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Dimensions of Use of Force in Law Enforcement

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Dimensions of Use of Force in Law Enforcement

Cases of excessive use of force by the police are on the rise in the United States. However, according to NIJ (2016), there is no universally agreed-upon definition of the use of force. The institute opines that the amount of force used by a police officer depends on the situation and the level of threat it poses to the officer, or another individual or group. This paper aims at comprehensively expounding on the numerous dimensions of the use of force in law enforcement by looking at the history of the police force, guidelines, and the use-of-force continuum. Also, the paper will outline the types of forces, the reasons for the use of force by the police and ways to reduce excessive use of force by police on citizens during lawless events.

Indeed it is observed that excessive use of force by police can lead to fatal injuries. These fatalities lead to investigations that determine the amount of force used by the involved police officers. Consequently, there exist dissimilar opinions regarding the use of force by police in different states. The enforcement of laws is significant as it brings about safety and order among citizens (NIJ, 2016). The execution of these laws is mostly accompanied by the reasonable use of force in the event of catastrophic events like riots and politically related conflicts. The use of reasonable force and power in such cases is acceptable. Moreover, law enforcement officers are authorized to utilize force correctly and in the right intensity to maintain order among lawless individuals. These officers undergo training to equip them with the capabilities to use force while handling their duties.

Over the years, there have been incidences of use of force by police that have led to several damaging effects to the involved individuals and the police departments. The use of force in most cases is the amount of force or power a law enforcement officer utilizes to maintain harmony and order during lawless situations. Use of force goes way back during the setting up of law enforcement due to fears concerning the misuse of power by the police. Nowadays, these fears exist with rising cases of police brutality. For instance, the killing of Michael Brown, a black minor, in Fergusson by a white police officer instigated riots as it was viewed as a racially related killing and the use of excess force on a teenager. It was later concluded that such incidences were prevalent in other US cities and states. Law enforcement agencies have been created to ensure police officers control their power while dealing with civilians.

Different law enforcement agencies set guidelines that ought to direct police officers on their use of power while maintaining order. As such, different police departments have dissimilar rules in accordance with their law enforcement agency. These rules vary with different situations, places and individuals involved. Conversely, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) provides standards that police officers are authorized to follow. These standards are founded on several factors that determine the amount of force used such as the law enforcement technologies offered during police daily activities, federal directives, the experience levels of various police departments and the relations between the police and public (NIJ, 2016).

Use of force continuums

Police officers are equipped with specific skills that assist them in handling lawlessness. As a result, the use-of-force continuums were established in the 1960s to ensure officers utilize the authorized forces to contain different unruly situations. Their formation was founded on factors like the resistance police face in their daily activities and the amount of force that is necessary to solve the lawless encounters. It is expected that different resistance incidences call for varying amounts of forces used. There are five levels of continuums that police officers are trained to follow before using excessive power. The first level comprises of the presence of an officer during a situation. This non-physical level is the most approved and recommended method of tackling situations. The second level involves verbalization where the police are required to issue polite commands such as “step out of the car sir or madam” and can further become forceful in the event that the individual is resistant such as “hands up.” Empty-hand control constitutes the third level where the police officer uses physical force like grabbing to resolve the situation in the event that delinquent attempts to escape and more force like punching in case they assault an officer. The fourth level involves less lethal techniques such as the use of CEDs (conducted energy device) like Tasers in the event that a criminal seems dangerous to the officers like carrying of harmful weapons other than guns (Terrill & Paoline, 2013). The use of deadly force constitutes the final level whereby the officers fire their guns in the event that delinquents pose a death threat to them and it is only recommended as the last solution to a crime. The above mentioned continuums act as guidelines that officers are required to follow while making arrests and solving distressing events like riots.

Types of forces

There are set standards and intensities of force that police officers are required to adhere to when imposing law and upholding order. The use of power varies from one situation to another. Additionally, the intensity of force also varies from the use of Tasers, chemical sprays, and many others. The misuse of these tools is mostly classified as the use of extreme force. The use of non-lethal techniques is categorized as reasonable force, which is justified and allowed by the law enforcement agencies. However, the use of firearms on offenders is classified as a deadly force that is allowed only when they pose life-threatening dangers to officers. Therefore, the use of force that surpasses the required amount is considered illegal and unethical in accordance with the National Institute of Justice (Pollock, 2014). In such cases, the officers involved in ethical and prohibited behavior face the consequences such as suspension, getting fired and in extreme cases, serve jail time.

Causes of excessive use of force

The use of force by officers can be attributed to several factors that range from education, level of experience, risky situations to the officers, lack of prosecution of unethical police officers, racial and gender differences. Education is one of the key contributing factors in the selection of police officers. Some officers tend to have higher education levels than others. Some of the educated officers do at times feel at a better level of using excessive force and going unpunished or caught. Moreover, they might harass offenders into offering and giving most forms of bribes. However, higher education seems to instill more discipline in some college graduates as they exercise more discretion, which reduces the occurrence of force during arrests (Rydberg & Terrill, 2010). Therefore, irrespective of the level of education, the personality, and characters of the police officers determine their ability to engage in excessive use of power on criminals. Most officers are required to handle their daily encounters with criminals calmly without resulting in the use of lethal force and ensuring their own safety.

Police officers risk their lives every day as they handle their duties as they are exposed to situations and criminals that threaten their lives and others like thieves, carjackers, and gangsters. Therefore, the state of the situations they face might put them in positions where excessive force becomes the solution. For instance, in cases where offenders resist arrest, assault officers and have life-threatening weapons like guns, the police officers act in a split second and might result to the extreme use of force, which is justifiable. However, in non-lethal situations, police officers who use extreme force can be sued and in worst cases get fired (NIJ, 2016). 

Police officers have different experience levels according to their positions and ranks. Officers with more experience tend to engage in unethical behavior compared to fresh officers. This is attributed to the fact that with experience, they tend to gain knowledge of ways and techniques of engaging in the misuse of power and getting away with it unlike fresh officers who tend to be on good behavior and they have the need to have a good reputation and learn new things. Additionally, more experienced officers may end up bullying fresh ones into undertaking unethical behaviors on their behalf, which relieves them from any accountability. Moreover, police officers face traumatic events when dealing with criminals like engaging in a shootout. These events may lead to PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) that may lead to the use of excessive force due to the loss of anger control. Anger management problems also tend to be a personality problem in most officers after long-term exposure to life threatening situations.

Police violence is in most cases associated with racial differences. For instance, the aforementioned case of Michael Brown, the black youth that was shot by a white police officer, shows the extent to which racial discrimination goes in most nations. In a more recent case, Terence Crutcher was shot dead by white police officers in Oklahoma. According to Ellawala (2016), about 40% of the total African American population are stereotyped as criminals annually due to their “hood” life, which result in racial discrimination of the blacks by white police officers who tend to use excess force to make such arrests. Moreover, foreigners are afraid of police violence in the event they migrate to other countries. The dehumanization of black foreigners mostly in America is sufficient evidence that racial discrimination exists in law enforcement with biased use of force with blacks facing more brutality (Andreescu, 2013). Therefore, it is important that law enforcement agencies come up with more strict rules that ensure fair treatment to all offenders irrespective of their age and race.

The reluctance of law enforcement agencies to take action on officers that engage in misuse of power that leads to fatal and life threatening injuries to offenders gives officers more chances to keep up the unethical behavior. It is human behavior that when mistakes occur, and there are no consequences, they make the mistakes repeatedly. The unethical police behavior leads to the loss of trust by the public in handling conflicts such that most prefer taking matters into their own hands rather than involving the police (Andreescu & Keeling, 2012). Therefore, it is the responsibility of respective police departments to establish ways that reduce incidences of extreme use of force on citizens.

Reducing use of force by police

Law enforcement agencies and police departmental heads ought to establish ways in which excessive use of force by police is lessened. These ways include the incorporation of use-of-force training that all officers are authorized to undertake, psychological tests that evaluate the officer’s state of mind after undergoing a traumatic event and having body-worn cameras attached to their uniforms. This ensures that they do not engage in the use of excessive use of power as their activities are recorded and can be viewed by their supervisors (Bui, 2017).

Training plays a significant role in reducing the occurrence and frequency of police brutality depending on the content acquired from the exercise. Police officers ought to be trained on the essence of handling matters calmly without resulting in the use of force like using polite commands without shouting. Such training prepares officers to tackle situations with alternative options offered during de-escalation training. De-escalation provides officers with the necessary tools and skills to avoid conflicts with offenders. It also improves their ability to communicate calmly with criminals and at times convince them to comply with arrests without using force (Prenzler, Porter & Alpert, 2013). Other methods include survivor-driven sessions, language engagement programs, and community patrol squads to reduce the occurrence of racial discrimination cases where police are more brutal to blacks and vice versa. The above techniques ensure that use of force is lessened in the police departments hence facilitating proper law enforcement without harm to citizens.

Conclusion

Generally, use of force in law enforcement has its justifiable levels as well as the illegal ones. Police officers are, therefore, required to act within the necessary levels to avoid career-ending consequences. The several dimensions of the use of force include the continuums that include the standard levels of force that can be used in different situations, the types of forces police are entitled to use, the contributing factors to excessive force and measures that can be implemented to reduce their frequency in most states. Law enforcement officers are given the discretion to use reasonable force in non-lethal occasions and deadly force in a life threatening events. Additionally, the use of unnecessary force is linked to racial differences, experience, traumatic situations and education levels. Racial differences are evident in the shootings of Michael Brown and Terrence Crutcher by white police officers in Fergusson and Oklahoma respectively. To ensure such cases are reduced, it is important that the law enforcement agencies and police departments offer force-reduction and de-escalation training to its officers, ensure they wear boy cameras that record their daily activities and undergo psychological tests to evaluate their stability to keep working without having anger management issues. Therefore, police officers ought to follow the stipulated instructions regarding the use of force when undertaking their daily activities irrespective of the situations at hand.

 

 

References

Andreescu, V. (2013). “Fear of violent victimization among the Foreign-Born.” Journal of Identity and Migration Studies, 7(1), pp.69-94.

Andreescu, V., and Keeling, D. (2012). “Explaining the Public distrust of the police in the Newest EU countries.” International Journal of Police Science and Management, 14(3), pp. 219-245.

Bui, J. (2017). “Body-Worn cameras: reducing citizen complaints and improving relationships.” Themis: Research Journal of Justice Studies and Forensic Science, 5(1), 1.

Ellawala, T. I. (2016). “Pulling the trigger: Dehumanization of African Americans and police Violence.” Scholarly Undergraduate Research Journal at Clark: Vol. 2, Article1.

Pollock, J. M. (2014). “Ethical dilemmas and decisions in criminal justice.” Nelson Education. Pp.489.

Prenzler, T., Porter, L., & Alpert, G. P. (2013). “Reducing police use of force: case studies and prospects.” Aggression and Violent Behavior, 18(20), 343-356.

Rydberg, J., & Terrill, W. (2010). “The effect of higher education on police behavior,” Police Quarterly, 13(1), 92-120.

Terrill, W., & Paoline, III, E. A. (2013). “Examining less lethal force policy and the force continuum: Results from a national use of force study.” Police Quarterly, 16(1), 38-65.

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