The police force is body that is common in many countries and is responsible for the maintenance of law and order. The members of the police force are expected to act professionally as they carry out their duties. The environment in which the police work in can be stressful and dangerous and may not be very conducive (Dunham, Roger and Alpert 19). Due to the nature of their jobs police officers may find themselves in violent situations which must be controlled. The police are trained to handle such violent incidents professionally and are expected to demonstrate restraint from using excessive force while managing such events (Adams et al 3). Naturally in these violent confrontations the police are expected to use a considerable amount of force to suppress and take over the situation. This force used should be the minimum amount necessary. Adams et al explains that the law enforcement officers are authorized to use force in certain circumstances which warrant the use of force and do so infrequently (4). The police have been accused in numerous occasions for use of excessive force and violation of basic human rights amounting to what has been referred to as police brutality.
The New York police department (NYPD) has developed a five stage guideline for policemen to follow when using force upon confronting a subject (David). First, the policeman should use verbal persuasion. If this fails i.e. does not convince the subject to submit to the police, then the policeman should employ unarmed physical force. If this fails he should then progress to using non lethal weapons. If this does not succeed, he should use the impact weapons. If all these attempts fail and the subject is likely to cause harm to the policeman, himself or others then the policeman should use deadly force. The police man is usually equipped with all the necessary weapons.
Legal aspects relating to use of excessive force
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Adams et al explains that in the course of their career the police encounter different situations where the use of force is required (6). These situations include; when making arrests, restraining combatants, suppressing unruly crowds and so on. The use of force should also be the last resort in controlling these situations. The police are also armed and often carry a weapon therefore the use of force has the potential to be lethal. The primary goal of the police is protection therefore force must be used to promote safety in the community. The police are also equipped with different types of tools which they can use.
These tools have been outlined below.
This refers to use of positive body language to control a situation through setting appropriate boundaries. The mere presence of a police officer can make violent people cease their activities (Berg 271).
This is also known as verbal force and involves the use of short statements to discourage or order a person to stop his/her advances ((Berg 271)). For example “Drop the gun.”
Weaponless control techniques
a)Pain compliance holds
These are used to inflict pain on the subject and shift the attention from the officer to the pain. However these do not cause any physical damage (Berg 271).
These act in a similar way to the pain control holds and are non impact devises that maximize pain but do not cause physical damage (Berg 271). These tools cannot be used on subjects who are drunk or under the influence of drugs because they may not be functional (Berg 271).
These are aimed at inhibiting resistance. It involves administering physical blows to the subject causing short term disorientation. In this case no physical damage is done.
Direct mechanical techniques
These methods can cause fracture and dislocation of bones. They involve use of pressure against the body’s skeletal structure (Berg 271).
Neck restraint immobilization techniques
These involve carrying out chock hold and vascular restraint maneuvers (Berg 271). Choke holds can cause severe damage to the lungs while the rest of the techniques induce pain and confusion making the subject give in to the police demands (Adams 3).
Electrical shocking devices
These discharge an electrical field to the offender making him immobile. However, they can only be used over a short distance range.
These are of a wide range but the commonly used is known as teargas. Once administered, the chemicals cause confusion and irritation on the subject causing. These are often used when dismissing rioting people or a rowdy crowd.
Impact weapons this provide considerably high mechanical pressure on the subject, including the nervous pathways and joints. These weapons are mainly used below the individuals shoulder level.
Firearm this refers to the use of weapons such as shotguns, rifles and handgun. These weapons when used can result to permanent physical damage and death of the subject and depends on which part of the body they are used on.
Police and the society
Police have an obligation to use force on those people who are violent against them and those who are capable and have intent to hurt themselves or others (Dunham, Roger and Alpert 19). However the amount of force used in each of these cases should be proportional to the threat posed.
The community and the police are inter-related and one may not function well without the other (Adams 3). The police are also members of the community they serve and without the communities support the police may not be effective in carrying out their duties. The police use of excessive force which has been known as aggressive policing defeats the purpose of the police force
The application of excessive force
Berg has outlined three categories of use of excessive force (266)
Situations whereby both the police and the participants develop high emotions making the tempers on both sides flare. In these situations even direct orders from the supervisors may be overlooked and the general police discipline may collapse. This situation is likely to happen in case of riots or demonstrations (Berg 266).
Situation in which the police use excessive force on the citizens on a regular pattern. This situation may occur where there is racial hostility between the police and the citizens (Berg 266).
Situations where in the course of their duty the police officers use force beyond the necessary level to make an arrest or control a situation (Berg 266).
The relationship between the community and the police force is very delicate and need to be maintained at an optimal level
Community’s perception on the use of excessive force by the police
Usually there is lack of coordination between the police department and the justice system which makes it hard to punish the brutality offenders. The justice system is basically out to bring brutality offenders to book but the police structure seems to encourage the use of excessive force. Police brutality can be classified as a crime on many different levels depending on the severity of the issue. Use of brutality is clearly a violation of police laws and is indeed a punishable crime. The community views the police as a respectable unit and expects them to use the power that comes along with their position respectably (David). It is a crime for the police to engage in any act of brutality regardless of the extent. Acts of police brutality have always attracted a lot of media attention. The situations are usually exaggerated and make the community believe that the use of force by the police is at unprecedented levels. This sometimes has made the public fail to appreciate the use of proportionate level of force by the police force. The society needs the police to maintain law and order and the police need the community’s trust to be able to carry out their duties with ease.
The police have also been accused of using excessive force with a bias towards some minority groups (Berg, 280). Communities made up of these minority groups do not have a positive relationship with the police. Police have a right to defend themselves by use of force. However in some cases, police engage themselves in criminal acts when they use excessive force. For example beating up a suspect who has been restrained or shooting down a suspect who was fleeing after snatching a pulse from a lady. Use of excessive force by the police is considered an occupational crime. This is because the policeman was acting in his/her legitimate occupation. However, the community does not view the use excessive use of force as a crime on the same line. This is because the community is aware that excessive use of force violates the state and federal law as well as the constitutional rights of the subject (David). The community therefore expects a much heavier punishment than what is usually offered.
Need for changes on the police structure
The current police structure has been developed in such a way that it encourages the use of excessive force to curb crime. Numerous changes have been made in the past regarding the structure of the police force but this has not been adequate to curb the use of excessive force. Even today the police are using excessive force as witnessed on April 2010 when two police officers used a stun gun on three unarmed suspects, two of whom were already handcuffed (Barboza). There is need for proper police training and restructuring of the police force to ensure that these cases of excessive violence are reduced (Kathlyn).
The police are justified to use force to bring law and order in the society where necessary, However use of force should be done in moderation whereby the least amount of force is used to suppress and take control of violent incidents. Any act that goes beyond the use of minimum force amounts to brutality. Police officers who use excessive force in carrying out their duties are offenders and should be charged appropriately with their crimes. The police department and the justice system must work in collaboration to ensure that such offenders are charged for their crimes.