Excessive Use Of Force In Contemporary Policing

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Policing is one of the fundamental components of the criminal justice system. As a subsystem of the criminal justice system, the activities and functions of the police are crucial to the overall goal of the system which is concerned with law enforcement, correction, and order. The actions of the police, therefore, have a significant impact on the entire system. Often, policing is termed as the gatekeeper of the system. This research focuses on contemporary issues and challenges in policing specifically the problem of excessive use of force. The exploration intends to develop an in-depth understanding of excessive use of force as one of the central issues and debate that affect contemporary policing. The research will assess this common issue that affects today’s police officers with a backing of previously done studies and resources that will help develop a comprehensive and objective view of the topic. It will further include an assessment of the driving forces that are behind contemporary policing as well as address the stresses and factors informing the development of the issue.

Excessive Use of Force

The use of excessive force is one of the most contested issues that policing faces today. Various studies have examined this challenge owing to the outcry of the public citing that police officers continue to use excessive force despite there being other modes of control that can be applied during the course of undertaking their work (Smith & Holmes, 2014). The role of law enforcement agents is intricately linked to their distinctive capacity to use force against members of the public. However, to maintain legitimacy, police officers are required to exercise caution and practice good judgment when their work calls for the use of force. Policies regarding the use of force, court rulings, and police training form the basis for guiding the manner in which officers use force. However, discretion in practice and the field, as well as the difference in situational contexts and organizational setting, lead to a variance in the outcomes related to the application and use of force.


Accountability is a crucial factor in policing. Both the law enforcement agency and individual officers should be accountable for the actions taken during police work. In this way, accountability procedures that are effective are essential if policing is to attain its objectives which include legitimacy and lawfulness. Legitimacy entails the perception concerning the conduct of officers which must be in line with the law and consistent with the expectations of the public. Lawfulness denotes compliance with formal requirements of the law including court rulings, decisions, and established statutes. These two aspects are critical if officers are to achieve the goals of crime reduction, serving the community needs, and enhancing the safety, well-being, and quality of life of all people.

The increased calls for accountability have led to the development of policies aimed at controlling the use of police authority using formal systems. One of these guidelines is that of administrative rulemaking which according to Micucci & Gomme (2005), is an accountability procedure that features direction and control of police officers use of authority. Administrative rulemaking has become a necessary aspect of contemporary policing management. The critical elements of administrative rulemaking include specification of the approved and prohibited actions in policies, the requirement of police officers to file written reports regarding specific activities and operations and lastly an administrative review of the submitted reports. Use of force is one of the central elements connected to police discretion that are subject to the concept of administrative rulemaking in policing. In policing, administrative rulemaking is more advanced in the realm of officer use of what is termed deadly force. Policies on use of force in the Police Departments are more developed and detailed than in any other subject connected to officer conduct. Policy on use of force has become more restrictive in nature to prevent any violations of civil rights. Worden (2015) explains that the directions under these policies contain explicit definitions of the different types of force and levels of power and clear descriptions of consequences for unwarranted use of excessive force

Ethics and Excessive Use of Force

Primarily, any stories and media account related to policing report on the negative aspect of the issue. Poor ethical decision making by officers and police management who according to the public are expected to act in accordance with the law and to have more knowledge are often rife. Currently, it appears as though officer misconduct is at an all-time high and that police officers are deficient in morality. This is if the reporting and publications of policing today are to be taken as the whole truth of the matter which is not the case. However, despite this, the increase in complaints regarding officer conduct especially with regard to the use of force can be understood from some perspectives. One is that the law enforcement agencies and the entire criminal justice system have become more alert to misconduct of agents in the contemporary environment. In this way, Terrill et al. (2008) note that internal affairs departments of police entities and organizations have created, developed, and implemented more cautious policing practices that are aimed at the identification and investigation of complaints and accusations of bad conduct by police officers. With the public outcry and debate surrounding excessive use of force, there has been evidence that the police departments and organizations have moved to increase the transparency of the investigative process and as such, the inappropriate use of deadly force and other conduct issues by officers have become more visible to the public.

Factors in Excessive Use of Force

One of the key factors that inform an understanding of the contemporary issue and challenge of excessive use of force in policing is that of suspect characteristics. The characteristics of suspects have been the subject of increased exploration by studies that examine the use of force by the police (Klahm & Tillyer, 2010). Demographic elements such as ethnicity, race, age, and gender are often common factors. However, inquiries that are more contemporary have included the variables of social class, substance use, and demeanor of suspects which are considered to be of interest in the context of use of force in policing practices. Race and ethnicity is an element that has received much attention in research owing to the historically antagonistic relationship between the police and minority communities and neighborhoods. There is much contention in the different outcomes of studies that have examined the factors of race and ethnicity and their subsequent impacts on the use of excessive force. However, despite contradictory findings, it is evident that this factor plays a role in the decision of officers to use force with certain suspects more than others based on the person’s race or ethnic background. For instance, non-white citizens have a higher likelihood of being subjected to use of force than the typical white suspect. African Americans are more likely to have force applied against them by the police in situations where compliance is of concern. Gender of suspects is another factor that comes into play in relation to the contemporary issue of excessive use of force in policing. Research findings establish that male suspects have a higher propensity of having force applied to them than female suspects. The demographic factor of age is also included in the contemporary determinants of force application in police work. Older people have a lower likelihood of being subjected to force use by officers than younger suspects.

The demeanor of suspects also comes into consideration as an aspect in police use of force in contemporary policing research. The attitude of a suspect in the context of the police-suspect encounter has been established as an element that informs the decision of officers to use force. For instance, Ransley & Mazerolle (2009) cite suspects who exhibit disrespectful behaviors and attitudes are likely to be treated with force. The social class of suspects is also included in the factors that influence the decision of some officers to apply force in their interaction with citizens. The propensity to use force can be subject to influence by social class of the people that are involved with officers of law enforcement. This is linked to the race and ethnicity factor where certain minority neighborhoods or communities and suspects in these environments are more likely to be considered in unfavorable terms by officers. Intoxication or substance use is another element that affects the contemporary challenge of force application in policing today. Suspect’s use of drugs or alcohol and the relationship this has with the behavior of law enforcement agents is an issue with a long history in policing research. For instance, people under the influence of alcohol or drugs during an interaction or encounter with police are more likely to experience the use of force by the law enforcement officers.

Encounter characteristics have also been explored extensively by studies examining contemporary issues related to the excessive use of force. Encounter characteristics are those factors that are not directly connected to suspects and vary across officer-suspect situations and circumstances. According to Police Executive Research Forum (2012), these include factors such as the presence of a weapon(s) during the situation of the encounter, the presence of other people or agents, and whether there was a conflict between the person and the police officer at the time of the interaction. It is imperative that the presence of a weapon will influence the likelihood of an officer to apply force owing to the inherent danger linked to suspect’s possession of firearms. Other factors within this realm include proactive encounters where the officers initiated contact, resistance on the part of the suspect, the arrest of a person, and degree of conflict at the time of engagement.

Responsible Stewardship

The core value of responsible stewardship emphasizes the need to foster a spirit of service and employing our resources for community development. It calls for resourcefulness and the optimization as well as the application of resources of the community for the fulfillment of organizational mission and goals. In essence, responsible stewardship means taking action that is geared towards progressing the protection of the public and community which requires one to undertake activities intended to mitigate problems that do not have solutions or that need addressing.

The topic’s examination of the contemporary issues and challenges in policing exemplifies the core value of responsible stewardship in various ways. First, it takes the responsibility of looking into an aspect that is of critical importance to the community and addresses the negative concerns that are linked to it with the aim of serving to gain better insight regarding the problems plaguing it. Policing as a vital element of the criminal justice system is central to the welfare of the community and that of the population. It affects everyone in the sense that the activities that are within the realm of policing are concerned with the maintenance of law and order and reduction of crime. By shining a spotlight on excessive use of force in policing which is a contemporary issue and challenge that affects the functionality of this area, the topic exemplifies the value of responsible stewardship. It does this by acting to address a problem and taking responsibility to increase an understanding of it so that community, the population, and the criminal justice system can get the most out of police resources and relationships.

An understanding of the factors, elements, and aspects that inform police use of excessive force is critical in the sense that it shapes the perceptions that people will form about the police and policing and thus works to dispel some previously built and held preconceived notions concerning this problem. Increasing the population’s understanding of current issues in policing is a responsibility that is aimed at improving community development and mending relationships. Responsible stewardship seeks to serve humanity as well as the elements central to improved livelihood such as that of policing. The topic exemplifies this by providing information that has tangible value. It looks ahead and beyond the immediate desire of everyone to protects themselves and instead builds knowledge into an area that profits everyone and improves a function of public service. It builds on to the capacity of the criminal justice system and its constituents to take responsibility in understanding and managing the impact that their actions, procedures, and processes may have on the society. In this way, the topic provides policing with the opportunity to create, develop, and implements sustainable practices as well as improve its reputation among the population and to save everyone in the community.


The research has explored excessive use of force as one of the most critical issues and challenges in contemporary policing. It has looked into the connection of the problem regarding accountability, ethics, and factors informing the understanding and development of the problem. Understanding the nature and scope of use of force by officers is a critical aspect for some reasons. The term alone has often carried a negative connotation, which implies that police officers and policing as a criminal justice function is characterized by cruelty, brutality, and harsh treatment of the population. As examined, the perceptions of the problem often have implications in the sense that it erodes the attitudes and opinions of community and society towards police in addition to negatively affecting citizens trust in law enforcement. Delving into a more profound and better comprehension of the nature of the issue and aspects that inform it makes for an informed view of policing which is critical to community development and the progress of society. This is because policing is a significant and essential component of the overall success of the population and the environment without which crime and disorder would be the order of the day.


Klahm, C. F., & Tillyer, R. (2010). Understanding police use of force: A review of the evidence. Southwest Journal of Criminal Justice, 7(2), 214-239.

Micucci, A. J., & Gomme, I. M. (2005). American police and subcultural support for the use of excessive force. Journal of Criminal Justice, 33(5), 487-500.

Police Executive Research Forum, 2012. “An Integrated Approach to De-Escalation and Minimizing Use of Force.” Critical Issues in Policing Series. Police Executive Research Forum, Washington, D.C. http://www.police

Ransley, J., & Mazerolle, L. (2009). Policing in an era of uncertainty. Police Practice and Research: An International Journal, 10(4), 365-381.

Smith, B. W., & Holmes, M. D. (2014). Police use of excessive force in minority communities: A test of the minority threat, place, and community accountability hypotheses. Social Problems, 61(1), 83-104.

Terrill, W., Leinfelt, F. H., & Kwak, D. H. (2008). Examining police use of force: A smaller agency perspective. Policing: an International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 31(1), 57-76.

Worden, R. E. (2015). The causes of police brutality: Theory and evidence on police use of force. Criminal justice theory: Explaining the nature and behavior of criminal justice, 149-204.

December 12, 2023

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