an employee’s demeanor to their tardiness, from complaints related to customer service or the nature of a departmental practice.
Twelve of the 21 supervisory inquiries that occurred in 2020 ended in a finding of “unacceptable performance,” and 11 personnel received that finding in their file.
All told, the department looked into 41 allegations in 2020, sometimes concerning more than one allegation on a particular employee, 21 of concluding with no finding of misconduct or unacceptable performance, and 20 ending in a finding of misconduct or unacceptable performance.
There were 179 use-of-force incidents in 2020, resulting in 231 use-of-force reports. These 179 incidents resulted in seven allegations of excessive force and two complaints that were sustained.
As Stocker explained, sometimes more than one officer uses force on an individual during an incident, so there will be more force reports than incidents. Two of the allegations that were sustained came from within the department.
Leading up to June, the APD recorded 34 incidents of officer use of the controversial vascular neck restraint, or VNR.
Then came George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and protests that roiled the nation.
“In June, as a command group, we discussed this, and we paused the use of VNR, and it’s only available for officers to use now in deadly-force types of situations,” Stocker said. “In the past with VNR, we’ve probably had somewhere around 50 to 65 uses of VNR. We are not using that right now in our agency.”
The report lists 110 take-downs, a large increase from 2019, perhaps, Stocker suggested, because officers who could no longer use the VNR turned to using this tactic instead. Officers may also use other force types during a single incident to gain control of a suspect.
Out of the 231 force reports, 81 suspects were either injured or complained of being injured, and 35 officers were injured. Most of the injuries to suspects were cuts, bruises or scrapes. In 2020, there were no broken bones. There were also nine canine applications.
There was one fatal officer involved shooting in December. An Auburn police officer shot and killed Nicholas Ellingson on Dec. 17 when, according to police, Ellingson, who had a warrant out for his arrest, drew a handgun and pointed it at officers.
In 2020, the APD issued 167 commendations of various types that recognize members of the police department who act or perform in a manner that is outstanding or beyond what is normally expected.
Among the types are general commendation, when the employee receives a positive recognition from the public or from another member of the department.
Another is a letter of commendation. This award recognizes that an APD employee has performed a commendable act that is “worthy and above and beyond” what would normally be expected of them, Stocker said.
The highest honor is the medal of valor, which recognizes an employee who has “performed an act of extreme courage that is beyond the normal demand for their service, with substantial risk to their physical being,” risk that only existed during the incident but that the employee was aware of.
No medals of valor were awarded in 2020.
“It’s pretty rare that an officer receives the medal of valor,” Stocker said, noting that one officer has already received that high honor in 2021 because of the officer’s exemplary actions during a SWAT incident Feb. 13 that involved a hostage situation with a child.
There were three medals of distinction awarded in 2020. Just below the medal of valor, this medal recognizes an employee who has displayed great courage in the performance of his or her duties, where risk to the officer’s physical safety existed, but for whatever reason the actions don’t quite rise to meet the criteria for a medal of valor.
Two of the 2020 Medal of Distinction awards relate to another SWAT incident with a hostage situation, when a suspect fired two rounds at officers out a window.
Lifesaving medals: 10 awarded in 2020. This medal recognizes an act performed personally by an officer, when a competent medical authority has confirmed that the officer actually saved a human life or prolonged that person’s life “beyond the day of extraordinary circumstances.”
Merit medal: none awarded in 2020. This medal recognizes individuals who distinguish themselves by displays excellence in a tactical situation. Two, however, have already been awarded this honor in 2021.