The use of force in policing Research Essay

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Occasionally over the years, there have been discussions about the use of force in enforcement. The argument continues escalating intermittently. The public's outcries and those of worried human rights activists, among other stakeholders in the society, have severely affected the policing sector. All of these individuals express concern about alleged human rights abuses and police abuse of authority. While some in society blame the police for needless deaths and injuries caused by the use of excessive force, the police are generally supported by the government. In some studies, the justice system is blamed for failing to convict the involved officers. Other cite racism lamenting that excessive force is more likely imposed when the suspect is black , or not white, than when the suspect is white. This leaves people to wonder whether the problems really lies with the individual police, the entire sector, the justice system or it is just a misunderstanding of excessive use of force leading to the misrepresentation of the police sector.

Citing the above concerns on the topic, this paper will briefly describe the matter at hand, attempt to define what is meant by ‘excessive use of force by police,’ draw from studies whether race has anything to do with the use of excess force by police, try to explain the problem and also explain some of the steps being undertaken to remedy the situation.

Firstly it is important to attempt and define the use of excessive force. According to Segan (2016) the meaning of ‘use of excessive force’ can vary depending with the situation at hand or context. This leaves the officer at the scene to be the judge on how much force to use based on the set policies and knowledge he has about policing. Segan notes that there is no straight forward defining of excessive force. This becomes tricky especially given the fact that police have to use some force in order to control suspects or make them cooperate. The NIJ (2016) also agrees with this but notes that the Association of chiefs of police defines the use of force as the level of effort needed by the police to induce cooperation or compliance by suspects or unwilling subjects. IN general excessive use of force refers to a scenario where the police officer is entitled by law to use force but exceeds the minimum amount of force required to neutralize the situation.

However, the specific agencies offer guidance to their officers but there is not a universally agreed upon set of rules on how much force is enough or necessary. This has also been cited as one of the contributing factor of excessive use of force by police in certain states than others. For example, an article published in Boston Globe noted that the use of force by police in Massachusetts doubled in 2016 (Ramos, 2017). Such statistics are worrying as the policing sector is perceived to not respect human rights and most importantly their lives. In another article published in the media, the author cited a research that revealed that all 50 states of America failed to make the cut when benchmarked against the global police use of force standards (Laughhland & Lartey, 2017). The same study by Amnesty International US also noted that while 13 states fall way below the acceptable standards, nine of the states in the US do not have any laws set to deal with cases where officers have used excess force. This shows that the use of violence among the police is high. Bestowing such powers on state officer and not setting measures to heck them is dangerous. This leads to scenarios like the one where a man named Michael Brown was unarmed but shot 12 times by a police officer in a situation where the use of a firearm was not necessary in the first place. The officer said he fit the description of a store robbery suspect. According to, the laws notes that the use of force should be proportionate to the threat at hand and escalate solely as a response to the threat.

The critical issue at hand is also heightened by the fact that it has created a divide across race. The state officers are seen to use excessive force on blacks more likely than they would on whites. According to Fryer (2016) since the public beatings of Bryant Allen, Rodney King and Freddy Helms, the relationship between police and African-Americans has never been the same. He notes that the 20th century was marred by scenes of officers carrying out their duty in discrimination rather than to serve and protect all citizens. This has caused many researchers to embark on a fact finding mission and has also led to several protests in various cities and the national movement dubbed ‘black lives matter’ (Fryer, 2016). In this age, technology has taken over, a number of incidences where police have been captured using force on black subjects have been shared online causing the protests and movement nationally in the US.

The study by Fryer (2016) reveals that police are more likely to use force on blacks than in whites in all non-lethal use of force situations. This includes, pepper-sprays, drawing weapons, pointing weapons, using barton, handcuffs or use of hands to push to the ground or else. This shows that police treat blacks differently then they treat whites. However, the same research revealed that when it comes to extreme use of force, shooting, the data between whites and blacks do not differ. These results are in contradiction to the perspective of the people after the videos seen of police shooting subjects like, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Michael Brown from Ferguson, Walter Scott from South Carolina, and Philando Castile in Minnesota.

The resurgence of several questionable incidences in the past two years has awakened the bad memories suppressed within blacks. This is what led to the national movement. However, the national movement and debate has tempted the policing sector to try and minimize the use of force and there have also been some cases of convictions for the police officers involved. Both the police and civilian or subjects are at risk of incurring an injury. Minor injuries incurred by both the police and/or suspect include abrasion, minor bruises. Among civilians it ranges from 17 to 64 percent. Among the police it ranges from 10 to 20 percent. Major injuries to both parties include dog bites, broken bones, gunshot wounds, internal injuries, and punctures.

However, studies show that such indecent scenarios can be avoided if police exercised proper use of less-lethal methods to compel compliance. For example one study noted that the use of less lethal means like conducted energy devices (CED), Tasers, pepper spray etc. reduces the probability of the officer getting harmed or the suspect getting harmed. However overuse should also be cautioned as they can cause serious harm when overused (Bulman, 2010; Kubu et al, 2011). Only about 9% of officers that use CED report injuries on themselves or the subject. In contrast of those that do not use CED 31% report injuries on the subject or the officer himself.

Similarly, states should enforce stern regulations against officers that use excess force when apprehending suspects. The committee vetting the cases should also be reviewed for bias. This will streamline the process ensuring there is justice for those injured unnecessarily and the officers do not abuse power just because they have it. This will ensure.

While studies are the best way to assess the extent of the matter, all researchers cited here agree that the data is not easy to obtain. Fryer noted that it is tough to get data about police use of force. If available it is hard to obtain it from the police. In another study, Kubu et al, (2011) notes that in a qualitative data collection technique through interviews, where they interviewed 35 (cases) subjects that had been arrested and their arresting officers, the story given by the police officer differed from that given by the suspect in 22 cases. In almost all scenarios the subject reported that the officer used excessive force even though they were not resisting arrest. Some reported officers using Tasers unnecessarily even after they had been cuffed, some officers enjoying to see them suffer, others being punched, kicked and kneed in the back after being cuffed. Such contradiction and falsified reporting by the police can mean there are more cases than what is actually put in record. Some research needs to be done on such cases.

In conclusion, police have been spotted using excessive force on several accounts. This has been arousing anger among citizens and especially the blacks and Hispanic races. While Fryer (2016) says that extreme use of force-shooting is equally used on whites or blacks, incidences of black being shot and killed by police were rampant in 2014/2015. Also citing incidences from the 19th century as noted above race does play some hand in police use of force against blacks and Hispanics. The states should encourage all the police sectors to use CED as it reduces likelihood of injury to both the officer and suspect. The laws placed to regulate officers should also be upheld practiced fairy. States that do not have these laws should put them in place. Hopefully, these remedies amongst others like personal change of attitude by the police can help curb police use of excessive force.


Bulman, P. (2010). Police Use of Force: The Impact of Less-Lethal Weapons and Tactics. NIJ,

Retrieved from

Fryer, R. G. Jr (2016). An empirical analysis of racial differences in police use of force.

Harvard, Retrieved from ://

Kubu et al. (2011). Police Use of Force, Tasers and Other Less-Lethal Weapons, NIJ. Retrieved


Lartey, J., & Laughland, O. (2015). All 50 US states fail to meet global police use of force

standards, report finds. Retrieved from

NJI. (2016). Police use of force., Retrieved from


Ramos, N. (2017). Tasers drive jump in State Police’s use of force. retrieved


Segan, S. (2016). What is excessive force? Retrieved from

July 15, 2023



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