Union Institute and University
Applied Ethics in Criminal Justice Management
Professor Toni Bland
October 19, 2012
This paper will differentiate between reasonable force and excessive force. I will describe when excessive force turns into police brutality and how the police culture can influence police brutality. I will discuss some of the many negative repercussions that excessive force / police brutality have on the law enforcement officers, agency, city, community and profession. The Price of Police Brutality
Is there a difference between excessive force and police brutality? Is one worse than the other? What are some of the negative aspects associated with excessive force or police brutality? Are there any positive side effects resulting from an agency dealing with an excessive force stigma? This paper will examine the various aspects of excessive force and police brutality has upon a police agency and law enforcement in general. I will explain the difference between excessive force and police brutality, and will examine if there are any positive benefits associated with these labels. Police work is unique in that it is one of the few jobs that require using force in the performance of your duties. On a daily basis, officers working in the field use some degree of force. This may range from telling someone to sit down during a detention to the use of deadly force against an armed assailant. In order to determine what may constitute excessive force, we first need to define what reasonable force is. In California reasonable force is defined under Penal Code section 835a as, any peace officer who has reasonable cause to believe that the person to be arrested has committed a public offense may use reasonable force to effect the arrest, to prevent escape or to overcome resistance (C.P.C 835(a). This provides an officer the authority to use force while in the performance of their duties. What one officer may consider reasonable another may deem excessive. Here lies the first hurdle, who gets to decide what is considered reasonable. The first person is the officer involved in the use of force. It is incumbent upon the officer to determine what force is considered reasonable force for each situation. Often that decision has to be made in a split second. An officer has to interpret a situation, identify a threat, determine what force if any is required and then apply that force. The second person with input on the justification of the reasonableness of the applied force is the officer’s sergeant or supervisor. The use of force must be properly documented in the arrest report, and it is up to the reviewing supervisor to determine if the force was reasonable for the situation. If it is determined the force was not reasonable, then the incident may be forwarded through the chain of command for a use of force review board. If it is determined that the force used was not reasonable, then the officer can be responsible for using excessive force. Every department is different in how they review the application of force, but let’s look at a hypothetical scenario. An officer drives through a known gang area and sees a subject that he knows is wanted on an outstanding theft warrant. The subject runs and the officer chases him for a few hundred yards and tackles him. The officer gets up and notices the suspect is pushing himself off the ground and is about to run away again. Before the suspect gets up, the officer kicks the suspect in the face rendering him unconscious. The officer puts handcuffs on the suspect and he is arrested. With no other information, this may be a case where the force was excessive for the situation, a kick to the head for someone trying to flee. Same scenario, but this time the officer has additional information. The officer works this area and knows many of the gang members by sight. He has arrested several of the gang members in the...