Force and Coercion

Chapter Ten looks at police behavior and the use of force and coercion. The police are authorized to use force to maintain order and gain compliance. Many studies have been conducted examining the police use of force during interactions with citizens. One such study was conducted by Reiss (1967). In over 5,000 observations of police-citizen interactions, Reiss found that almost 60 percent of the citizens behaved in a civil manner toward the police. In those 5,000 interactions, the police made an arrest in less than 5 percent of the encounters. Most citizen encounters with the police involved the citizen requesting help.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics conducted the Police-Public Contact Survey in 2005. This survey found that 43.5 million citizens had face-to-face contact with the police. Traffic stops were the most likely reasons for the police contact.

The police are trained to use a continuum of force. This continuum starts with just the presence of the police to be able to control the situation. As the continuum increases, the police increase the amount of force. At the far end of the continuum is the police use of deadly force. Between the extremes are the use of firm grips, the use of pain points, and impact techniques. The police are trained in the use of firearms, pepper spray, self-defense techniques, officer survival, flashlights, and canines.

The chapter outlines three types of conflicts involving the use of force. Type 1 conflicts involve the law and departmental policy supporting the use of force by the police but parts of the community do not support the use of force. Type 1 conflicts occur most often in minority neighborhoods. Type 2 conflicts occur when there are differences between the law and departmental policy. High-speed chases may be an issue in Type 2 conflicts. Type 3 conflicts occur when the officer’s behavior is approved of by the community but not the law and departmental policy. The potential for such conflicts may occur with community-oriented policing.

Although authorized to utilize force, sometimes the police abuse that authority. This could include physical abuse, verbal and psychological abuse, legal abuse, and violations of civil rights. Physical abuse was commonplace in the 1930s. The police would use the third degree. In addition to the use of force, the police may utilize deception with the suspect. The police are permitted to use deception as long as the police do not make promises that they are not authorized to make.

The Rodney King beating is included in the discussion of police brutality and excessive force. In looking at police brutality at the turn of the century, one view is that there is a problem. Human Rights Watch has stated that there is no effective system of police accountability. Citizens have brought suit against the police but have not been very successful in court. Another view of police brutality does not believe that it is a problem. This perspective of brutality places blame on the media for oversensationalizing the police behavior.

In the police use of deadly force, deadly force is force used with the intent to cause great bodily injury or death. The FBI, the National Center for Health Statistics, and the study of individual cities maintain data on police behavior resulting in death. It is estimated that the police have killed 13,000 people from 1949 to 1990. Environmental and departmental factors may influence the use of deadly force by the police. Environmental factors would include the neighborhoods where the police work. High crime areas increase the risk of deadly force. Regarding departmental factors, police agencies with restrictive shooting policies have reduced the frequency of deadly force.

Officer factors influence the use of deadly force. The perception of whether a threat exists and how often the officer is exposed to threats may affect the officer’s use of deadly force. Off-duty officers are involved in as many as 15 to 20 percent of the incidents of deadly force. The race of the officer is also significant in the examination of deadly force. African American officers are more likely to use deadly force and to be the victims of deadly force. This is because they often live and work in high crime areas. It also appears that female officers use deadly force less often than male officers. Evidence suggests that the race of the suspect influences the use of force. African American and Hispanic minorities are more likely to be shot by the police.

Under the fleeing-felon rule, the police were justified in using deadly force on a felony suspect who was fleeing a crime scene. Changes in departmental policy and changes in the law have called for alternatives to the fleeing-felon rule. Many departments have adopted the defense-of-life shooting policy.

Since more departments have restricted the use of deadly force, fewer citizens have been killed by the police. These limited policies have not created an increase in the number of officers being injured or killed by citizens.