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What is Police Brutality?

By Hager & Schwartz, P.A.

January 31, 2023

There is no single definition of "police brutality," but the term generally refers to the excessive or unnecessary force used by law enforcement officers during an arrest or other interaction with civilians. This can include physical violence, verbal abuse, and even psychological intimidation. In some cases, police brutality may be motivated by racism or other bias against certain groups of people. Sadly, it is all too common for victims of police brutality to be mistreated and even killed while in custody. If you have been accused of a crime, it is important to know your rights and how to protect yourself from this type of abuse.

Defining Police Brutality

Police brutality refers to the use of excessive or unnecessary force by law enforcement when interacting with citizens. Use of force is defined as, “the amount of effort required by law enforcement to gain compliance from an unwilling subject.” Based on this definition, the police are legally allowed to use a necessary amount of force to gain compliance from someone who is not following their instructions.

This form of mistreatment often involves unreasonable physical force, violence, or verbal attacks and may constitute a criminal assault. Use of excessive force is defined as, “the application of force beyond what is reasonably believed to be necessary to gain compliance from a subject in any given incident.”

Furthermore, it can also encompass improper stops, searches, arrests, and detainment procedures – all of which should be in compliance with established laws and regulations governing civil rights protection. Police brutality is morally wrong and can carry severe repercussions for those who are found guilty of engaging in such activities.

The History of Police Brutality in the United States

The issue of police brutality has existed in the United States for centuries. Historically, it was used as a weapon of oppression against African Americans. From slavery through to Jim Crow and practices like racial profiling, Black people were consistently under attack from law enforcement. Throughout the civil rights movement, protesters faced violence and repression at the hands of the police. Police brutality continued into modern times, with frequent reports of deaths and injuries inflicted by officers during questionable arrests. Today more than ever, citizens are calling for systemic changes to combat inequality and abuses at the hands of law enforcement.

Variables That Impact Police Brutality Investigations

Police brutality investigations can be heavily impacted by variables such as the stature of the victim, the resources available to law enforcement, the jurisdiction in which the incident occurs, and the potential consequences of a guilty verdict. Victims of higher social standing often have more access to news outlets and legal representation; they are able to make their case heard loud and clear in order to ensure justice is served. What’s more, some jurisdictions lack sufficient resources or proper training for officers which makes it difficult for authorities to accurately investigate accusations and come to fair conclusions.

Variables that impact police brutality investigations are:

  • The threat the suspect poses (armed, unarmed, etc.)
  • The suspect’s compliance with the police (is the suspect doing what police ask, is the suspect “dangerously hesitating” to comply, is the suspect refusing to comply, etc.)
  • The police maneuver used to gain compliance (is the maneuver part of police training, is the maneuver contextually relevant given the circumstances, etc.)
  • The compliance requested of the suspect (is the police’s request reasonable given the scenario)

When officers inevitably find themselves on trial for police brutality, there must exist penalties that adequately reflect their responsibility for the incident and provide a deterrent for future cases. These variables work together to either help or hinder victims’ plights in obtaining justice from acts of police brutality.

Steps That Can Be Taken to Address Police Brutality

There are several steps that can be taken to address the issue of police brutality, which covers a range of actions from physical and psychological abuse to false arrests and racial profiling. An important first step in confronting this issue is raising awareness about what it means. Respectful police-community relations involve clear and specific policies regarding the use of force, better training for officers on how to de-escalate situations, a system for tracking excessive force complaints, and appropriate disciplinary action when used. Laws must also exist that protect members of minority communities along with any victims of police brutality, guaranteeing their right to justice. Finally, transparency in departments should be implemented so that civilian oversight boards can investigate wrongdoings by officers. Making changes at all levels will give citizens trust in their law enforcement and ultimately prevent further incidents of police brutality.

Although police brutality can be difficult to define, it is clear that the problem has a long history in the United States. The way that police brutality investigations are conducted can vary depending on a number of factors, but there are some steps that can be taken to address the issue.

Proving police brutality and use of excessive force is a complicated legal matter. However, an officer’s use of excessive force may impact criminal charges like resisting arrest. Therefore, anyone suspected of a crime should tell his or her lawyer their story about police brutality.

Contact Hager & Schwartz today!