The number of times Westbrook Police used physical force while responding to calls has dropped significantly over the past three years.

In 2021 use of force incidents numbered 74 out of a total of 30,340 calls, down from 97 in 2020 and 132 in 2019, which each had about 35,000 calls per year, according to data provided by Police Chief Sean Lally. The 74 use of force incidents made up 0.24% of all calls in 2021, 0.28% in 2020 and  0.38% in 2019.

“I think we are doing good, use of force is down, but I don’t know what will happen in the future,” Lally said.

Lally Screenshot / Westbrook Community TV

“Use of force” is when an officer uses physical force on somebody or threatens to use physical force, such as threatening to use a taser or pull a weapon. Further, if two officers use force on one person at the same time, that is officially counted as two incidents

Following protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota police officers in 2020,  Westbrook police came under criticism for using force on Black people at a higher rate than on white people.

Data on the demographics of the arrests in 2021 are not yet available.


“We aim to learn from mistakes of not only our departments, but other departments. What we saw in Minneapolis was a murder in real time and that has sparked conversations in our department,” Lally said.

While it is too early to pinpoint the exact reasons for the decline in overall use of force, Lally said, the pandemic, refocused training and the department’s mental health liaison are all factors that play into it.

Right now the department has about 41 officers, with some going through training and unavailable to work the streets. Fewer officers means less “proactive policing” and ultimately fewer incidents, Lally said.

At the same time, the pandemic has meant officers are more likely to issue a court summons as opposed to arresting and bringing someone to jail. Oftentimes, Lally said, force is related to noncompliance, and a person may not fight with officers if they know they aren’t going to jail.

The department’s mental health liaison, Jo Freedman, hired in September 2021, has been able to help people seek treatment during a mental health episode. About 17% of calls in 2021 were mental-health related, Lally said, and jail diversion tactics are becoming more available for those calls, though a year of data is not enough to determine the effectiveness.

“We are doing more to help someone find treatment and work on jail diversion,” Lally said. “We have less repeated contacts, but we will have to see over time how (the mental health liaison) plays out.”


Lally also sees officer training, a total of about 60 hours per year or more, often more than 40 hours than requirements mandated by the state, as playing a role.

A lot of the training now focuses on implicit bias and de-escalation, he said.

Police reform advocate and City Councilor Claude Rwaganje, who has previously said he had been racially profiled by local law enforcement, said he thinks it is a good start, but agrees it is too early to tell how permanent this decline is, and said the years following the pandemic when people are out and about will make things more clear.

“I am pleased to see that we are headed to the right direction,” Rwaganje said. “It’s too early to celebrate maybe but I believe that in life once we accomplish something we should celebrate a milestone,” he said in an email to the American Journal Tuesday. “

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