Police Brutality: Causes & Solutions

Instructor: Joseph Yocum

Joe has taught college Criminal Justice since 2003 and has a master's degree in Criminal Justice. He is a graduate of the 205th Session of the FBI/National Acdemy in 2001.

In this lesson, we'll define police brutality and explore a few examples. We'll also examine common causes of police brutality and detail potential solutions to reduce and eliminate police misconduct.

Police Brutality

Barney is a rookie police officer. He is looking forward to working with a veteran officer who can show him modern-day policing techniques and teach him about the police subculture, which is a set of shared values and behaviors exhibited by members of the police force. Barney's supervisor pairs him with a field training officer (FTO) named Andy, a ten-year veteran of the police force. Barney was ordered to watch and learn from Andy, the more experienced officer.

Their first task was to respond to a domestic disturbance call. Barney and Andy were allowed in the home by a young female sporting bruises and a bloody nose. She directed them to a living room where an obviously intoxicated male sat on a couch in the middle of the room. Without warning, Andy, the veteran officer, walked around the couch, drew his Taser, and shot the man in the back. Andy ordered Barney to handcuff the suspect. Afterward, Andy picked up the suspect and body-slammed him into the living room wall before punching him several times.

Andy knew from his training in the police academy that Andy's actions could be considered police brutality. Police brutality is the use of excessive physical force with the intent to deliberately injure, intimidate and potentially kill a citizen during a law enforcement-related incident. Police may use only reasonable force necessary to make a lawful arrest; excessive force is unlawful.

Law enforcement officers brutalized unarmed marchers with excessive force in Alabama in 1965 in an event that has become known as Bloody Sunday.
Bloody Sunday Alabama Police Attack

Police Misconduct

By the time Barney and Andy arrived at the county jail with the suspect, the suspect's left eye was swollen and his face was bleeding from the assault. To Barney's surprise, Andy produced a small plastic package containing white powder from the pocket of his uniform. Andy told the booking officer the suspect was being charged not only with misdemeanor domestic assault and resisting arrest, but also with felony possession of a controlled substance. Andy claimed he'd discovered the drugs during a search of the suspect's clothing.

After booking the suspect, Andy explained to Barney that a misdemeanor charges of domestic assault and resisting arrest would only result in the suspect serving a few months in jail. However, the felony possession of a controlled substance would result in a sentence of several years in the state prison. Andy assured Barney that the planted drugs would keep the suspect locked up for several years or more. All he needed was Barney's help in writing a fabricated report falsely describing an attempted attack on the officers by the suspect as well as the discovery of illicit drugs on the suspect.

In the academy, Barney learned that police misconduct, or an officer's illegal actions during the course of duty, could lead to a miscarriage of justice. Police brutality is one form of police misconduct. Planting drugs, fabricating reports, false arrests, coercing false confessions, and racial profiling are also forms of police misconduct. Racial profiling occurs when officers use the ethnicity of a person as the sole justification for stopping or harassing someone.

Causes of Police Brutality

Police misconduct and instances of police brutality occur in many forms and have a variety of causes. One of the causes is the subculture of policing, which can have a negative effect on the system. New officers often seek to conform with traditions and standards of police behavior and demeanor. These standards require rookies to emulate senior officers and comply with superior's commands or otherwise face potential ridicule, criticism, or job loss. The unwritten rule known as the blue wall of silence, or the blue code, encourages officers to stand by their colleagues and discourages them from reporting incidents of police misconduct, including police brutality.

Police militarization and the institutionalizing of rookies in the academy can also lead to police misconduct and brutality. Traditional norms of policing, whereby the use of strong-handed tactics establishes and instills fear in the minds of suspected criminals, is no longer acceptable. But some police officers feel the courts or judges are too lenient on criminals or have placed unfair legal restrictions on police, leading them to feel justified by incriminating certain individuals to ensure they are incarcerated. This attitude is seen in many street officers that believe their supervisor's know and approve of these tactics.

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