Thesis: Use of Force

Pages: 5 (1680 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice  ·  Buy This Paper

Excessive Use of Force by Police

The excessive use of force in the police force has been the subject of debate for many decades. The problem relates to the fact that the police is often obliged to use some extent of force to ensure the safety of the public. Being involved in a highly stressful job situation however means that judgment may be impaired in terms of what type of force is appropriate for the particular situation faced at the time. Police officers could also make errors in judgment, for example mistaking a gesture of surrender for the intention of force. Tragedy could then result. When investigating the various types of force generally used by police officers, trends can be established and the excess of force mitigated to ensure better policing for the future. The public should be the primary concern of police officers; research on the use of force is therefore important to ensure that public safety is not endangered by officers who are overly exerted or suffering from stress. On the other hand, it is also important for the public to realize that the police force has the task to ensure safety and order, from which all will benefit.

TYPES of FORCE

According to David Mangan (2008), there are various stages of severity for police violence. Various legal and other documents, such as the one by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (2002), stipulate that police officers are to never use more force than necessary and suitable to specific situations. Mangan then identifies the stages to be followed as beginning with verbal persuasion, unarmed physical force, force using non-lethal weapons, force using impact weapons, and deadly force. Non-deadly weapons include instruments such as mace and teargas, while impact weapons are mostly police batons. The officer is then to proceed through the stages as necessitated by the resist level of the offender, and to stop once the desired effect is achieved. According to the author, human rights across the United States are being violated by the police force and by the excess of force that they have been documented to be involved in.

According to Net Industries (2009), another factor in police violence and its severity is race. The over-representation of blacks and people of races other than white has been well documented. The authors cite the Department of Justice as providing a definition of force as pushing, gripping firmly, using chemical agents, a baton or a revolver. With the increasing severity of force, the possibility of injury by weapons also increases.

According to Jacquie Charlton (1997), pepper spray, one of the means of force, is used in virtually every modern police district. It originated as an agent created to repel bears. The U.S. Post Office then began to supply their mailmen with it to use against dogs at the homes they were required to serve. By the late 1980s, law enforcement officials saw the potential of the agent as an alternative to the more dangerous baton and firearm. It then came to serve as a transition step between unarmed physical force and impact arms.

The active ingredient in pepper spray is derived from cayenne pepper; hence its name. Contact causes the respiratory tract to constrict. Fighting for breath, the victim would then be rendered less able to fight and easier to subdue. A study by Thomas Ward, an FBI agent, from 1987 to 1989 popularized pepper spay by declaring it safe. The study was later proved to be highly questionable, however. Not only did Ward receive bribery money from a pepper spray manufacturer, but also compromised his testing sample by only using physically fit specimens.

Other studies have found that pepper spray holds serious health risks for victims, particularly those with asthma or cardiovascular disease. Other danger factors include the influence of substances such as drugs or alcohol, as well as mental illness. According to the author, the true effects of peppers spray are highly contested and subject to considerable debate.

Verbal persuasion, as the first step of force, is the least violent of the five types of force that an officer can use. It is the initial point of contact between the officer and the perpetrator. In the middle of the sequence is chemical agents such as mace or pepper spray. This is more severe than verbal persuasion, but less so than impact weapons. Such methods should remain under investigation to ensure that they do not in fact pose greater danger than at first believed. The most severe form of force use within the police that including firearms. In some situations, the police have no choice but to use this final stage of force. This should however only be done once all other options are exhausted, and certainly also in self-defense. According to Hall (2008), many police officers die in confrontations, where they are murdered with their own weapons. This should be mitigated by proper training.

PHENOMENA RELATED to POLICE VIOLENCE

Historically, police violence was particularly severe and excessive during the social and political upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s. Citizens were often involved in labor, anti-war, and civil rights demonstrations. The police then tended to use excessive force, especially with the use of the police baton. Most cases of excessive force result in injury, although some cases have also resulted in death.

According to Net Industries (2009), a further problem connected to excessive force is the fact that there is no definition of what is reasonable or appropriate in each situation. Police officers who have been working long and stressful days are then called upon to make judgments in this regard, which in turn can then lead to excessive police violence, which leads to the question asked by Mangan (2008) - what sort of person would commit police brutality?

According to the author, the most traditional response to this is only a few officers among the many, who are designated as 'rogue cops.' The author also however notes that research has revealed more reasons of greater complication.

Indeed, research reveals that some personalities could be more susceptible to the use of force than others. This considerably complicates the matter, concomitantly with the already mentioned factors of stress and possible judgment lapses. The author notes that research has revealed five basic types of officers who could to a greater or lesser extent become involved in the excessive use of force. These include officers with personality disorders, traumatic experiences in the workplace, young, inexperienced officers who feel they must prove something, those who learn inappropriate patrol styles, and finally officers with personal problems. Mangan (2008) further notes that structural organizational practices in the workplace could also result in the excessive use of force.

Specifically, the author cites the Rodney King case as illustration. The LAPD, for example, has certain organizational policies that encourage brutality as learned behavior. The departmental policy resulted in peer group behavior, and the violent actions perpetrated against King resulted. Training and maintaining a police department is an extremely important responsibility. Some officers abuse their power when training young recruits, and transfer behavioral disorders to them. In the LAPD case, officers were for example encouraged to skip the first stages of force mentioned above, and proceed directly to the use of impact weapons if perpetrators were resisting arrest. In this way, the baton was used and encouraged to be used as a weapon of aggression and not self-defense, for which it was originally meant.

John C. Hall (2008) emphasizes that it is not always clear what violent situations require, especially when an officer's judgment is already impaired. John C. Hall (2008) cites such a difficult case, Tom v. Voida. A police officer was accused of using excessive force when shooting and killing a young man in the act of stealing… [END OF PREVIEW]

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