The Use of Force by Police

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The training of law enforcement officers involves a variety of skills, which include the use of force in particular situations to restore law and order. Various legal and ethical standards within the criminal justice system define the scope of justifiable use of force in maintaining law and order.

The use of force involves weapons and weaponless tactics to restrain individuals regarded as a threat to law and order. Police officers have the authority to employ verbal and physical tactics to compel an offender to comply with certain demands relating to the execution of certain duties.

Federal laws require police officers to limit the use of force to the attainment of objectives relating to the control of an incident, arrest an offender and eliminate harm on law enforcement officers and civilians.

In the case whereby police officers use force, they should ensure that the affected parties receive immediate medical attention. For example, police officers may use force in arresting an uncooperative suspect or in quelling violent and disruptive demonstrations.

Despite the authorization of the use of force, law enforcement officers have been in the limelight for excessive and unjustifiable use of force on several occasions.

The increase in the freedom of expression and information sharing has facilitated the publicizing of well-documented incidents regarding aggressive behavior by police officers.

Inappropriate use of force by police officers continues to attract criticism from the media, legislators, civilians and various departments of the justice system.

The prevalence of the unjustifiable use of force results from the behavior of particular officers or the conduct of law enforcement agencies.

Despite the impression by television shows and other media events that indicate high rates of inappropriate behavior by law enforcement officers, statistics on the use of force by police officers illustrate a different scenario.

Reports from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) indicate that there are a few cases of police-public interaction, which involve the excessive use of force.

An analysis of complains from victims of the excessive use of force by police officers illustrate that about 2 percent of cases of police-public contact involve the threat or use of force.

Despite the reports showing that about 7 out of 100 sworn officers faced complains on the use of excessive force, only 8 percent of the complains had sufficient evidence to warrant a disciplinary action (Burns & Crawford, 2002).

The misleading statistics on the use of force largely arise due the lack of a clear definition on the unjustifiable use of force. The standard of conduct of law enforcement officers defines various stages of the use of force and related instructions.

A police officer can move to different stages of the use-of-force continuum depending on a criminal situation. A law enforcement officer does not require using force if his or her presence is sufficient to prevent a crime.

However, as the situation aggravates, an office may shift to verbalization, the use of empty-hand control, less-lethal technologies and eventually employ lethal force (Alpert & Dunham, 2004).

Numerous surveys on the use force by police officers incorporate results relating to other aspects of unethical conduct within the police force such as police brutality and the illegal and illegitimate use of force.

A large number of incidents in which police officers use force include weaponless tactics of restraining criminals.

For example, a survey on 7000 incidents of custody arrests indicates that about 70 percent of the suspects encountered one aspect of weaponless tactics with grabbing being the most prevalent.

Although the use of weapons in restoring law and order is less prevalent in comparison to weaponless tactics, weapons aggravate the impacts of the use of force by police officers.

Teargas and pepper spray are some of the most commonly used weapons during police-public contact with firearms being the least used medium of restoring law and order in comparison to other tactics.

An analysis of the unjustifiable use of weapons and weaponless tactics in the police-public interaction illustrates the outcomes of the progressive training of law enforcement officers, which involves various tactics on the use of force.

Concerns arise regarding the scope of the least amount of force as enshrined in the training of law enforcement officers considering the well-documented cases of fatal shootings and severe beatings executed by police officers.

Despite the arguments that a significant number of civilians have had to seek medical care due to the excessive use of force by police officers, evidence shows that most cases of police-public contact result in minor injuries such as bruises.

The tools and skills used by law enforcement officers should ensure the safety of civilians without exposing them to harm. Federal laws require police officers to avoid bias based on considerations such as age, gender, and ethnicity in executing their duties.

The inappropriate use of skills and tools at the disposal of police officers may have lethal consequences in the police-public interaction.

Although restraining violent and uncooperative individuals necessitates the use of force, law enforcement officers should ensure they use strategies, which ensure their security and that of civilians without subjecting criminals to adverse effects.

Evidence shows that the use of force by police officers has been on the decline with the increase in laws and institutions that protect human rights. Law enforcement agencies have established rules and regulation that ensure officers do not use excessive force in restoring law and order.

For example, the federal justice agency in Austin attributes the decline in complains regarding the use of force by police officers to laws that stipulate severe punishment for officers who unjustifiably use force in the police-public interaction.

Evidence relating to the use of force by police officers due to uncooperative suspects illustrates that most cases regarding the use force are within the scope of the mandate and training of police officers.

The fact that the use of firearms accounts for about 0.2 percent of all complains regarding the use of force by police officers clearly illustrates that police officers follow the use-of-force continuum and to skip certain procedures in high-risk situations as confirmed by arrest statistics and data on police behavior.

A report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that police officers are likely to use force when suspects resist arrest. Among the 14 respondents interviewed, 10 agreed to have behaved in a manner that provoked police officers to use force (Cole et al., 2012).

Common provocative behaviors include the use of threatening words, assaulting police officers and resisting handcuffs.

Statistics on arrests in Florida indicate that about 90 percent of the suspects refused to cooperate with police officers with 34 percent resulting in active-resistance tactics such as refusing to enter a police vehicle. In addition, 10 percent of the suspects assaulted police officers.


Alpert, G. P., & Dunham, R. G. (2004). Understanding police use of force: officers, suspects, and reciprocity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Burns, R. G., & Crawford, C. E. (2002). Policing and violence. Trenton: Prentice Hall.

Cole, G. F., Smith, C. E., & Dejong, C. (2012). The American system of criminal justice (13th ed.). New York: Cengage Learning.

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