Force in Law Enforcement the essay

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During the 1960's and 1970's, violent contact with the police, resulting in force occurred during anti-war, labor and civil rights demonstrations, during a politically tumultuous time. It is safe to conclude that excessive force was used during these clashes. Deaths and injuries were the results of political clashes at the Republican Convention in Chicago, during campus riots held at several universities, during political demonstrations held in public places and in cities where racial animosities were stirred up. At that time, it was sometimes felt that the political movement or threat to the community could be quelled by violently quashing the people with police power. Because of the lack of national statistics and the reluctance of police to reveal data concerning these events, it is hard to tell exactly how much force was used and how many people were killed or injured.

A1994 study by Anthony Pate and Lorie Fridell attempted to determine to some extent the kinds of force and how much of it was used by police departments during the 1960s and 70's. The most common kinds of force used were those least likely to result in injury: restraints or handcuffs and verbal threats. Less frequently used were chemical agents like Mace, flashlights and batons used as clubs and police dogs. The least used were deadly force, such as civilians shot and killed (0.9 per 100,000 officers), vehicle rammings (1 per 100,000 officers) and those wounded by gunfire (0.2 per 100,000 sworn officers) (Law, p.1).

The study done by Pate and Fridell could not be called complete, however, because "not all departments require reporting the use of force," though they do require reporting the use of deadly force. Even though they did not get statistics, they reported that only 29% reported the use of handcuffs, 72% reported using chemical agents and 82% reported using batons. Again, the definition of "force," comes into question when different police departments make reports, as "police use of force, excessive use of force and use of excessive force represent three different types of conduct" (Ibid.)

The March 3, 1991 beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles by police, which was broadcast multiple times a day on major TV networks, triggered riots and prompted the Justice Department to issue initiatives, obtaining input from psychologists from the nation's largest cities to identify the profiles of officers who might abuse their positions and use excessive force against detainees.

In 1991, the distinction between a police officer using force against a criminal who is free and using lethal force against police and civilians and a police officer using force against a detained criminal who is now incapable of using force or defending him or herself became a crucial point in the courts and on the field.

In 1999, the World Trade Organization met in Seattle, Washington and, though police prepared to meet any demonstrations peaceably, the numbers of people who protested soon turned the demonstrations into ugly clashes. The American Civil Liberty Union analyzed the event and claimed bystanders and peaceful protesters alike were abused by the police using tear gas, rubber bullets and by violating civil rights. The police blamed it on trained protesters who claimed to be hurt when they weren't, but the people read headlines such as "Out of Control: Seattle's Flawed Response to Protests Against the World Trade Organization" as the American Civil Liberties' analysis of the event was called.

In 2001, a two-yr federal investigation revealed that the police used force in their dealings with the residents 15% of the time, killing more people per resident in the 1990s than any other large city in the U.S. The federal investigators determined excessive force was used and that the police dogs were misused and bit people 70% of the times they were employed (it should have been more like 10% of the time). New programs were implemented while the investigation was being done in the city and the number of people killed by police from 1998 to 2000 fell by 82%.

In Cincinnati, police facing a federal investigation following a series of excessive force charges and riots by protestors, cut their complaints from 77 in 1998 to 54 in 1999 and even further, to 48 in 2000. But the use of chemical spray increased (from 753 to 1000) in the same period.

In Detroit, the leader in use of deadly force by police (0.92 fatal shootings per resident), lawsuits cost the city $124 million from 1987 to 1999. Recruits and cadets were made to take an increased 26 hours of training, rather than 16 hours, on when and how to use deadly force. One officer investigated (Eugene Brown) killed three persons and wounded another in nine shooting incidents since 1993 -- more shootings than any other officer.

In New York, during the 1970s, police were encouraged to use their nightsticks regularly and in the 1990s Mayor Giuliani set a policy of "zero tolerance" for quality of life crimes (such as vagrancy and drinking in public) and the policy paid off with the rate of homicides falling by 50%, but some claimed the policy was excessive: 80 persons died at the hands of police during Giuliani's first term and the city paid $100 million settling misconduct complaints against the police. In 2001 (the same year New York received the attack on the Twin Trade Towers) complaints rose by 4% for using force, discourteous conduct, abuse of authority and bad language on the part of police. Half the complaints were made by African-Americans. Since then, efforts have been made to integrate the force and Police Commissioner Safir claims excessive force has gone down by 23% because he required new officers to be better educated and set an older age limit.

In 1994 the Justice Department commissioned a study to identify officers who might use excessive force in stress-laden situations. The commission identified psychologists who had relevance to the mental health of officers and asked them to recommend how to predict, prevent or remedy the use of excessive force in police activities, such as that which triggered the Rodney King incident. The psychologists who were interviewed for the study were those who had worked as salaried employees or consultants to police departments for many years. A quarter of them were on the staffs of and were established employees of local police forces.

Multiple determinants of use of excessive force were identified, which invalidated pre-employment screening for characteristics predicting behavior. Five profiles were presented which identified an etiology of unstable personalities.

The five unstable personalities include:

1. Officers with personality disorders that placed them at chronic risk.

2. Officers whose previous job-related experience placed them at risk (such as justifiable police shootings and other traumatic situations) for reasons different from category 1.

3. Officers who had problems at early stages in their police careers (such as young and inexperienced officers who are seen as "hotdogs," who are highly impressionable and exhibit immature responses).

4. Officers who have developed inappropriate patrol styles (were trained to be heavy-handed and controlling).

5. Officers with personality problems (such as those who have personal problems at home or on the job which causes them to temporarily perceive themselves as losing face or status) (Scrivener, p. 10).

The categories vary in a range from (1) untrainable to more and more trainable (2-5), with job habits and training which can be undone. The longer officers are allowed to exhibit their bad habits, however, the harder it is to change them and in a world where an officer is held accountable to the public, some of them may not be able to adapt to the public-friendly model now demanded.

Good training can diffuse situations which are volatile and might cause lasting damage to the community and injuries to involved persons. When officers only have a second to make a decision in dealing with dangerous and unpredictable situations involving criminals, training can make the difference between a proper and improper response. The officer can take the appropriate action which will either protect and quell the disturbance, or create lasting or deadly injuries to himself, citizens, the perpetrator of a crime and the community. Sometimes it will involve the use of force or deadly force, but the officer has a duty to protect himself and others and is legally entitled to "use appropriate means, including force" in doing so (Title LXII: 627).

In a news release from Portland Oregon dated July 14, 2009, a study of the Portland Police department's use of force found that complaints had dropped by 58% since 2004 and credited the drop to overseeing officers' use of force during the carrying out of their duties. An April 2007 review had recommended improving the management of force and reducing complaints. The department took the recommendation seriously and Police Chief Rosie Sizer reported a 72% drop in the rate of non-lethal impact with a corresponding decrease in civilian and…[continue]

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