Thesis: Use of Police Force

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¶ … Police Force

To diffuse tense situations, to catch criminals, to protect the public and to protect themselves, police are endowed with power to use force. It is essential to properly train, monitor and carefully review the performance of the police force on a regular basis. A proactive approach such as the implementation of the 'Personnel Early Warning System' is the key in early detection and prevention of police abuse. Force when used in appropriate measure helps enforce law and order while its misuse erodes the basic pillar of our Law Enforcement system

The Use of Police Force

Police are entrusted with the responsibility of maintaining Law and order in the society. For this cause, they are empowered to use force as and when justified by the situation. As Egon Bittner, the well-known sociologist puts it, the police are 'nothing else than a mechanism for the distribution of situationally justified force in society." [PUOF] However, it transpires that this situational justification is not always adhered to and in many cases, police officers willfully violate norms of use of force resulting in police violence and police brutality. Also, justification for the use of force involves careful assessment of multiple factors that are involved in an encounter and hence it is not always easy to define a normative framework for police use of force. [PUOF] Police abuse of power is a huge social concern and over the decades, many human rights and social justice activists have protested against the growing problem of unjustified and excessive use of force by the police. When police force is abused, it becomes police violence leading to a situation where the caretakers of law are found abusing it. A brief overview and a discussion will help us better understand the issues surrounding this problem.

Police Use of Force

Excessive use of police force or police violence is a worldwide problem. An extensive survey conducted jointly by the MIT, University of California, the University of Washington and the Harvard Medical School surveyed emergency physicians for cases of patients subjected to excessive police force. This survey involving 315 emergency physicians reported that 99.8% of the ER physicians believed excessive use of police force and 97.8% reported to have treated such patients. This hospital-based survey clearly highlights the growing problem of police violence. [Hutson et.al, 2009]. The familiar saying "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely' is very true. In some countries, the Police wield their authority with impunity. Turkey is a case in point. In 2007, the Turkish government made some amendments to the police law, which gave the police special powers to arbitrarily stop and check people and broadened scope for use of lethal force. The results were very clear and there is a surge of police crimes in the country. As Kenneth Roth, executive director of the Human Rights Watch puts it,

The Use of Police Force 2

'Turkey needs to tackle its violent and trigger-happy policing culture'. [Human Rights Watch, 2008] The negligent attitude of the criminal justice system to monitor the use of police force and investigate the alledged acts of power abuse have given the police absolute power and total impunity, a formula for disaster. In the United States as well, the number of cases of complaints against police abuse of power continue to be on the rise. Thus 'Police use of force ' has become a serious social research issue.

Pros and Cons of Using Force

Police have the distinguished responsibility of maintaining law and order and for this purpose are vested with powers that include the use of force. It is certainly agreeable that in such cases as is necessary, the police can and should use minimum force to control the situation and restore normalcy. An unruly mob for instance engaged in spreading violence in the streets and causing damage to property and danger to the public needs to be effectively managed. In such a case, the police can and should resort to forceful methods which can range from using the baton to using a tear gas shell to disperse a violent mob. Such cases are within acceptible bounds of using police force to bring about order. However, the situation becomes critical if the police have to resort to using their guns as in this case, it is the use of a deadly force which could cause irreversible damage. The Bureau of Justice states, "the legal test of excessive force…is whether the police officer reasonably believed that such force was necessary to accomplish a legitimate police purpose…." [Tom McEwen, 1996] It is the subjective nature of the definition, which makes it difficult to assess as a general case. If the use of excessive force or deadly force by the police is not carefully monitored, it could lead to a chaotic situation where the power vested with the police could pave way for police violence.

Sociologists are divided in their opinion about police use of excessive force. Some contend that the number of reported complaints of police power abuse is just the tip of an iceberg. Others feel that the issue of police use of excessive force is literally blown out of proportions. As the notable sociologist and researcher William A Geller put it, "If known abuses are the tip of an iceberg, then commendable restraint when officers could have applied force is like the zenith of Mt. Everest.." [Tom McEwen, 1996] However, the growing number of incidents of police power abuse resulted in the move for a better monitoring of the police use of deadly force, which resulted in the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. This act had a clause that made it mandatory for the Attorney General to compile and publish annual statistics for excessive use of police force.

Police Force Abuse (A Real Problem)

As per the 2006 statistics released by the Bureau of Justice, around 8% of the cases against police officers pertaining to power abuse and use of excessive force have been justified for taking disciplinary criminal action. [BJS, 2006] Recent reports from Amnesty international have highlighted the indiscriminate use of Tasers and the increasing number of fatalities. As per the 2008 report of Amnesty international, more than 330 people in the U.S. have died due to the use of Tasers. A careful review of the Use of Police Force 3

autopsy reports of 98 such victims has revealed that atleast in 50 cases the use of Tasers is directly responsible for deaths. These electrical shocking devices are now widely used in the American and international police force but there seems to be a severe lapse of control and 'inherent abuse' in the use of such extreme incapacitating devices. The report further stated, "Many aspects of the safety of CED technology are not well-known, especially with respect to its effects when used on populations other than normal healthy adults." [Amnesty International, 2008] It was found that many of the victims were subjected to multiple and more prolonged exposure to shocks, which in most cases were totally unnecessary. Around 43% of the victims were shocked in the chest region leading to death due to cardio respiratory dysfunction. The case of the 21-year-old Baron Pikes, who was shocked 6 times while in custody is one clear example of police abuse of force. As Dr. Randolf Williams who assessed the case reported, the cause of death was "cardiac arrest following nine 50,000 volt electro-shock applications from a conductive electrical weapon." This is just one instance of the abuse of such devices by the police. [Amnesty International, 2008]

Steroid Use and Police Brutality

Officers start using steroids for cosmetic reasons of developing a brawny physique. However, besides the physical effect, steroids also have psychological effects on the user. It is documented that steroid use causes what is termed as a "roid rage' leading to more aggressive and violent policing behavior. Over the recent years, several investigations have revealed cases of law enforcement officers caught up in the illicit use and trade of steroids. [Kim R. Humphrey, 2008] The most blatant example of arrogant and inhuman cop behavior that shocked the entire nation was the Abner Louima case where four cops were charged with sodomising the victim and torturing him severely till the patient went critical. Later investigations revealed that the one common feature among all the four implicated cops was the use of steroids. In 1991, the FBI expressed its concern about this growing problem of cops on steroids. "Anabolic steroid abuse by police officers is a serious problem that merits greater awareness by departments across the country." [John Hoberman, 2005]

Management of Excessive Police Force

While it is clear that the use of excessive police force is an important problem, it is equally important to address the issue and device control mechanisms in place to prevent such abuse. Research conducted by several police agencies over the years has revealed some significant findings. One of the important conclusions being that women police officers tend to reduce the risk… [END OF PREVIEW]

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