Excessive use of force

Subject: Law
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Accusations of use of excessive force by police officers in the United States continue to make headlines for quite some time now. In their daily routine of arresting suspects, police officers often use force. Excessive force means using force on a suspect that is way greater than the normal or standardized force that can be used to ensure citizens are safe. A police officer should use a force that is being threatened to be used by the suspect in question or whether his or her actions threaten the safety of the police officer or citizens. Compliance to required standards of force is acceptable but any force beyond that becomes excessive. If a suspect offers resistance to arrest, an officer can exert the minimum required force on the suspect. Officers can lose their calm during an arrest and in such stressful situations and high adrenaline levels, they might find themselves using excessive force. The situation may become tense and scary causing the officer to snap (Segan, 2014). Police officers are forced to make decisions in their line of duty every day. Their decisions may not be effective or acceptable by the general public. Their knowledge and experience will judge the kind of split second decisions that an officer will make. This paper is a research on the driving force behind the poor actions of police officers in the field that is use of excessive force.

A study carried out in the United States explains that officers who are not familiar with the place for example, rookie officers are more likely to use more force as compared to those who are familiar to that place. Officers who are more conversant with the place could not make such arrests because they do not judge the residents according to their profiles. They preferred in knowing the residents first. In the same study, it was noted that officers had the pressure of making a name for themselves especially rookie officers. They therefore find themselves making arrests using excessive force leading to harassment. They believe these arrests would go a long way in helping them in their career. This phenomenon is supported by various media reports (Cooper et al., 2004). These officers may feel threatened because they are not familiar with the place and the people. This can especially be more stressful for police officers assigned to neighborhoods known to have high crime rates.

According to Klahm & Tillyer, suspects possessing weapons during an arrest are more likely to experience excessive force from a police officer. The vice versa is true for suspects bearing no weapons. Several studies have supported this theory by the above research. However other studies suggest that under same circumstances of weapon possession, female officers are likely to avoid any form of physical or verbal abuse. On the other hand, male officers are more likely to exert excessive force under such circumstances (Klahm IV & Tillyer, 2010). Possession of weapons by the suspect is likely to trigger mixed reactions by the officers. An officer might feel threatened and scared at the same time because they are unsure of what the suspect might do with the weapon. There is a possibility that the suspect will use the weapon in a bid to avoid being interdicted by the police officer. The use of that weapon might end up injuring the police officer or even an innocent passerby. This uncertainty and tension might be a motivation for the police officer to use excessive force.

A study in Criminal Justice Policy Review suggests that police officers with more experience and education are less likely to use force. Their counterparts on the other hand are more likely to exert force in their line of duty. It was also proved that police officers who were associated with use of force were different in terms of characteristics when compared to other group of officers. Unique training programs can be a milestone in helping police officers prevent or avoid the excessive use of force (Wihbey & Walter, 2016). Therefore such programs and trainings should be encouraged in the police department. Newly appointed police officers might want to be at par with the rest of the officers. They therefore feel the pressure to earn points so that their career level can be elevated. One way of earning such points could be by making a large number of arrests without considering the way they have been made. Wihbey & Walter continue to argue that information found on media reports and public opinions are usually exaggerated and cannot be justifiable. Most researchers can confirm that these allegations on media reports are actually true (Wihbey & Walter, 2016).

Kwon discusses the fact that officers exhibit different behaviors and attitudes when it comes to exercising their line of duty. This is because some officers adapt a superiority complex and assume the role of a superior crime fighter. They are more likely to take up an abusive trait and exert force on citizens or suspects. Therefore, in their encounters, it is possible to witness excessive use of force as compared to other officers. This is so because such officers already have a mindset of being in control of the citizens and end up harassing them in an attempt to be in control. Another reason for police officers exerting excessive force, is because the law does not clearly stipulate the standards to which officers should operate within. It defines them as control agents therefore giving them the courage to act as they do. Instead the law or governing body should encourage officers to act as protectors of the public and should work to preserve public interests. Organizational culture and structure can to a large extent define the attitudes and behaviors of police officers. This is because they will be taught to behave in a certain way and the values on which to operate on. The society has also created a pattern where normal citizens behave in a submissive manner towards police officers. The society has given police officers more authority than it should. In the same context, police officers or citizens are inclined to behave according to society’s norms and expectations. In most if not all societies, police officers are viewed as oppressors. Therefore officers are likely to prove this phenomenon when exercising duty. It is possible to find a police officer acting in a brutal or oppressive manner because of this societal culture (Kwon, 2012).

A study that examined 40 African American experiences with police officers, suggest that police officers treat minority groups like African Americans with more force. It highlights that minority groups have a tainted image of the police officers (Rod, 2007). Racial minorities report that a high percentage of use of excessive force from police officers. Variations explain that race can trigger the use of force on a suspect. However, this group of people exhibit some kind of provocative behavior that may trigger the use of force (Hickman et al., 2008). It is an unarguable fact that police officers are likely to kill black youth as compared to white youth. This is an excessive use of force. The definition of this act is racism and there should be no excuse for that. However, with reference to Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantolea, police officers tend to claim that it was a reflex to the incidences that is dangerous situations. In as much as police officers have a risky job, they end up using excessive or deadly force in the heat of an operation. The black community is a marked one by the police officers. An example is the “stop and frisk” policy in New York whereby unsuspecting minorities were highly targeted in this operation. Studies have shown that when facing unarmed black person and unarmed white man, police officers are more inclined to use excess force on the black person. Stigmatization of the black community see to it that police officers view this community as a dangerous lot. They therefore tend to behave differently when dealing with black suspects. Police officers that are sent into black neighborhoods go there with a different attitude. This is because the people there do not trust them and at the same time the officers view this place as full of dangerous people. Arresting of black people is more than their white counterparts. This presents a situation where black men experience 20 times more killings by the police as compared to the white men. Therefore it is fair to say that the driving force behind these brutal acts by police can in the long run go unnoticed. The whole cycle then goes unrecorded (Self, 2014).

Kappeler et al describes the “us-them” phenomenon which is a theory created by police officers against the general public. Many definitions portray police officers as a group of people that is completely different from the rest of the people. Their line of duty defines how these police officers view the rest of the world. All the activities and processes through which they go through before being accepted in the office also contribute to this theory. Police officers are taught to find people who submit to the job and are being incorporated with middle class values. Officers strongly believe breaking of the law is a disrespect to what they stand for and their office. Therefore according to them, they are supposed to employ zero tolerance policy towards suspects because of this fact. Some police officers believe that their actions are justified and necessary (Kappeler, et al., 1998). Police officers are usually suspicious of themselves when around other people. They believe the rest of the world do not have a clue or may not understand that they have to deal with different types of people day in day out. They are not sure of the suspect’s behavior if they use less force on them or the kind of harm the suspect will inflict on them. They are therefore more cautious when dealing with other people as compared to their colleagues.

According to Silva, in some circumstances, police officers often try to maintain their department’s image. If a suspect becomes violent in the process of arrest, police officers may be forced to act in the same so as protect their image. This is especially so if there are witnesses on the ground at that time. When they feel challenged or provoked it becomes easy for them to make a decision to use excessive force. All this is in an aim to maintain their authority in the face of the public. This theory can explain why police officers who use excessive force might not get apprehended or held accountable for their actions. This act tarnishes the image of the police department. However, somebody has to carry the cross and it is not the police officers. The suspects taken into custody are the ones who are held accountable for having put up resistance during arrest. Police officers’ corruption can also be a reason for use of unreasonable force. A police officer may solicit for money from a suspect so that they can drop charges. For the whole thing to work in their favor, police officers may be forced to use an unreasonable amount of force. In many instances, police officers use force in an attempt to steal money or belongings of their suspects (Silva, 2016).

Klahm & Tillyer, 2010 reviews that both genders of police officers tend to use force which varies under different circumstances. Male officers are more prone to using more force when in an encounter with male suspects. Female officers may use excessive force without considering the gender of the suspect. Both genders of the suspect are victims of force from the female officers. Evidence shows that male officers may employ severe kinds of force as compared to their female counterparts. Even though at the same time female officers also use force in their line of duty. Male officers are also prone to resort to use force when in an encounter with suspects. But both genders have the same perceived attitude towards use of force (Klahm & Tillyer, 2010). In a similar study by McElvain & Kposowa, it was discovered that male officers often face investigations by internal affairs when it comes to allegations for use of excessive force allegations. Their female counterparts have reduced pressure when it comes to these investigations (McElvain & Kposowa, 2004).

Wihbey and Walter, 2016, explain that poor training of police officers on how to handle suspects with mental health issues can result in use of excessive force. Dealing with mentally ill persons requires special attention and patience on the part of the police officers to avoid getting irritated. They continue to state that police officers are more likely to use excessive force when handling suspects in high crime areas. The use of force in these neighborhood does not go hand in hand with race. This situation is also independent with the kind of behavior the suspect will portray. The researchers suggest that police officers need options for reasonable force. This is because cops do not have adequate training on the force policy and early training or education is usually not enough. The United States report a high level of homicide incidences than any other developed country. It is evident that even highly trained officers may be forced to make last minute decisions. This especially occurs when a suspect has a gun and the officer is not sure which of them will pull out the gun and fire first. Therefore in some instances, police officers may end up being the victims. For example, in 2013, the number of officers that were assaulted during work was 49,851. This is data was provided by the FBI (Wihbey & Walter, 2016).

McElvain and Kposowa, 2008 reveal that the age of the officers can be a determining factor when it comes to using force. Young officers are more prone to using excessive force as compared to their older counterparts. Findings by the DOJ points out that the average age of an officer found in excessive use of force incident is 37 years and 12 years in service (McElvain & Kposowa, 2008). This explains that experience and age can be used to explain the motivations towards the use of force by police officers. They continue to explain that male officers are more likely to use excessive force as compared to the female officers. According to the study, white officers being from the majority group may be victims of using excessive force. This is because officers from the minority group are mostly female (McElvain & Kposowa, 2008). As explained earlier, male officers tend to use more force as compared to female officers. In a similar study, shifts can explain the use of force by police officers. According to the researchers, officers assigned the “second” shift may be prone to be found in incidences where unreasonable force has been used. Their counterparts assigned “first” and “third” shifts are less likely to be involved in force incidences (Brandl & Stroshine, 2012).

Findings reveal that police officers are free to use excessive or unreasonable force because they are out there in the field on their own. Supervisors are not often present to regulate officers’ behavior. In some instances, these supervisors encourage the use of unreasonable force even though it is a violation of the Constitution. Police officers are left to figure out how to handle dangerous situations that they face from time to time. This shows that they do not receive or receive little guidance from the department and supervisors. Use of excessive force by police officers has become the norm and such incidences end up being covered up by colleagues and department as a whole. The research reveal incidences where officers use too much force on suspects who had already complied with their demands. Even handcuffed suspects were victims of excessive force. In other related incidences, police officers used unreasonable force on suspects who do not pose any threat to them. Using force in such instances is not justified. Police officers cannot be wholly be blamed because policies governing the use of force is not clearly stipulated. To avoid this, training and adequate supervision should be carried out on the police officers. They should also be held accountable for their actions because evidence shows that they are not usually interdicted. This creates a whole cycle of unrecorded incidences where excessive force has been used (Rosenfeld, 2014).

Use of excessive force can be depressing on both sides. The results may be traumatizing to the suspects and even witnesses. Some officers suffer from depression after going through such incidences. Contributing factors to use of force by police officers include age, race, suspect’s behavior, experience and education and gender among other factors. It is the responsibility of the government and all police departments to come together to ensure that this issue is addressed. In United States of America, the issue is already out of hand and will require a lot of effort to combat excessive use of force by police officers. Recommendations for the government include to organize countrywide awareness and training programs to educate both the public and the police officers. Recommendations for the police departments is to make sure police officers using unreasonable officers are interdicted. This will set an example to the rest of the police officers. Supervisors should also be in the field to ensure that police officers are carrying out their duties smoothly. Tackling this issue will require a hands-on kind of approach to prevent recurrence of same incidences. Implementing the stated recommendations above will help in improving police-community relations. The perception that the public has on the police officers will shift towards a positive one.

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  9. Rod, K.B. (2007). “Police Don’t Like Black People”: African-American Young Men’s Accumulated Police Experiences. Wiley Online Library.
  10. Rosenfeld, S. (2014). 15 Reasons America’s Police are so Brutal: Countering Excessive Force Faces Barriers Every Step of the Way. Journal of AlterNet. Retrieved from www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/15-reasons-americas-police-are-so-brutal
  11. Segan, S. (2014). What is Excessive Force? abc News.
  12. Self, A. (2014). A Vicious Cycle: The System Behind Police Brutality. Retrieved from harvardcrcl.org/a-vicious-cycle-the-system-behind-police-brutality/
  13. Silva, F.C. (2016). The Excessive Use of Force by Mexico City Law Enforcement Agencies: Corruption, Normal Abuse and Other Motives. Open Access Article.
  14. Wihbey, J. & Walter, L. (2016). Excessive or Reasonable Force by Police? Research on Law Enforcement and Racial Conflict. News Media. Journalist Resource.
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