Although the application of force by police officers is necessary for the protection of others and self-defense, there is no single stipulatory definition of the recourse to force. The vague nature of boundaries within which the force can be exercised may account for instances of malpractice, resulting in the excessive violence and brutal behavior on the part of the police officers. A large quantity of incidents, including the death of Eric Gardner in 2014, when a police officer used a stranglehold, a fatal shooting of a teenager Michel Brown, as well as the resulting riots, media attention, and subsequent scrutiny, allegations of the by police misconduct demonstrated the need of a reform to prevent the police brutality (Wihbey & Kille, 2015). However, the problem of excessive force is longstanding, deeply ingrained, and relatively widespread, the analysis of offered solutions to the problem demonstrates that instances of using excessive force may be significantly reduced by changing relevant policies and social dynamics, establishing greater accountability of officers, demilitarization of police units, changing police organizational culture, and using officer body video cameras during police-citizen contacts.
Excessive Force in Police Work: Analysis and Causes
Police officers should exploit the amount of force necessary to protect others or themselves from harm, perform an arrest, or mitigate an incident. In other words, justified use of force may be defined as the “amount of efforts required by police to compel compliance by an unwilling subject” (National Institute of Justice [NIJ], 2015). However, there is no standard set of rules that would govern how much force should be used due to a diversity of contexts where it may be required. In addition, some factors prove effective in assessing the requirement, they include previous training, experience, situational awareness about the availability of alternative types of restrain, the severity of a threat, and a personality of an offender. Since there is no federal database of officer-involved misuse of force, it is difficult to estimate the number of such events. Nevertheless, it was established that in the large police departments (one hundred or more officers holding general arrest powers), the average complaint rate regarding the excessive force is 6.6 complaints per hundred officers (NIJ, 2015).
There are several causes of why the police has a long history of constraining methods and why the number of such incidents seems to increase. For example, Reiner (2010) believes that there are institutional and cultural reasons behind the disproportionate use of force by the officers as to the offence or a threat. Firstly, one institutional misbelief is that many officers seem to associate policing with force instead of associating it with a function. Chevigny (1997) corroborates on it and states that dynamics that accounts for the more violent police behavior reflects the country’s societal order where violence is becoming a common norm in the interpersonal interactions. Secondly, such characteristics of a police culture as being action-oriented, masculine, and prejudiced, encourage the repeated demonstrations of power. Balko (2013) believes that officers tend to be more inclined to apply excessive force because of a militarization order. The author argues that militarization has brought into police ranks certain attitudes that provoke policemen to act in an aggressive manner. Such attitudes are reflected in the associations of policemen as soldiers who safeguard the streets, justifying the force, and taking a martial stand against offenders (Balko, 2013). As a result, a battlefield mentality that has been implemented into their ranks conditioned the police to see citizens as their enemies. Therefore, there is a need in the new approaches to solving the problem of excessive force and targeting its causes.
Solutions Offered to the Problem of Excessive Use of Force
The increased attention to the matter of using unnecessary force by the police has led the public to demand the alterations in the law enforcement that would ensure better protection of citizens’ rights and prevent crossing boundaries of allowed force measures. Following solutions seem to be the most relevant, potentially effective, and promising in resolving the problem of the excessive power application.
Chevigny (1998) recommends the official control of police violence that can be managed through the change in relations between the government and its citizens, especially on occasions when authorities consider using force a proper method to maintain the relationships Since the police regards the societal views of offenders to be hostile, the changes to reduce the force have to be performed within the society. For example, larger social order must be reexamined to minimize the views, facilitating the development of negative attitudes towards social groups with higher crime rates. Moreover, there must be persistent government actions aimed at the establishing the strict accountability of police officers for their misconduct (Chevigny, 1998). Additionally, since current practices demonstrate that accountability alone cannot be effectively achieved when police investigates crimes committed by its officers, instances of excessive force should be investigated by an independent agency. Heade (2013) adds that active public participation and control are some of the main aspects of the eliminating the communities from police brutality.
Reiner (2010) believes the problem of power abusage originated from the belief that tough law and order along with a zero tolerance towards crime will bring an end to criminal activities. Unfortunately, aforementioned attitudes led to the increased use of force, whereas could not manage to reduce the crime rates. The author suggests that promoting social equality and solidarity would help transform the social structure, since the sources of order lie in the culture and political economy, not in the granting power to the force structures. Therefore, the author asserts that instances of excessive force may be reduced by a greater social control of police and acceptance of policing to be about function, not about force. Reiner (2010) identifies another important issue that must be changed to achieve the reduction of excessive power, modification of the police culture itself. Some of its major characteristics are cynicism, suspicion, masculinity, and racial prejudice, the features that account for the demonstration of strength, unnecessary dependence on force, considering it as a part of an image of a policeman, and its application (Reiner, 2010). Thus, reduction of the applied resortion to force rates demands changing the police organizational foundation.
Furthermore, Balko (2013) offers another view on how excessive exploitation of force by police officers may be reduced. The author argues that aggressiveness and violence among them may be minimized by focusing on preventive measures against the criminal activity and against the militant approach. Balko (2013) claims that politicians have motivated the police to apply inconsiderate measures by declaring wars against crime, terror, narcotics and associating police officers with soldiers whose duty is to militantly intervene. Consequently, the development of fighting mentality presupposes that the societal values may be disregarded for society’s well-being. Balko (2013) argues that fierce officers are the product of poor policies created by politicians, those that encourage violent people to join the police and prosper in its unnencessary activities. The analysis of the author’s book assists the identification of a threefold solution to the problem.
- Changing policies to demilitarize the police and establish accountability for brutality and violating citizens’ rights.
- Modifying the hiring and selection processes to prevent those inclined to violence from serving in the police force.
- Preventing the resemblance of arming, dressing, training, conditioning the police and shaping its tactics to those of the military units (Balko, 2013).
Ready and Young (2015) conducted a research to examine the effects of using an On-officer video camera (OVC) during the police-citizen contacts to monitor the officers’ attitudes and citizens’ complaints. The authors reported the following findings:
- Policemen who did not wear OVC made more arrests and stop-and-searches (6.9% and 9.8% respectively) than the ones with OVC.
- Officers wearing cameras initiated 13.5% more encounters and interactions with citizens in comparison with those without OVC and perceived such devices to be helpful.
- Police officers assigned to wear OVC were more likely to give citations for ordinance violations (23.1% more citations in comparison with officers without OVC) (Ready & Young, 2015).
The study indicated that persons with OVC conducted fewer stop-and-searches, made fewer arrests and were more risk averse and cautious because they thought more carefully about criminal procedures since there was a greater chance of an examination of their actions by superiors and a reprimand for any misconduct. Therefore, Ready and Young (2015) conclude that using OVC stimulates a higher level of an accountability among the police officers. In another study of OVC, White (2014) also argues in favor of using OVC since such technology has a civilizing effect, resulting in improved behavior. Thus, it seems that using OVC may serve as a useful instrument in preventing instances of excessive power application by the police.
Summary of the Offered Solutions to Reduce the Usage of an Excessive Force by the Police
Current section systematizes and summarizes solutions to the problem of using unnecessary violence by the policemen. Since no single solution is likely to achieve a desired effect and stop the police violence and brutality, a complex approach is required. Makin (2014) states that in order to make an impact on the police system, an initiated change should penetrate into the individual, organizational, and social foundation levels. The discussed solutions to the matter of police use of excessive force include:
- Changing relevant policies to impact larger social order in order to focus on prevention, promote social equality and solidarity, change relations between the government and its citizens, prevent authorities from considering force a commonality in maintaining relationship with people and minimize the negative attitudes towards particular social groups (minorities, poor, etc.).
- Taking persistent government actions in order to establish an impending accountability of police officers for execution of excessive power. The measure may include dislocating the investigations of crimes committed by the police into the authority of an independent agency.
- Establishing an active public participation and a control of investigations of instances of needless recourse to force.
- Alterating the police organizational structure on all levels of its hierarchy via training, education, and using OVC.
- Reasonable demilitarization of police forces (preventing arming, dressing, training, conditioning, shaping its tactics in resemblance to those exploited in the military units; minimizing fighting mentality and us against them attitudes), changing hiring and selection policies to prevent potentially violent applicants from acceptance into the police force.
- Using OVC to enhance supervision of police use of force, promote a greater accountability among policemen, bring a civilizing effect with a view to improve the conduct among the police officers.
Implementing Suggested Solutions and Complications that Reformers May Face
Since suggested solutions represent some complex, long-term initiatives that affect police force, society, and authorities, implementation of the recommendations would require time, resources, and application of beneficial government relations to change existing policies, attitudes and practices among the police officers. Therefore, from the beginning, one must develop a plan of action that involves such stakeholders as politicians, the US Department of Justice, civic and community groups, civil rights activists, non-governmental organizations (NGO), as well as chiefs and representatives from the police who can advocate the new force regulations and practices. Secondly, the plan must include the recommended changes to current policies. Thirdly, exercising a change would require involving media and ensuring the positive press coverage. Additionally, since the government relations and the policing demand significant investment of resources, the introduced scheme should enclose actions aimed to secure the necessary financing. Finally, it would necessitate a group of the dedicated reformers to advance the execution of the necessary changes and safeguard the reduction of the use of force.
Nevertheless, they may encounter a great amount of complications as they approach the politicians, the US Department of Justice, and the police chiefs to gain their support and cooperation. Present police system is likely to resist the implementation of the recommended modifications, view them as a threat and a challenge of their authority and competence. For example, the US Department of Justice (n. d.) states that applied force should not be considered excessive if “the police officer reasonably believed that such force was necessary to accomplish a legitimate police purpose”, where delivering the power over the decision to the police officers’ discretion seems rather convenient. Therefore, it may be difficult to alter the attitudes of officials of the Department of Justice (n. d.) who do not seem to comprehend the existence of a problem and claim that less than 0.5% of 44 million of those who closely interacted with police experienced or were threatened with force. Moreover, from their point of view, only a low percentage of the police-public interactions involve force. Thus, such seemingly positive statistics pointing to infrequent use of force by the police officers may not require any modifications. Consequently, if reformers find the understanding and support of the US Department of Justice, convergence of opinions between officials and reformers might pose a serious threat to the reform.
The application of the excessive force by the police officers is a topical issue in the US. Main institutional reasons that account for and lead to the police violence, brutality, consist of the improper focus of existing social and criminal justice policies, the existent police culture that promotes aggression, and militarization of police forces. Some of the solutions to the problem of using an unnencesary power include changing policies with a view to exert the larger social order in order to focus on the major aspects of the matter. Those would include the prevention, taking government actions, establishing greater accountability of police officers for using excessive force, promoting the mechanisms of social control, altering police organizational culture, demilitarization of police forces and using the On-officer video cameras to enhance supervision, incite greater accountability among policemen and bring a civilizing effect on their behavior. However, one should expect resistance on the part of politicians and police authorities to efforts aimed at reducing rates of excessive use of force which would have to be dealt with so that the reform can succeed.