The Use of Force in Law Enforcement - Research Paper

Published: 2023-01-29
The Use of Force in Law Enforcement - Research Paper
Type of paper:  Research paper
Categories:  Police
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1890 words
16 min read


Over the years many opinions have been formed on law enforcement practices. Officers have guaranteed efforts to act accordingly for the safety of society. Law enforcement officers sometimes require to use force to control or arrest a suspect. It may lead to misusing their authority unnecessarily and therefore commit unethical violations. The subject of excessive force has been discussed worldwide with more cases of excessive force arising. Police regulations and guidelines provide how force in law enforcement should be used. An officer must, therefore, make the critical decision whether or not to use force and to what extent it should be used. A law enforcement system is designed to safeguard the community and use of force to do it is necessary; however, the use of excessive force does more harm than good and hence not the required panacea.

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According to the International Association of Chief of Police, the use of force is the "measure of force needed by a law enforcement officer to instigate compliance in an unwilling subject" (NIJ, 2012). Law enforcement officers may delve into dangerous situations where individuals prove to be dangerous and noncompliant to instructions. Under such situations, the officers are inclined to use force to ensure the safety of the community.

The principal of law enforcement has long been criticized and viewed as an avenue of increasing power for officers. Law enforcement is considered to have three main elements, necessity, proportionality, and precaution. "The elements of necessity and proportionality set rules on how and when force may be used lawfully and states that force should not be used vindictively or as a form of extrajudicial punishment" (Schatmeir, 2012). The use of force in law enforcement is endorsed as police work and is under sanction unless it is excessive. The exertion of a greater degree of force than necessary to induce compliance in an individual is viewed as wrong and affronting.

Background of the Study

The blurred lines on how much force is necessary and what is under appraisal to be excessive led to the initiation of force continuums. A clear depiction of the levels of force necessary for a particular situation. "Over the years models have shown a series of actions that may need to be taken to control or arrest an offender" (Hough &Tatum, 2012). A conglomeration of similar levels of force depicts that there are five levels of force a police officer can use in a situation.

The first level of force is the presence of the officer. The officer is in the vicinity with proof of identification can control a situation. The second level of force is verbalization. A law enforcement officer can control a suspect or a group of people in the surrounding area through verbal commands and requests. Physical efforts such as the use of hand combat to bring down a suspect are the third level of force. Nonlethal actions such as tasing or use of a baton to arrest or control an offender are the fourth level of force. The fifth level of force is lethal force where a law enforcement officer can result in dire measures such as shooting a suspect if all other levels of force fail to work.

Police officers are sworn to serve and protect the community to maintain societal order. Citizens have the expectation that those sworn to serve and protect should use the power given to them when necessary and the situation demands it (Ariel, Barak, Farrar & Sutherland, 2015). The question of how much force is considered unnecessary remains. In the current system, a solution to the question is through complaints lodged against the officer or the footage from body-worn cameras. The cameras, introduced in 2012 and reimbursed in 2014, were to improve the community's trust in the law as well as portray transparency of police officer's acts.

The research concludes that the use of the footage justifies excessive force imparted by an officer and the compliance of the suspect, hence when excessive force is used, it can be under investigation if it was justifiable or not (Ariel et al., 2015). The footage from body-worn cameras has proved useful as use of excessive force has reduced among law enforcement officers. The community is also subject to monitor the activities of officers and lodge complaints against misconduct and hence enhancing trust in the community. The excessive use of force besmirches the relationship that law enforcement has entrenched with the community. Law enforcement is reliant on the community's inclination to report crime through 911 and for officers to keep the people safe.

Literature Review

Law enforcement is easily distinguishable from other vocations due to the different duties officers undertake. It is evident in the provision that a law enforcement officer can use force on fellow citizens (Hough & Tatum, 2012). Officers are in constant contact with criminals and noncompliant dangerous individuals hence put themselves in harm's way in the line of duty.

The use of force is an integral part of policing. Law enforcement officers are under presumption on occasions to curb suspects physically and can result in serious injury or death. The right to use force is therefore justifiable. It, however, encompasses the probability for other officers to misuse the authority and take part in excessive force (Prenzler & Albert, 2013). Police use of force training is vital to safeguard the safety of the officer as well as the community. Research reveals that skills acquired in training do not transfer to real-world incidents however an experienced officer can deal with confrontation better than an inexperienced one (Staller, Mario &Zaiser, 2015). The pairing of inexperienced officers with one who has more experience is, therefore, necessary to counteract incidents of police brutality.

The challenges posed by the ever-increasing crime rates depict that use of force is necessary for some situations. The use of excessive force on people based on their demographics such as race and gender is, however, an escalating debate in society. "Neighborhood factors, particularly of minority disadvantage, evoke social-psychological processes that result in the use of excessive force" (Holmes &Smith, 2012). The use of excessive force has been on a rampant increase with enforcement officers abusing their authority and not using the necessary levels of force to confront a situation. The implication of excessive use of force is increased mistrust in society and the arising movements to fight for the equality of minorities' rights.

Minorities are under the impression that police use excessive force for African Americans and Hispanics compared to Caucasians. Officers take a violent approach to the minorities in comparison to coercive action taken for whites. The surge of high profile cases of killing of unarmed black men and Hispanics by police have fueled the sentiments of inequality and propagating the rise of the Black lives Matter movement. Studies conducted disseminate a 2.8 times higher fatality rate among blacks under excessive use of force compared to whites (DeGue, Fowler & Callums, 2016). Law enforcement is not as considerate for African Americans as officers feel threatened due to racial profiling. Cases, where an officer shoots an African American man for having a "threatening weapon", have developed over the years. The weapons are just harmless objects such as a comb or a telephone which the officers feel threatened by and hence take excessive force. Contentious use of excessive force leads to the widening of the racial gulf between blacks and whites views on law enforcement.

Police officers take into consideration the demographic characteristics of a suspect when making decisions about them (Brandl, 2017). A meta-analysis of forty-two studies examining race and gender variables inferred that black male and Hispanic individuals are more likely to be arrested for race and gender despite the evidence and seriousness of the offense. With the proliferation of body-worn cameras, the unethical misconduct by officers is subject to viewing around the world through internet sources and news networks. The extent to which police brutality on unarmed black men, affects the citizens, especially African American citizens reliance on police the aftermath of misconduct of officers leads to disengagement of crime reporting (Desmond, Papachristus & Kirk, 2016).

The controversy surrounding police use of force is amplified by the Medias depiction of police activities. The media is consistent in portraying the scenarios that a law enforcement officer used excessive force leading to a negative view of law enforcement by the community. The negative publicity gained by law enforcement has adverse effects on all police officers which inadvertently leads to most citizens considering law enforcement untrustworthy. Media plays a very crucial role in influencing how society perceives law enforcement.

There is a need to understand that the job of a law enforcement officer involves ethical decision making and is not as straightforward as people and media purport it to be. A law enforcement officer may be in a situation where the use of excessive force was called for and justifiable. Even with the proof of footage from body-worn cameras, the way the media portrays the story to the public leads to a negative perception of the officer.

It is necessary for the community to understand that it is in the job description of an officer that in a situation where force is necessary he or she should take action and hence should not be victimized for it. In most cases, the use of excessive force is a last resort and the police are subject to high scrutiny to assess if the force was justified. Law enforcement officers are undergoing more training to respond to a situation that may require the use of lethal force. Police use of force is, therefore, an intrinsic part of their job and should be carried out with respect. Force continua dictated in the state guide the law enforcement officer on how to approach a situation and the levels of force that should be applied.

The use of excessive force on minorities, however, is a different case as an officer cannot determine the guilt of a suspect based on race and gender. All American citizens, African American and Hispanic deserve to be awarded the same level of equity as their Caucasian counterparts. The high profile cases that portray pre-civil rights movement behavior from racially biased officers is unacceptable and should be heavily punished. Fundamentally, it is made clear that excessive use of force is a last resort even in the case of an African American male or Hispanic males. Racial profiling is an ugly illustration of law enforcement systems and officers. Law enforcement officers are appreciated by the community for the work that they do to safeguard the community, however, racial profiling hurts the trust between law and the society.


Law enforcement has been subjected to debate on the questionable acts of excessive force taken by officers. Positive measures such as more training, body-worn cameras, and pairing of experienced and inexperienced officers have been taken to prevent such case from occurring again, however, the measures cannot be used to cure racial bias. The law enforcement system should make sure that the officers chosen to carry out duties are not racist or with racialist views. Force should only be used justifiably for all American citizens despite race and gender. Law enforcement officers should only use the degree of force necessary in the mitigation of an incident, make an arrest or protect themselves and others from harm.


Ariel, B., Farrar, W. A., & Sutherland, A. (2015). The Effect of Police Body-Worn Cameras.

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