Police Brutality The police serve an integral part in society as its protectors. Officers look out for the citizens and attempt to ensure their safety and happiness whenever possible.Throughout the years however, the public as well as scholars have questioned the use of force, racism and internal corruption as well as other forms of misconduct by officers of the law.
Some scholars claim that many of these problems are misconstrued by the media and blown out of proportion; these officers are simply doing their job. Others argue that these incidents can be traced back to poor training and policies. Still other selected persons maintain that the whole system needs to be changed and that with the rise in crime, officers have become enforcers more than protectors.A policy is defined as a definite course of action to determine decisions or a guide to decision making within a structured framework. A procedure however is often considered to be simply a consistent method of operation. In cases of police brutality officers may see strict policy, which is the product of thoughtful analysis, adjust procedure, which may not be detrimental to the officer if broken (Kinnaird 203). In this case, officers may take advantage of a department’s latitude in the following of procedure.
Other studies have shown that vague or unclear policies,policies that are written for the wrong objectives, and policies with little input from those who implement them can result in higher instances of police misconduct and prove much more ineffective (Kinnaird 203). Poor policy has been shown to have the opposite effect as well. In many cases of police death and injury officers have reported hesitation in exhibiting necessary force due to uncertainty “about what force options were permissible under law or department policy” (Petrowski 25). Scholars insist that adequate policy is not just about having it down on paper but also using the written policies as “proactive management” (Kinnaird 209). This ensures the maximum safety of both civilians and officersTraining is another important factor when analyzing officer conduct on the job. There are three main elements that warrant the need for training.
The first is social evolution. Police forces must change and adapt to the changing of times. For example, the 1960’s and 1970’s focused primarily on guns and the physical control of offenders to gain compliance; while the present day police duties require social skills such as human behavior, emotions, attitudes and reactions (Kinnaird 204).The next element in policing that necessitates training is legal mandates, or the understanding of civil liability as well as the ever-changing laws (205). Police Departments have begun to spend more money defending themselves in court than defending the public.
For this reason, training is necessary to inform officers of the laws and prevent situations where the department or individual officer could be at risk of a lawsuit with the use of excessive force (206). The third purpose of adequatetraining is to maximize performance. Brian Kinnaird, director of research and training at the Forceology Research Group in Kansas insists, “without training,officers are completely independent but with training, they are armed with better judgment and discretionary capabilities” (206). Police and criminologists note distinct differences between the terms “use of force,” “unnecessary force,” And “brutality.” According to experts, the use of force is crucial and essential in order for an officer to do his job effectively. Unnecessary force however, is often the result of poor training such as when an officer barges into a situation where excessive force is required in order to remove him or herself from the danger.
In this case, caution and better training could have prevented the situation from occurring. On the other hand, brutality is “a conscious and venal act by officers who usually take great pains to conceal their misconduct”(Lawrence 19). According to this definition, brutality is not necessarily correlated with poor training however excessive force often is. It is important to make the distinction between these often-confused terms.Often times the public can be quick to judge police officers and to label a necessary physical situation as brutality.
Many people, in particular officers themselves, feel that the public does not understand the day to day pressures of being a police officer and the many difficult gray situations where it is questionable as to how much force should be exerted. Although the specific actions that constitute excessive force or brutality may be easy to determine in articles and police manuals, for officers in the moment it is often not easy to decide how much force is actually necessary (Lawrence 19). Often times the stress of going yearsWithout using one’s weapon then immediately being thrown into an intense situation which involves force can “unhinge” even veteran officers (Armstrong Williams 8).
Officers frequently are given the difficult task of determining the good guys from the bad. To effectively solve this problem, most of the time, officers must simply rely on their instincts. Policeman must have the “ability to be proactive and sniff out suspicious behavior well before it explodes like a match into a keg of powder” (Armstrong Williams8). To do this, difficult judgment calls must be made,which may or may not involve the use of force. Bystanders and witnesses to these situations are many times surprised and uncomfortable about seeing this level of force exerted on a fellow human. Officers maintain that they are paid to apprehend criminals not “coddle” them and that serious coercion is necessary in order to restrain people who do not wish to be cuffed or arrested. In some cases officers choose to apprehend a person he or she feels is dangerous or threatening but observers may not believe or realize to be a threat. For this reason, the use of force often seems excessive (Lawrence 20).
Police, especially those in deteriorating urban areas, are aware of the fact that their own opinions toward the use of force vary greatly from the public’s. Many officers give each other the benefit of the doubt in forceful situations and assert that the public should do the same (21).The law is on the side of the officers in this argument. The decisive court case that defined the acceptable use of force on suspects was the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case Graham v. Connor.
In it the courts stated how the use of force by officers should be constitutionally evaluated. This decision demonstrates that the court sympathizes with the intricacies of violent encounters and the reasonable safety issues that are associated with these encounters. The Court made clear that it gives great regard to officers who exhibit force to protect themselves, each other, or bystanders (Petrowski 26).The general public has a fascination with crime.
The media has been accused of attempting to take advantage of this. For example, with the “wars” on crime and drugs constantly being portrayed in the media, fascination has increased significantly in recent years. The use of physical force by the police is a heated topic in the fighting of this crime war. According to Regina Lawrence, author of The Politics of Force that no action is really ever taken to quell police brutality but the media utilizes this response in order to give comfort to the public after creating the disturbance.The public relies on officials and politicians to give explanation to situations of police brutality and unnecessary force. When these officials fail to meet the needs of the public with reassurance and comforting words, the response can be extreme.
For example, after the fourth police killing of an unarmed citizen in just over a year in New York, Mayor Giuliani responded by verbally attacking the victim, and presenting a short, minor, record as assurance of his hoodlum status. Enraged New Yorkers proceeded to engage in a near riot following the victim’s funeral(Cose 33). The public expects a certain amount of sympathy from politicians and officials in unfortunate situations of excessive force and brutality. A few weeks later at a peacemaking meeting for the incident, clergymen walked out on the police chief who refused to apologize for the victim’s death (33). Black and Latino voters in a recent mayoral election showed up in great numbers to support the Reverend Al Sharpton, a strong supporter for police reform, and Ruth Messinger, who supports a broad-based multiracial coalition (Patricia Williams 10).
Clearly minorities feel that “change involves mayors and police chiefs insisting that profiling won’t be tolerated” (“Eliminating racial profiling” 6a). However, many white democrats were believed to not vote at all because of their content with the current situation(Patricia Williams 10). This information suggests that minorities have a much different opinion of police officers than whites. Obviously, the opinion of the police force is not identical throughout the population. Many legitimate authorities insist that judgments of police brutality contrast greatly between whites and minorities, especially African Americans.African American society has been expressing complaints of brutality for many years. Regina Lawrence points out that “scholarly studies by Scheingold (1991) and Lyons (1999) have confirmed the persistent tendency of minority communities to be more suspicious of police and more critical of how they use force”.
The violent beating of Rodney King in 1991 is the event that revealed this gap in ideology toward police use of force (21). The white majority is said to tolerate aggressive,excessively forceful, behavior on the part of officers because it is seen as a tradeoff in order to lock up murderers and rapists. Apparently, these people in particular,may be happy with the recent containment of criminals. The situation of John Royster is a perfect example. Royster committed a murder of a storekeeper as well as an assault on a young piano teacher in central park in the 90’s. Royster was apprehended thanks to fingerprint matching made possible due to a prior arrest for jumping a turnstile (Patricia Williams 10). A group of the population could see this as reason to allow for the persecution and use of force on individuals who may not seem to be deserving of such treatment.
However, Patricia Williams contests saying,”We must not tolerate a policy that makes walking down the street or pausing on a street corner or just sitting in a car an inherently suspicious activity” (10). Many members of minorities who have experienced police brutality first hand might agree with this statement. It is a common opinion that many problems exist within the structure and attitude of police forces today. Racial profiling in particular is an extremely popular criticism of officers. Studies show that blacks were four times more likely to be searched or frisked by officers than whites (Armstrong Williams 8). USA Today Noted, “Racial Profiling is discriminatory, breeds distrust and wastes police resources; yet it persists(“Eliminating racial profiling” 6a).Armstrong Williams, an African American political commentator, believes that the reason for officers pulling over and searching an unreasonably higher number of blacks and minorities is not directly associated with hating blacks but is more a form of passive racism, which has been engrained norms instinct and experience (8). Officers have also been accused of using force in an almost sadistic manner.
In the case of Michael Flowers, a New Yorker who was arrested while purchasing marijuana, officers handcuffed him to a cell then proceeded to taser and beat the helpless man with a heart condition.Flowers ended up in the hospital and claims that what happened to him was attempted murder (Barker). In addition to these circumstances, there have also been many reports of police taking advantage of their authority. This ranges from threatening other officers with physical harm if they report corruption (Patricia Williams 10) to officer Derrick Curtis who drew his gun on a fast food employee and threatened him when Curtis felt he had waited too long at the drive-through (“I am the law” 20).
However, the question still remains: are these individual, rogue cases of misconduct or does a widespread problem exist within the nature of policing that leads to scary phenomena such as these?If this is a general crisis rather than a specific occurrence then a few solutions exist. As opposed to enlisting swarms of cops to patrol the streets and engage inshady undercover work, officers could be put in uniform and sent on “direct patrol.”This involves building of relationships and becoming engaged in the communities not just fighting crime. This approach is often called community policing and has proven effective in San Jose (Cose 33). Another possible solution is for the majorityof the population as well as elected officials to end their “willful blindness of oversight” and start caring about the problems that exist withinthe police forces(Patricia Williams 10). With this kind of cooperation it is possible to avoid an emergence of a police state where citizens are “always safe until he or she steps in a crack on the sidewalk” (10). Analyzing police activity is a strenuous task that must be approached with caution.
Police officers are vital to society because they maintain order and serve as protectors. With too much scrutiny and criticism of the police forces crime could run rampant. On the other hand, if the reported problems within police departments are growing and serious occurrences then reform is necessary to ensure the rights of the American citizens. In addition, it is clear that a certain degree of force is necessary but there is significant debate as to when it is exerted and to what extent.It is easy to scrutinize those who are controlling and display their power whenever they feel it is necessary. Some feel this power needs to remain in check and has gotten out of hand but many differing opinions still exist on both sides of the argument.