Policing Use of Force and Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina Essay

Pages: 3 (1107 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice

Police Use of Force -- Hurricane Katrina

The police in the United States have a very important social and criminal justice function. They serve as the barrier between the law-abiding public and the criminal element. While this is their primary function, the police also often serves to maintain order in cities that have been struck by disaster. In such cases, their function becomes one of protection and service rather than apprehension. On the other hand, the boundaries among these functions often blur as police are obliged to not only serve those who have been victimized by the disaster in question, but also to maintain order in terms of potential criminal activity such as looting and breaking into empty homes. This is where discretion becomes an important element of responsible police work. Often, discretion means the difference between individual and collective discipline. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 provides a good basis for studying the dynamics of excessive force tempered by the possibility of individual discretion by police officers.

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Alpert and Smith (2001, p. 482) indicate that the lack of clarity regarding police violence and indeed the frequency of its occurrence, could be related to the general lack of definition regarding the phenomenon or explaining situations where excessive violence was perceived. This theoretical estimation was exacerbated by the practical fact of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Reportedly, police officers were "told" that they were allowed to shoot looters in New Orleans in the aftermath of the Hurricane (Shankman et al., 2010).

TOPIC: Essay on Policing Use of Force and Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina Assignment

Some police officers involved at the time have come forward and gave account of a circulating order to shoot looters. However, today several problematic issues pervade this order. First, it is not clear how widely the orders were conveyed, who heard them, or who originated them. One of the points that Shankman et al. (2010) put forward is the fact that nobody involved in any of the shootings have so far used the order as an explanation for their actions.

On the other hand, several officers who did report hearing the orders used their discretion in refusing to carry them out. This decision is based upon the fundamental standards on deadly force used by the police. It is allowed only to fire when protecting themselves or others from apparently imminent physical threat. By all accounts, this was not the case in any of the police shootings in New Orleans.

A factor that could have driven the collective drive towards violence and excessive force is media broadcasts. This to a great degree contributed to an atmosphere of confusion in addition to the chaos in the city. These factors worked together to create a collective sense of using violence to "take back the city," as some report as having been ordered.

The events in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina then appear to indicate that individual officers are able to exercise a greater degree of discretion in terms of using excessive force than groups of police officers perceiving themselves to be under orders. This is particularly so in the environment left in the wake of the hurricane. Obtaining a clear conception of what exactly happened during the interactions of the police with the public during this time is however somewhat unclear, as divergent reports have been provided, along with the fact that memory becomes vague… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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